Thursday, January 5, 2012

Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

I think these two genre's get mixed too often. From the outside viewer they are the same. Focusing on what we would see as fantastic or not accurate according to our view of the current world. However, I feel that there are major differences between the genre's and in fact they should rarely (if ever) be mixed or confused as the same thing.

Some time ago while determining the major differences between these two genre's I thought of the story telling techniques. Or rather, what authors of either genre focus on. This seems to be the major difference, despite catalysts of the story. Fantasy focuses on creating worlds. Science Fiction focuses on creating ideas.

Let me explain.

But first, I will admit that I am solely a science fiction fan. There is some fantasy that I enjoy and love, LOTR, Harry Potter, Neal Gaiman stuff, but for the most part I don't touch it. And so, while I may have a somewhat biased opinion, and may not be as familiar with fantasy as many others I feel that with what I have read (and I've read more than the above list, but didn't enjoy them much) this is an accurate view and I will try my best not to bring biases into it.

OK. Fantasy focuses on creating worlds. Right now I am reading a fantasy book called Orcs. (I think it's three books in one, so lets call it Orcs trilogy). The Orcs trilogy  is different than my typical reading. The language is different, and the focus of the story is much more straight forward than what I typically see in sci-fi. Or rather, it is presented early one with little or no guess work having to be done by the reader. (I don't say this negatively, but factually). I feel that many fantasy books are eager to get the ball rolling and to get on with the exciting parts, because with that comes the world. You introduce strange characters and new worlds filled with horrors and beauty, both. Great detail is often incorporated into what things, objects, and people look like. Often times dress is describes as much as a distant landscape of bustling city-town. Authors have gone to great lengths to insure that there world is complete and coherent. Many times maps are included at the front of the book to give the reader an idea of the world in which the characters live.

I think we can safely say just from those examples that fantasy, for a large part of the majority, is meant to suck you into a mystical world and take you through an adventure that could never happen in this current world we have. I recently read Neverwhere by Neal Gaiman. A modern day fantasy book in where the main character, Richard, is brought into a world underneath London. It has all of the typical fantasy elements and is full of adventure. Little explanation is given or needed as the reader is meant to accept that something strange is going on.

Fantasy builds worlds. It gives characters and readers a medium in which to explore and experience.

Science Fiction, however, does not focus greatly on creating worlds, or universes, if the case may imply. While locations, people, etc. are described, rarely in great detail, it is never the focus of the writing. Rather, the reader is meant to understand generals about the characters surroundings, or looks, and from that imagine the rest. Rather, because of situations the author is able to bring about specific ideas or philosophical reasoning's to underline the events of the story. The stories are driven by really issues that seem far more important and more of a major theme than issues and ideas proposed in fantasy reading. I feel that a major reason for this is that sci-fi, through the science involved in the writing, focuses greatly on the human condition and how science and technology play against it or are incorporated with life.

And so, we see ideas spawn through story lines in a way to show the reader where we can go in the future, or show them different possibilities because of science and technology. Ideas in cloning morality, or consciousness, time, and many more are common and found in most (good) science fiction writing. And it is a major focus of the writing. Action sequences, and adventure often take a lower precedence to the importance of underlining the human condition through futuristic ideas. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, by Philip K. Dick, is a great example of what it means to be human, or rather, what it means to be alive as the protagonist must question if he is human or an android, and if one or the other make him an less conscious.

While both genres have important qualities, I think it is important to understand the differences that each brings and how they are each different from each other. Personally, I am drawn more towards science fiction as I enjoy the philosophical and moral issues that are brought up and written about. The stories, because of the style of writing seem more original to me with less overlap in a story line. The language is clear and concise and does not fall into over stretching dialogue because of a need to describe and show a persons character right off the bat.

However, I am sure someone who likes fantasy more than I do could argue against me.

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