2009-05-05

The hairy dilemas of SF

 I read an awesome post about SF as a genre, specifically about how the terms Space Opera and Hard SF are often misused.

 The author mentions that Ian M. Banks' The Culture is mislabeled as Hard SF because it seems well written, but fails at teaching you any science.

 I was going to argue but after making an excellent case I now concur with the author.

 There are only a couple points of disagreement. At some point the author suggests that the difference between a Science Fiction story  and a "Space Fantasy" story, like Star Wars is that a real Science Fiction story is one that cannot be told in a different context, actually, I'll quote it:

I submit the critical test of whether a story is Science Fiction is; “Could you tell this same story in another genre?” If the answer is “no,” then it’s Science Fiction.

There, so, this is the part that bugs me, because, Clarke's Third Law implies that any story can be easily ported from one genre to the other. So, it's not that simple. You can replace any SciFi element with a Fantasy analogy. The question is not if you can, but, if you want. That to me is one of the great things about SciFi. SciFi is not different from Fantasy for the way it accomplishes its "magic" but because what particular "magic tricks" it chooses to use.

The thing is, science is a sportspoil. Compared with the infinite flexibility of Fantasy, science will force you to go certain routes that make storitelling awkwards for some writers.

For instance, let's say you preffer swords to guns. Thaks to Clarke's Third Law you can make the laser o magical swords, and you can make contrived explanationsfor why the characters aren't using guns in any setting. But in a SciFi setting, it wouldn't be believeable, it wouldn't be realistic.

SciFi has to be realistic and that puts a huge burden on what you can or have to do. Depending of the time frame and setting, good SciFi forces you to consider bioterrorism or AI or transhumanism, and at the same time prevents you from using cool stuff like swords.

This is to me the key difference between Science Fiction and Space Fantasy.