Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fantasy, Fantasy, Fantasy

Here's a bit of fluff:

I don't really have any respect for the fantasy genre. Probably because it's all I can write: I want to try other genres, such as scifi or thriller or detective or whatever, but they always just end up being fantasy beneath a thin veneer of paint.

This is pretty common these days, especially in scifi. I think it's because we've all been damaged by Star Wars and Star Trek, both of which were fantasy shows at heart, and only science fiction because the characters dressed funny and had metal horses.

I'm not sure I know what the heart of a scifi show is, but I think it's something about the limits you set. About what you are allowed to do in terms of introducing new power and warping the plot.

In your mind, what distinguishes the genres from each other? What genres do you like or dislike, and why?


DmL said...

They're all the same to me. I like interesting settings. But fiction = fantasy for the most part to me. It's more about what people are doing in the space you provide. (ie, a story can be interesting even if it took place in a pitch-black 20x20ft room)

Craig Perko said...

Hmmm, I obviously disagree, but I'm probably seeing with a fine tooth comb. :P

jim said...

The distinction isn't clear to me either, but two heuristics:
- If the author establishes clear and consistent rules governing the fantastical things that happen, it's SF.
- If there's royalty or any other evidence of a feudal government, it's fantasy.

I do think that both of these are part of my definitions of SF and fantasy rather than just tropes that happen to be associated. Genres are descriptive anyways, and there can be exceptions.

DmL said...

Yeah there're gradations, but I'm about boiling stuff to the essence. But to stretch a little personally and speak more to the nougat of your question... the big thing that seperates a true science fantasy from the other types is that hard kernel of idea... the plausible core technology which is carefully crafted, where you explore the nature of the technology and what its effects are-- its implications, rather than any particular person's use or reaction to that tech. (Maybe it would help me think of this if you give examples of what you consider "true" scifi.)

Craig Perko said...

Well, I'm not sure if I agree with Jim, largely because I've seen some really great military scifi that uses royalty...

Here are some examples of scifi I think is scifi rather than fantasy:

"Blade Runner" is an example, but so is "Forbidden Planet" (monsters from the id!), even though Forbidden Planet is strongly fantastical.

A lot of the pre-Star Trek era stuff counts, of course, such as The Andromeda Strain and War of the Worlds. More recently, there have been a spate of very sci-fi books, running from the more classic-style David Weber military scifi series to the spiffy newstyle series such as any of the thousands of recent scifi books dealing with post-singularity life.

I've been thinking about it myself, and I've begun to think that my preferences revolve around the focus of the story.

In a fantasy book, the vast majority of the plot is about figuring out how the world works. Whether it's complex politics, weird magical doohickeys, almost inexplicably twisted ancient legends, or something else: the focus of the story is usually on these.

Scifi, at least what I consider scifi, generally takes that for granted and focuses on how it affects people. They may explain how something works, but it's not usually the focus of the story: the focus is on the people using the stuff.

Essentially, I think that in a fantasy world, the world is king, while in scifi, the people are king.

I think.

Do you see that?

Craig Perko said...

Errr, a bit more:

Star Trek seems to focus on the people, but it doesn't, really. Instead, the major plots in every episode are "Woo, some weird magical thing is happening! I wonder how our heroes will handle it!"

Perhaps it's better if I explain it as: Fantasy is PvE, scifi is PvP.

Olick said...

Really I think you should start by boiling it down to the basics, and examining the origins: Science Fiction is/was fiction that follows or expands on established or theoretical science. The better it follows science, the 'harder' the sci-fi is. Larry Niven's Ringworld books are pretty hard sci-fi. Star Treck is not, since the BASIC things are hard to justify, and then you have whatever crazy thing happened during the week that can't be explained at all.

Star Wars really isn't sci-fi. At all. The idea of the force and precognition does not follow scientific rules, generally. However its lumped in sci-fi because it has the common sci-fi setting of being in space.

I think though most people are talking about conventions in the genre's though. Lots of fantasy's, for example, are a travel story, where you conquer a great evil. And most RPG's are exactly that. Tabletop rpg's, as well as CRPG's and JRPG's, its hard to find a game that doesn't have that, or a twist on that as the plot. Now a lot can be DONE with this, since its a very basic plot structure.

Very rarely is any other genre, except sometimes sci fi, about traveling and defeating things. It is almost entirely unique to the Fantasy Genre. But it works so damn well for games.. Different scenery, a semi-logical progression of difficulty..

So I sorta have another question. In what way does all of your games become fantasy beneath a thin veneer of paint?

Craig Perko said...

As much as I'd like to answer that with the care it deserves, I'm playing Spore.

Check back in a few days.

Craig Perko said...

Olick! Apostrophe police! Pull over and get out of the tubes!

Erm... no, it's a pretty well thought out comment, so let me address it with a bit more care:

I don't know that we can simply say that science fiction revolves around existing or theoretical science... I can't think of any argument against it, but it doesn't sit right with me. Obviously, "SCIENCE" fiction kind of means that, literally, it's exactly as you describe... but I think that it's grown into something a bit more specific. No idea what, though.

You have a point that fantasy is about journeys... but there's a lot of genres that use journeys, including comedies, horror films, science fiction, and so forth. I have the same reservations about that as about the idea that science is core to science fiction... there's something else to it, in my mind. Something else has become the core of the issue. Unless you're going to lump a lot of things into the "fantasy" section, you're going to have to have something more specific.

I usually create "science fiction" games (tabletops), but they feel more like fantasy with a metal veneer because it's not terribly speculative. Generally, it's just like some generic fantasy/war adventure in a different setting, with slightly different rules.

This is largely because if I try to change a society to be more unique, it ends up feeling like a fantastical society, like something out of Nobilis... as the game plays, the setting develops a much more fantasy-like feeling than scifi feeling.

Maybe I'm just too close to the game: maybe they're okay scifi from the eyes of others. Maybe it's a limitation of tabletop gaming. But I would really like to create a scifi game that feels scifi...

Olick said...

Hm. More like Science-Fiction than Fantasy.. I'm playing a Sci-Fi campaign right now, and one of the big features is that the new technology is IMPORTANT. That and the 'uniqueness' of the society is from very realistic societies, and then extrapolated using superscience. Also we live on the moon, with all the low-g and no atmosphere and low resources that implies.

Perhaps it is simply a matter of making it more speculative. Follow established scientific laws strictly. Create a realistic world, then plot out where science might take it.

Also about travels. Upon considering, there ARE a lot of genres of fiction that have the "travel and see/do things" style. I guess what I was pointing out is a great majority of fantasy has that. Its harder to find a fantasy novel that DOESN'T involve travel to new lands and the adventures therein. Especially from the standard Dwarves and Elves and Dragons sort of fantasy setting.

Craig Perko said...

Hmmm, I'll have to think about it like that. Perhaps making small changes to society will result in a more sf feel than making big ones.

Textual Harassment said...

Sci-fi imo should be about the here and now, using the setting as an analogy. Asimov did this a lot. Fantasy is about, well, fantasies. Dreams of mysticism and adventure and triumph over evil.