I made many people angry the last time I pointed out some bad traits of science fiction and fantasy. Really, I’ve been called names and accused of being a troll. Yet, here I am again, pissing you off one more time.
It’s all in good spirits, tho. I should end this series by addressing the elephant in the room. That’s right, let’s discuss sci-fantasy!
This time, I think you may not be so mad at me. The topic of sci-fantasy is pretty controversial among SF and fantasy fans, after all. Some even argue there’s no such thing as a sci-fantasy genre. I, for one, disagree.
Plenty of stories out there can only be categorized as sci-fantasy, having a blend of science and magic embedded in the plot. It takes the best elements of each genre and tries to create something extraordinary.
Without further ado, here are five complaints I’ve heard about this genre that make sense to me.
It’s hard to define
What is sci-fantasy, really? Fantasy with scientific elements? Science with fantastical elements? For those mathematically inclined, like me, think of a Venn Diagram of genres. Is sci-fantasy the intersection of science fiction and fantasy sets (B), or is it a subgenre of fantasy that contains sci-fi (A)?
Truth is, nobody knows. There’s no precise definition of what sci-fantasy is, which is part of the reason people say it is not a real thing. In fact, there is no equivalent label in Portuguese. In my native language, we call stories with magical and scientific elements sci-fi and fantasy or fantasy and sci-fi, depending on which characteristic is more apparent.
In my opinion, the existence of the genre does not depend on its label. Even science fiction has a loose definition, and it does not detract from the stories.
On the other hand, labels exist for a reason: to make sure the title gets to the right audience. So, the blurred lines of the sci-fantasy genre are indeed a problem.
The science is too soft
Many sci-fi lovers enjoy the genre because of the science, so the additional supernatural or magical content in sci-fantasy stories can be a bummer. Conversely, fantasy fans might not get super annoyed with a bit of science, so this is a problem for those who enjoy their science more on the hard side.
Indeed, sci-fantasy is not hard sci-fi. Hard science fiction involves a rigorous description of the laws of nature and the functioning of technology by real-world standards. If, at any point, magical, supernatural, or spiritual explanations are involved, the scientific explanation becomes fuzzy and often unnecessary.
The trick to enjoying it is to go into it with an open mind without over-rationalizing every bit of the story. I say this, but I’m well aware that it can be hard to do it, especially if the grounded rules of science are what keep you engaged.
It’s OK not to like sci-fantasy. It is not OK to diminish sci-fantasy stories based on your personal views of what science fiction should be like.
Gatekeeping is always a massive problem worldwide, and it can be particularly nasty when it comes to sci-fantasy. Seriously, how many times have you seen strangers on the internet arguing if the genre exists or if Star Wars should be called science fiction or not? (It might even have been you who questioned the sci-status of the beloved franchise.)
At one point or another in our lives, we’re bound to discuss and debate the definition of things. I’ve done it myself. However, this debate becomes harmful if you invalidate others’ opinions on the basis that “you are right and they are wrong.”
In this regard, I like the Media Death Cult community approach to the subject: If you think it’s sci-fi, then it is.
The worst of both genres
Sci-fantasy stories can sport the best of each parent (sibling?) genre, as I said in the beginning. But, the intention could backfire, and it’s easy to make it a combination of the worst traits of sci-fi and fantasy.
More often than not, the combination results in unsatisfactory world-building paired with subpar science, making the reading experience very frustrating and/or underwhelming. It is a lackluster story that can neither reproduce the wonder of a fantasy world nor the eloquence of science fiction.
Maybe that’s the reason why it gets lots of hate.
The superhero fatigue
Nothing screams sci-fantasy as the good old superhero story. You know the drill: action bits, adventures, powerful beings, aliens, gadgets, and supernatural skills, all mashed together. Sometimes explanations involve science, others magic.
Let’s be honest; we’re kind of sick of them right now, are we not? Thanks a lot, Marvel!
Yes, those elements I’ve mentioned are pretty cool. Still, it is easy to focus on them and oversee the other story elements. Plenty of superhero stories have less than compelling characters and plotlines. And there’s only so much we can do without engaging characters and plot.
That’s it for today, folks! Do you enjoy sci-fantasy? Is Star Wars a sci-fantasy story to you? Let me know in the comments.
See you next post,
Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.
You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.