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On Mixing SF & Fantasy

by Vern Crisler

Copyright, 1997

lot of people like cross-genre fiction, but I personally don't like it much. This type of fiction involves mixing magical elements with technology. Magic, in this view, is seen as "ancient" as compared with "modern" technology.

In a Fantasy world, however, magic is not "ancient." That is looking at it from our primary world perspective where we have ancient magic replaced by modern technology. In a Fantasy world, magic has always been, and it will always be. The development of technology and science in a Fantasy world will actually kill the Fantasy world. I think this has to do with the fact that most Fantasy worlds are set in a "pre-industrial" or what someone has called a "pastoral" society--no trains, toasters, or ATM machines. Fantasy worlds--at least Tolkienesque Fantasy worlds--have horses, wagons, forests, and mountains.

And magic. . . .

Bringing actual toasters, computers, or rockets into the Fantasy world would make the magic seem trivial. On the other hand, if you had a spell or glamour that could cause bread to toast, or a crystal that could communicate with another crystal, or a stone that could provide heat in a frozen climate, you would imitate modern technology without lugging it into a place where it ought not to be.

Could Fantasy make use of the concept of a post-cataclysmic earth, where the Fantasy story takes place on the same continuum, though with a different time or climate? I don't think so. You would really be talking about a science fiction story in that case. Why? Because a Fantasy world is not just our mundane world in a different time or our world to a different degree; it's rather a different kind of world. For instance, in Tolkien, Lewis, Jordan, and Hambly, magic is a different kind of power, not simply a different degree of power, as is true in science fiction. When a Fantasy world character finds a glowing sphere, its light is produced by magic. When a science fiction character finds a glowing sphere, its light is produced by a more advanced technology. The sf character might think the light is produced by a different kind of power--like magic--and he'll be amazed by it and awed, but we, the readers, know it's really a different degree of power, and we hope he gains access to this power. The technology is what gives the science fiction character his "edge."

Mixing Fantasy and science fiction gives place to an ontological free-for-all. It is like having the characters from the Flintstones show up on the set of Gone With The Wind. It might be interesting in a bizarre sort of way, but who would want to do it? Such cross-genre fiction is rarely done well.