I posed this question to the Science Fiction Council during one of our meetings over Gravcom. Our royal chambers are simply the gravitational waves on which our voices are borne. We sit in our respective rooms across the universe and contemplate the soothsaying of science fiction writers.
What distinguishes science fiction from fantasy?
I have been pondering this question ever since I started reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, a book whose people have no fixed sex. Taking place on the icy planet Winter, the book explores a world without men or women.
As soon as I started reading it, I was reminded of fantasy books with kingdoms of elves and strange creatures. It was only when the larger universe surfaced with its space ships and light years that the science fiction elements suddenly became clear.
That feeling of being in a fantasy world got my cogs turning, and I had to grease them before I could come to some conclusion: perhaps fantasy and science fiction depend on two different types of knowledge bases.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but science fiction seems to deal more with the mechanization of the world- either its absence (dystopian futures of hunger) or its presence (space operas and cyberpunk).
The fact that The Left Hand of Darkness opens on a wintry world isolated from any other planets and major technologies, coupled with the strangeness of its people gives it its fantasy element. As soon as the larger universe and mechanical progress (interplanetary communication devices and ships) surfaces, the fantasy portion is steeped in science fiction.
Do all visions of the future (the ones in science fiction) require mechanization of some form? I would venture to say that the answer is yes, but I am open to counterarguments since I am not as familiar with the genre as some of the Science Fiction Council members.
When I think of The Hobbit or The Dark Elf Trilogy, I picture worlds without vast technologies populated with strange creatures that only slightly resemble humanity. While strange creatures can populate science fiction- who doesn’t love aliens- it’s the mechanization that really defines the genre.
Perhaps these are all questions we should not ponder in our postmodern world where genres hardly matter. Perhaps I am just a humble learner who is caught between the fantasy and science fiction worlds, between soothsaying and fantasysaying. I leave you those thoughts to ponder on this brilliant, wintry Monday.