Sci-Fantasy & Sci-Fiction
What is Science Fantasy and What is Science Fiction?
One of the things I had to learn years ago if for no other reason than to save pointless arguing with friends, was the difference between Science Fantasy and Science Fiction. It's helpful to know if you're going to write it, and definitely helpful to know if you are the type, like me, whose opinion of a work sort of depends on what you were expecting when you went into the movie/started reading/etc.
I define it as any story that takes place in a science-fiction type setting (space, advanced civilizations, etc) but whose central themes or technology deal with things that are thought to be scientifically improbable, if not impossible, by today's scientific understanding.
The most famous science fantasy story of all time is Star Wars.
(Trailer courtesy YouTube, LEGO, LucasFilm, and Disney)
Why is it science fantasy and not science fiction?
-Is it because it has faster-than-light travel?
No. There are FTL systems that are theoretically possible, like wormholes (e.g. Stargate SG-1 and possibly Battlestar Galactica depending on how "jump drive" actually works), and even warp drive (see Alcubierre Drive a version of which was recently taken up by NASA as a realistic means of reaching another star within one's lifetime.) Even Star Wars' own version of FTL transportation, "Hyperdrive" may be theoretically possible. (If you're a big nerd like me, you've read the additional materials that explain "hyperspace" in the SW universe is an alternate dimension that ships jump into to travel faster than light. Some versions of String Theory predict multiple dimensions, so I'm gonna say we can't rule this one out).
-Is it because there are cyborgs (Darth Vader)?
No. Cybernetics is a growing reality. (See my previous posts on this topic)
What makes Star Wars Science Fantasy? Here's a short list:
>The Force: "The Force is an energy field created by all living things, it surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together" -Obi'Wan Kenobi (No such energy field has been proven to exist)
>Space ships that fly through space as though it's air (again, if you're a mega-nerd you know this is because they use "dimensional rudders" that somehow enable this... Still, that's fantasy by our current understanding).
>Lightsabers (much to my sadness)
You get the picture, right?
Other examples of Science Fantasy include:
>Doctor Who (backward time travel seems improbable unless the theory about wormholes stretching through time turns out to be correct -doesn't look like it will-, but also there is a lot of silliness when it comes to scientific plausibility in the series; but who cares? It's fun!)
>Star Trek (although many real world ideas for actual tech have come from ST cough: Cell phones! :cough! a lot of it is just fantastical imaginings based on science. I draw your attention to the original series... Pretty much pick an episode, any episode...)
>Farscape (one of my favorites, but don't get me started... There's just so much not right about it- but in a good way)
So what is Science Fiction?
Science Fiction, or sci-fi, is fiction set in the plausible future. Be it post-apocalyptic, high tech, or near-future, a piece of speculative fiction is sci-fi if things go a certain way in the real world, the setting and/or events could actually occur. The category also includes things like alternate futures/time-lines and alternate Earths as long as the "rules" (laws of physics) are obeyed according to what science things is possible (but not necessarily what exists now. I refer you to the aforementioned Alcubierre Drive).
A special note has to be placed here, since there are a few things considered non-plausible that are included in this category anyway for reasons of tradition. Mainly, telepathy/psychic powers, which although science holds that there is no widely accepted evidence for, are included anyway because, well, they've just always been in the genre.
So, what qualifies as "Science Fiction"?
In my opinion, one of the best works that defines sci-fi is Babylon 5.
(Trailer Courtesy YouTube)
Why do I think it exemplifies the genre? Here's another short list:
>The space ships appear to follow the laws of physics- mostly (e.g. the fighters use strategically placed thrusters to turn around)
>Takes place in a high-tech, far future setting which is meant to be our own future
>FTL system is a wormhole drive variant (possible!)
>Largely sticks to what is plausible (with the aforementioned special exception of psychic powers)
It's also a damn good story (at least Seasons 1-4, I highly recommend it if you haven't seen it yet) which isn't necessary to be sci-fi, but I really just had to mention it. Seriously, go watch it!
Other examples include:
>Battlestar Galactica (the 2004 version, also be sure to check out the 2012 "Blood and Chrome" story)
>Stargate SG-1 (as far as I can tell, it stays within the plausible, or mostly within it but I haven't seen every episode) & spin-offs (SGU, Atlantis)
>Continuum (a recent favorite- but wait! It has time travel which you said is improbable, right? Well, maybe. Watch the series, they do it in a more plausible way than straight-out backward time travel).
So that's it for this week.
Did I miss something you really think belongs in this discussion? Let me know in the comments!