Which Way Science Fantasy?
I was reflecting on Orson Scott Card’s fantasy novel Magic Street as I entered Borders bookshop yesterday, and it occurred to me that his fantasies and science fiction genre novels do not gel precisely because the paradigm of the two genres have diverged so greatly since the seventies.
Card’s sci-fi is mystically fantastic and his fantasy feels really hard-edged like a science fiction novel. The book of Card’s I love the most subsume the fantastic elements into a game-playing trope – his novel Ender’s Game being the canonical example of a hard SF Card novel.
No, Card’s gritty, hard-edged fantasy doesn’t work for me. Why? Because that’s not what fantasy books are for anymore! Science fiction and fantasy have parted ways since the seventies, and I have only just noticed.
Back to the Science Fantasy Future.
The Grand Conjunction of Science Fiction and Fantasy must be the Conan mythos, while the Grand Triune of Science Fantasy was for me the marvellous stream of trilogies from Michael Moorcock, Hawkmoon and Count Brass and the two Corum trilogies and many other superb science fantasies which are presently forgotten and lost to the moment. I love Moorcock’s crazy strangeness from those far off days!
But since then the genres have parted ways. First there has been a feminisation of fantasy as a legitimate female genre. Sexy heroines have been replaced by kickass female heros. Which might suit the more masochistic male readers, but not I. I prefer to thing of it as the pussification of the fantasy genre. It has become the realm of pussies and limpdicks, with one noble exception. And that is:
Fantasy is in the grip of an attractor field, a singularity located in the near future whose presence skews the genre toward virtuality.
The entire fantasy genre, starting with the grand Lord of the Rings computer-generated-image-filled films and contining to Worlds of Warfare and the numerous other realms online, is drawn towards a fuller realisation of the escape from the real. The route of this escape, then, is on the web.
Hard Science Fiction and Realism.
Realism, realpolitik, current political, economic and social events increasingly feedforward into science fiction. In contrast to the fantastical release from constraint, sci-fi is the most constrained, yet most outrageous and liberating of twenty-first century genres. Not even musical genres can create such astonishing tropes of transformation and change as hard science fiction can.
Hard science fiction is the twenty first century version of the sonnet sequence – an epic demonstration of reproductive and time-binding fitness. While fantasy spirals into hyperspace, science fiction extracts the distilled facts of a moment of knowing through action and drama.
The future is SF-hard but the web is fantasy-soft. The real world is becoming science fictional, while the web is becoming fantasy-like.
The radical divergence of the aims of the two genres is perhaps the fore-view of a future conjunction or triune. Maybe in the 2090s a new Conan will be gaming online with earthers while in reality he solar sails through an intensely scientific asteroid landscape. Or perhaps a new version of the Eternal Champion will ride forth in the 22nd century, simultaneously science fictional and fantastic.