Gio Clairval is an Italian born speculative fiction writer who commutes between Paris and the Lake of Como.
Gio: Lately, I’ve been writing Science Fantasy.
Felicino: And what the heck is that?
Gio: No one knows exactly.
Gio: I mean that writers and critics haven’t come up with an universally accepted definition but, as I’ve been writing Science Fantasy, I could try to define it.
Felicino: I thought writers were the least reliable guys when it comes to define what they’re writing. And most of them don’t really care.
Gio: Well, as a reader and a writer, I care. Let’s see what they say out there. You know the famous definition: “Science Fiction makes the improbable possible while Fantasy makes the implausible probable.”
Felicino: You don’t even have it right, it’s “Science Fiction makesâ€”
Gio: Whatever. What I wanted to say is that Science Fantasy makes the impossible probable and plausible. Hey, why are you making faces?
I mean that Science Fiction describes improbable things that may happen in certain circumstances, while Science Fantasy gives a sense of reality to things that could never happen in the world as we know it, not even if certain conditions should come true.
If this definition (minted by Rod Sterling) is correct, several Science Fiction authors, particularly the ancestors, are Science Fantasy authors in reality.
Felicino: You’re thinking of H.G. Wells’ THE WORLD SET FREEâ€¦
Gio: And Jules Verne’s FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. Problem is a few scientific ideas tackled in XIX and XX century novels are now reality (improbable things have become possible)â€”
Felicino: Which means that new technology (something that looks like magic to me when the book comes out) is not enough to class a novel among science fantasy?
Felicino: Then I’m afraid the definition you just suggestedâ€”
Gio: â€”doesn’t hold water, I know. But, do you remember Arthur C. Clark’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”? Well, Science Fantasy uses both, science and magic. So I can (triumphantly) say that when you write a combination of technology and magic, you write Science Fantasy.
Felicino: It still seems a contradiction in terms to me.
Gio: Ah, these Hard SF fans! No one ever told you that everything is in the execution? You need to be subtle, to pull it off. Now, if you stop twittering and start listening, I bet I can demonstrate that you love Science Fantasy authors, too.
Gio: The Master, forex.
Gio: The Great, Inimitable Roger Zelazny! Besides the cycle of Amber, about which we can discuss at lengthâ€”SF, Fantasy?
Gio: I guess I agree. Almost all the rest is Science Fantasy. Take LORD OF LIGHT. It’s the story of space colonists that developed a resurrecting technology complete with the download of a personality into a brand-new body, but there are demons, too. And LORD DEMON, a posthumous novel completed by Jane Lindskold, about demons who are in fact aliensâ€”inspiration to SUSHI FOR DEMONS, which I wrote and which you’ll be reading as soon asâ€”
Felicino: And other authors Anne McCaffrey with her dragons, Robert A. Heinlein (MAGIC, INC.), Leigh Brackett.
Gio: Jack Vance (DYING EARTH), Frank Herbert (DUNE)â€”
Felicino: Do you know that DUNE is the best selling science fiction book in the world even now? Twelve million copies sold!
Gio: I didn’t know, but it’s not science fiction. Come on, those guys who gobble down spice and become interstellar navigators capable of folding space, the body transformations that make Paul’s son a human wormâ€”
Felicino: If one listened to you, China MiÃ©ville, with his ‘remade’ people in PERDIDO STREET STATIONâ€”
Gio: â€”is writing pure science fantasy, yes.
Felicino: Get out of here! What about Jeff VanderMeer?
Gio: His fruiting characters transforming into sapient mushroom are suspicious.
Felicino: Shhhâ€¦He can hear us.
Gio: Oh, sorry, I got carried away. But I haven’t finished with the oldies: Andre Norton (WITCH WORLD). And the founders, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore?
Felicino: Henry Kuttner (1914 â€” 1958) and C.L. Moore (1911 â€” 1987).
Gio: They were married, and they collaborated.
Felicino: It never got ugly, really?
Gio: Shut up. Those two, they only wrote Science Fantasy, even when it wasn’t trendy at all because guys like you wanted to read about ‘serious’ science.
Felicino: I wasn’t even born.
Gio: And they inspired Marrion Zimmer Bradley. The Darkover cycle is a perfect example of Science Fantasy.
Felicino: Too romance-ey for me.
Gio: We’re meta-talking here. No reader’s reactions, please. Besides, I read it all and I liked it when I read it (a long time ago). Anyway, MZB took her inspiration from THE DARK WORLD of Henry Kuttner, 1946.
Felicino: I remember Kuttner because of the kuttnering thing. You know, the writing technique consisting in inserting unobtrusive splotches of infodump, as opposed to the heinleining, which consists in weaving information into the plotâ€”
Gio: I was saying these two guys, Moore and Kuttner, published their first stories almost at the same time on Startling Stories and Weird Tales.
Moore began with her short stories “Shambleau”, 1933, “Black God’s Kiss”, 1934 and “Black God’s Shadow”, 1934, and Kuttner, a bit later, followed with stories that were still science-fiction-ey, but with fantasy and horror elements (“The Black Kiss” 1937 and “Quest of the Starstone”,1937). In their first collaborative novel, EARTH’s LAST CITADEL (1943), we can see the genre beginning to blossom, but it’s THE DARK WORLD that confirms the mix of technology and magic, defining the genre. It’s the story of a man that changes the worlds.
Here’s the e-text:
Anyway, Kuttner inspired lots of people. The Masterâ€”
Felicino: Stop calling Zelazny ‘The Master.’ You sound like a cultâ€”
Gio: And Matheson dedicated I AM LEGEND to Kuttner. Bradbury has referred to Kuttner as a neglected master and a “pomegranate writer: popping with seeds â€” full of ideas.
As for Moore, she wrote (for Weird Tales) the stories of Northwest Smith, the guy with ice-eyes and a debatable past. For example, Northwest Smith flees from a fortress in which a black larva lives by vampirizing the most perfect beauty it can create (in “The Black Thirst”). I think Zelazny was inspired by Northwest when he created Corwin of Amber.
I will never stress enough the importance of characterization in Moore’s work. Do you remember Jirel of Joiry? The female warrior who seeks love or revenge in strange worlds? The universe she evolves in is techno-magical. Science Fantasy, pal, pure Science Fantasy. Jirel is the archetype of our contemporary heroines. She’s strong and ruthless, but also fragile, sensual but sensitiveâ€¦
So, magic and transition to other dimensions, plus technology are the elements defining the genre.
Felicino: I’m sorry. I see no magic in the NEW WEIRD novels I know about.
Gio: Well, but other people think that Science Fantasy is just Science Fiction with elements of the fantastic. I’m also thinking of Gaiman’s ANANSI BOYS, with the illusions spun by Spiderâ€¦
In other words, the frame of a Science Fantasy story is the ordinary world (even if it’s a city that doesn’t exist), and the fantastic element (take MiÃ©ville’s winged creatures that hypnotize and lobotomize people) is, however extraordinary, an accepted part of the ordinary world. There is NO extraordinary world, only a world in which strange things happen.
Felicino: Like in Magic Realism.
Gio: You could say so. But I introduce the idea that even when magic is absent, and all that rests is a fantastic element that isn’t explainedâ€”all this bathing in some new technologyâ€”you have Science Fantasy. In this case, the definition applies to our New Weird friends, the Remade, the Worms that dreamâ€”and the fruiting Mushroom.
Gio: Why do you think they call it ‘weird’, then? Since when Science is weird?
More discussion about Science Fantasy:
â€¢ 1980 G. Wolfe What Do They Mean, SF? Writer (Aug.) â„– 13/1: Like fantasy, science fantasy rests upon, and often abounds with, “impossible” creatures and objects â€” girls asleep for centuries, one-eyed giants, weapons that can speak and may rebel. But it uses the methodology of science fiction to show that these things are not only possible but probable.
â€¢ 2001 M. Moorcock R. Klaw Geek Confidential (2003) â„– 194: Whereas I grew up reading science fantasy, Leigh Brackett and stuff like that, which, to me, is the perfect combination. You can have magic and science, throw it all in.
BLOGPOST posted by Gio Clairval: http://gioclairval.blogspot.com/