Science-fiction and fantasy may appear to be very different genres at first glance. Once is full of advanced technologies, with a focus on scientific progress and how that works within the setting. Fantasy focuses on magic and oftentimes breaking the rules of the physical world in the pursuit of power. However, the two are full of more similarities than differences. Both can take place on Earth, or on another world. The world can have creatures other than humans, be they aliens or elves. Fantasy can sometimes show technology powered by magic, while highly advanced technology can sometimes appear indistinguishable from magic depending on who witnesses it. Popular franchises such as Warhammer, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and even Star Wars, all find compelling ways to blend genres. Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir, blends science-fiction and fantasy in a wonderfully gruesome way.
Fantasy is a malleable genre, with one of the more popular variations in the last several decades being the urban fantasy. Combining the realism of our magic free world with the trappings of high fantasy has proven to be a fascinating juxtaposition. Imagine a seedy mob-run nightclub in a bustling city, serving a clientele of elves and ogres. Goblins operate as drug runners and wizards assist the police with investigative magic. With urban fantasy, the two worlds may be completely combined, or kept separate through shadowy cabals or government organizations. The fantasy elements may also be as high or as low as the author wishes. While The Dresden Files may be one of the more famous examples of low urban fantasy, other authors are rising up to take its place. The Nightjar, by Deborah Hewitt, is one such novel.
Science-fiction is one of the most versatile genres of fiction around, capable of combining settings with any other tale. Science-fiction as a genre is also a bit of a misnomer. The average science-fiction story is not just science-fiction. Tales can be action films, adventure stories, romance, horror, and more. From Blade Runner to Black Mirror, from Polaris Rising to Foundation. Science-fiction can be defined by both fun and thoughtfulness, and there is always a place for a fun adventure that does not require readers to analyze every paragraph. Books like The Forbidden Stars, Tim Pratt’s third novel in the Axiom trilogy, show the importance of such escapism while also taking the opportunity to define a possible future. While entertaining, the novels also take some time to normalize behaviors and lifestyles, sexual orientations and body modifications. Science-fiction lets us see all futures and revel in them.
There is a certain amount of joy gained in reading some fiction. Fiction meant to entertain, to transport the readers to fantastical worlds and witness the deeds of heroic peoples. Where literary fiction tends to prioritize specific word choice and meaning over plot and character, many authors realize that there can be greater value in drawing in and entertaining your audience. Sometimes the best books are the ones that make you forget that you are reading words on a page, instead conjuring images in your imagination. These are the kinds of books that are hard to put down, and you wonder how you managed to read through them so quickly. These types of books thrive in science-fiction, where most things, if not all things, are possible. The only barrier is the author’s imagination.
Read the Rest!
Science-fiction takes many forms, but there are two archetypes which nearly all science-fiction stories fall into. First, there is the hard sci-fi. The Expanse, The Three-Body Problem, anything by Robert A. Heinlein. These are the stories which pay extra attention to the technologies of the future and go to great lengths to explain exactly how races have progressed to their points. This type of science-fiction can be literary, it can be intellectual, and it can be gritty. On the other end of the spectrum is the space opera. Star Wars, Firefly, A Princess of Mars. In space operas the technology is present, but is not central to the story. These stories are all about the characters. Where hard sci-fi series can fluctuate between multiple viewpoints, space operas relish in following an individual or a group of characters throughout their adventure. As our world changes and progresses, hard science-fiction and sometimes feel outdated, but space operas are timeless. Polaris Rising is very much a space opera.
Tomorrow morning I’ll be posting my review of The Last Equation of Isaac Severy, by Nova Jacobs. This is a little unusual for me in that it’s neither science-fiction nor fantasy. There’s some elements of thriller, a touch of romance, a brief murder-mystery, and a lot of family drama. Most of all this, this is literary mathematical fiction.
I am lucky to have seen Nova read portions of the story at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena last month at a launch event, and am happy to share her first novel with you all.
Check back in the morning for the complete review!
Romance literature can easily seem like a stale genre. There are certain beats and plot points which we know most romance novels will follow. We know the characters long before we open the first page or even learn their names. There is an entire industry based around this, and authors take full advantage of our desire to experience love vicariously. The male and female protagonists—and there are nearly always white—may fall in love at first sight. The entire world may try to get in there way. There will be a sex scene, or multiple, described in such circumstantial language so as to not appear pornographic. The Shape of Water novel is not like this. These are characters you have never met, experiencing life and love in different ways. Even the sex is new and strange and different.