Is Sci-Fantasy irrelevant in the Information Age? Buckle your swashes and dust off your whimsy, cuz it's time for the Electric Didact!
Not Your Typical Fare
We talked about handwavium in the last blog because Imaginative Sci-Fi is marked by its moderate flexibility with science.
If you listened to the Writing Excuses podcast, you'd remember that the third level of handwavium was "I don't care." What was the example given?
George Lucas' space opera is characteristic of Sci-Fantasy, which in general does not tell its stories with a high regard for scientific accuracy--at all. Stories often combine elements of high fantasy (e.g., swords, magic, strange creatures) with speculative technology (e.g., time machines, hyperdrives, energy shields) for a cocktail of nearly (or outright) impossible artifice.
Star Wars has space travel, high-tech machines and sentient robots alongside swords, a mystical "force," and weird alien creatures.
Other examples? How about Burroughs' A Princess of Mars or the Wachowski's The Matrix or Blizzard Entertainment's StarCraft?
These all share similar combinations of disparate speculative elements, but these stories--I would argue--are not simply genre hybrids.
They're modern fairy tales.
No Country for Old Writers
My question is this:
Is there a prominent place in today's speculative fiction market for the modern fairy tale? I worry that the answer is increasingly "no."
If Ray Bradbury were an aspiring writer today, would he find a market for the stories found in The Martian Chronicles? How about his oddball tales in The October Country? Despite Bradbury's creativity and incisive subjects, I believe his whimsical style and hyper-imaginative story elements would not easily find a place to call home in this day and age.
Bradbury imagined a breathable Martian atmosphere, a Venetian jungle with eternal rainfall and aggressive plant life. Would these things fly in today's markets? If not, why?
Let us remain childlike and not childish in our 20-20 vision, borrowing such telescopes, rockets, or magic carpets as may be needed to hurry us along to miracles of physics as well as dream.
Star Wars was itself a sort of about-face in a 70s cinema culture where spec fic movies had assumed the New Wave dogma of skepticism and cynicism. What's more optimistic than a good vs. evil space opera featuring bright colors, lightsabers, an opening crawl and a John Williams score?
Bradbury exhorted his readers to be "childlike and not childish," evoking the whimsical sci-fi fairy tales he was famous for, and promoting a technological optimism that shines through in his other fiction.
Here's a great 1996 interview with Bradbury that goes deeper with his opinions.
"Seriousness Is the Red Death"
In the 60s and 70s, speculative fiction underwent a series of changes by writers of the New Wave (a branch of literary Postmodernism) that introduced (among other things) elements of literary, psychological, and technological pessimism to science fiction and fantasy.
Countering this movement that was taking his and his compatriots' trailblazing in ever darker directions, Bradbury himself wrote in his essay "On the Shoulders of Giants:"
"I hope we will not get too serious here, for seriousness is the Red Death if we let it move too freely amongst us" (Zen in the Art of Writing, p. 107).
The momentum of literature's cyclical history has pushed past Bradbury's admonitions, resulting in a speculative fiction scene dominated by space operas and endless series of novels by the most well established authors on one hand, and a short fiction scene dominated by literary tastes and an appetite for hard sci-fi on the other; the whimsical has been replaced by Slipstream, the New Weird, and others, forcing an author of the style of Bradbury or Asimov to reevaluate their thinking.
Are we as a Postmodern literary culture losing our imaginations, or even our very minds? Maybe. The increasing rationalization of society and the accelerating pace of technological development and commercialization means that our attention is more and more on ourselves, our world, and the here-and-now.
Where is the far-seeing eye? Where is the imagination that is unafraid to buck common sense and throw accepted knowledge to the wind in order to investigate the human? Where are the journals, the publishers, the readers that will open themselves just an inch to let in the "miracles of physics as well as dream" that promise to shatter worldviews and ask hard questions? I'll conclude in Bradbury's words:
"Gazing at Medusa's image in his bronze shield, pretending to look one way, Perseus reaches back over his shoulder and severs Medusa's head. So science fiction pretends at futures in order to cure sick dogs lying in today's road. Indirection is everything. Metaphor is the medicine" ("On the Shoulders of Giants," Zen in the Art of Writing, p. 105).
What's your response? Let me know in the comments or on the Facebook page!
Which brings us to the infographic! In researching this series of blogs, I decided it would be helpful to have a visual that could sum up what we've been talking about. Here's the piece for Sci-Fantasy, with some examples of books, TV shows/movies, and video games.
Do you have other examples not on the list? Tell me in the comments.
It's been fun! See you again soon.
Click the infographic to view it full size.
You may download and share it, but please acknowledge that Jedd Cole/Electric Didact is the author.
Jedd Cole is a professional writer and author of short speculative fiction. He resides in Ohio where he is completing a degree in Rhetoric & Professional Writing, crafting short stories in every time-nook he can find, all while frequenting the pages of imaginary worlds with his wonderful wife, Heather, and no pets. None.