Clean and Dirty

People who come here often may remember my definition of science fiction, viz.

Science fiction is a genre in which it is considered true that only reason and the assumption that the physical world is the only one that exists, can explain the universe, and in which the story typically but not necessarily, features science and/or technology.

It just struck me that there is a corollary to this which I’ve always known but can now explain; certain genre mixes involving science fiction do not work. You can have some great mixed-genre offerings that include sci-fi such as sci-fi and crime (The Caves of Steel – nuff said), sci-fi and romance (The Left Hand of Darkness), sci-fi and historical (Galileo’s Dream), and so on. However, what never ever works for me is sci-fi and fantasy. Ever. The end result is pure fantasy with some science and technology thrown in – not sci-fi at all.

It follows from the definition, of course, that this should be so. Fantasy by definition requires a story in which something more than the physical world must exist (that’s why they call it fantasy!) so if you add that to sci-fi (by my definition) you break the key requirement of the genre and no longer have sci-fi at all. It’s like clean and dirty: once they’re mixed, all you have is dirty.

Just thought I’d mention it.

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7 comments to Clean and Dirty

  • J-A Brocke

    Not a ‘Star Wars’ fan, then?

    • J-A Brocke

      What about ‘Terminator’? Timeslip is part of the fantasy genre.

      • “Terminator” is fine – it takes the science seriously – i.e. the time travel they use is a scientific and technical development that (supposedly) depends only on ordinary real world physics. When I think of “timeslip” I think of fantasy romances like “The House on the Strand” which, while an excellent book, uses the kind of magical “connection” between times, places, or people, that is typical of the genre. “The Time Traveller’s Wife” is the same kind of thing (even though it has a mumbo jumbo genetics “explanation”, it really is a case of “science as magic” (which I should also do a post on one day).

        In fact, I’m glad you mentioned “timeslip”. It’s a great word to use in opposition to the SF notion of “time travel”.

        • J-A Brocke

          Hmm. I’d not thought about the science of timetravel as opposed to the magic of it. I look forward to that post on ‘science as magic’!

  • MerylF

    Well I enjoy Star Wars, but I have to agree with you about most SF/Fantasy crosses. I can either suspend my disbelief and read a fantasy novel, or I can sit back and enjoy the complex social and political commentary in a SF novel.

    I can’t do both…

    • Oh, I suppose I enjoy Star Wars well enough, but there are a lot of cringemaking scenes where I just squirm in embarrassment. (Which episode was it where the ghosts of various dead Jedis joined Luke around the campfire at the end? That’s the kind of thing.) Star Wars is another good example of “science as magic”. Midichlorians? FTW?

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