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"When does Science Fiction become Fantasy?" Topic

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859 hits since 15 Dec 2012
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Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP15 Dec 2012 11:34 p.m. PST

I made the mistake of watching "In Time" on HBO a few days ago.
Mostly I kept watching it in hope that the lead actress (whose name I never bothered to find out) would take her clothes off. Alas, she did not, at least in the last half that I saw.
It had a real dumb premise, that everyone was frozen at 25 years of age, but then they would be allotted "time" by a gracious Government (or corporations, I am not sure which) which could increase or decreae their life span. Naturally, the suspense came in when the hero was down to 45 seconds and ahd to get some more time so he would not drop dead. You could get more time from either shinny metal boxrs, or by clapsing hands with a donor.
Would someone please explain to me just how "science" fits in here?

I have also argued here that there is absolutely NO science in Star Wars either, and it is pure fantasy.

Anyway, it's late, I just came in from a late showing of The Hobbit (no science fiction there, I am glad to say!) and a few beers. Going to bed, fully confident than when I get up and log on, I will have picked up a few more stifles.

Pijlie15 Dec 2012 11:43 p.m. PST

Well, any tech that enables a governement to automatically reduce or regulate people's lifespans obviously has some science behind it. What kind of science is not explained in the movie (as far as I could tell) but then most audiences nowadays can only concentrate on an explanation for about 10 seconds at a stretch so scientific exposées are probably not Hollywoods main priority, as you yourself have pointed out since time immemorial.

So no stifles by me. Sorry John.

But it probably is a shame she didn't drop her kit, so to say :)

Aksakal Inactive Member16 Dec 2012 1:01 a.m. PST

More to the reality, when does magic or fantasy become science fiction?

Personal logo Stronty Girl Supporting Member of TMP Fezian16 Dec 2012 4:38 a.m. PST

The premise seemed to be that the government/corporations were 'rationing' time, which they were making in a factory and installing in the little metal boxes.

As this is patently unscientific nonsense, I was happy to instead believe that the time was in fact money (and I bet 'Time is Money' was said at the pitch for this movie!) and when you run out of time/money, the counter thing implanted into your arm gives you a fatal heart attack and you keel over dead.

Personal logo Stronty Girl Supporting Member of TMP Fezian16 Dec 2012 4:43 a.m. PST

Sorry… forgot to answer the original question…

I think there is a blurry grey area in the middle of science fiction and fantasy that should probably be labelled 'science fantasy'. It is chock full of things that can't be explained by science (e.g. psionic powers) and also with things that are illogical but make the plot work better, especially in movies/telly (e.g. everyone in the galaxy speaks English).

Dark Knights And Bloody Dawns16 Dec 2012 4:58 a.m. PST

Well some people have pace makers fitted and you're pretty dependant on them for staying alive.

Look at some of the gadgets from Star Trek and 007. I suppose a lot of our modern inventions began life as fantasy to someone.

Inner Sanctum16 Dec 2012 5:24 a.m. PST

Science fantasy used to be a seperate genre. I'd put most "pulp" and SF that doesn't bother too much about the laws of physics here.

However, there is the wosname that superior science can appear as magic to a less technilogical society. If you took most modern tech back to my 17 year old self this would appear so. I had yet to make a personal phone call – other than doctors surgeries, etc – I knew no-one with access to a private telephone in 1973 UK.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 6:11 a.m. PST

I don't bother with the distinction, myself. But then I believe as firmly in supernatural and non-material reality as in the reality merely of what we can observe and measure.

skippy000116 Dec 2012 6:31 a.m. PST

High Fantasy could be explained in scientific terms-Magic is psychic manipulaion of matter and energy by intuitive means, cold iron attenuates magic because it is tempered in air which aligns the atoms one way causing mana particles to ground out.

It's a literary/film label for editors and critics to pigeonhole a book/movie.

YOU decide what is fantasy or science.

Inari716 Dec 2012 6:42 a.m. PST

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 7:04 a.m. PST

I'd say any sufficiently advanced technology is PERCEIVED as magic by those less advanced. If that is what Clarke meant.

If he meant there's no such thing as magic, I'd want to ask how he thought he knew that.

Tgunner16 Dec 2012 7:27 a.m. PST

I have also argued here that there is absolutely NO science in Star Wars either, and it is pure fantasy.

Well there is SOME. Much of the action is set in space, there are galaxies (we get to see a nice spiral one in ESB), there are space ships and they can go faster than light (something that was just recently proven to be "possible"), lasers are tools and weapons, vehicles using contra-gravity levitation, robots, and stuff like that. So there is a fig leaf of science-fiction here. But once you get beyond that and start talking Jedi, the Force, and all that rubbish then you've strayed off the reservation and into the realm of fantasy.

Legion 416 Dec 2012 7:57 a.m. PST

Sci-fi, as the term says, has some science and/or high tech involved … Fantasy is all about "Magic" … Star Trek is Sci-fi … The Hobbit is magic … Some times the line with Sci-fi may get a blurred … but Starships vs. Wizards … the line seems pretty solid, IMO …

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 8:46 a.m. PST

When some old wizard starts talking about The Force, and he has a flashlight that can but steel

Personal logo nazrat Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 8:51 a.m. PST

"Star Trek is Sci-fi "

Star Trek is Science Fantasy at best. When the scripts simply say "Insert techno-babble here" whenever they need a deus ex machine to get out of whatever fix they are in it is most certainly NOT science fiction!

That being said, I do like the Trek series a lot, regardless of what label anybody might prefer to slap on it.

Personal logo nazrat Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 8:56 a.m. PST

"If he meant there's no such thing as magic, I'd want to ask how he thought he knew that."

Probably because he was a scientist, and was rational. From what I have observed, in most educated circles if there is absolutely no scientific proof of something then it does not exist.

Garand16 Dec 2012 9:03 a.m. PST

Speculative fiction has already covered some of these issues:

1. Hard SF: very much grounded with science, only a small number/one diversion from science as it is currently understood.

2. Space Opera: several/many divergences from science as it is currently understood, though still plausable.

3. Fantasy: many divergences from science as it is currently understood, and totally implausable.

Thus the big question of whether Star War is truly Space Opera or Fantasy. Just saying "well there are galaxies and it is in space, or uses what is clearly high tech" is not sufficient IMHO. How does that tech work? Is it at all explainable using current or theoretical science? What about the Force? Clearly this question is more subjective depending on who you ask…

Regarding Trek, does it fit definition 2 or 3? The existence of "Treknobabble" does not invalidate it from #2. At best, it is simply bad scriptwriting.


Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 9:31 a.m. PST

Well, Nazrat, Newton was sort of a scientist. And rational, among other things.

Your theory of knowledge is too limited.

Personal logo T Meier Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 9:35 a.m. PST

I'd say the useful distinction is science fiction has as an important plot component, examining how technology or knowledge will affect people. 'Hard' and 'soft' science fiction is then the degree to which this tech or knowledge is plausible.

Fantasy is just a story with fantastic elements were the effect of those elements on the human condition is irrelevant or unexamined.

So for example 'Star Wars' is fantasy where 'Star Trek' is science fiction, though a lot of it very soft.

Basically ask yourself, could you write out all the science or fantastic elements and still have essentially the same story (though perhaps less interesting)? If you can it's fantasy, if not; science fiction.

'The Hobbit' would be the same essential story without any fantastical creatures, though it would lose much of it's charm. Oddly you could make a case for 'The Lord of the Rings' being sci-fi, at least so far as the ring goes, the other fantastical elements could go.

Legion 416 Dec 2012 9:42 a.m. PST

I'm still sticking with Star Trek is Sci-fi … with some fantasy elements showing up here and there … As I said, IMO, Starships, aliens, landing on planets, etc. = Sci-fi … Wizards, Hobbits, Witches, Trolls, etc. = Fantasy … but that is just my take on it … With Sci-fi we have to suspend our beliefs of reality a bit or more … With Fantasy, it's all just "magic" ! To me …

Space Monkey16 Dec 2012 12:16 p.m. PST

I think it's a fairly useless classification… doesn't give me a clue if I'll like a book/movie or not.

I think I'd rather know if a book is about actions or ideas.
Is it 2d characters and lots of gunfights (sword fights/magic battles/spaceship battles/whatever) … OR… is it full of interesting characters and how they interact with interesting new concepts, solve difficult problems.

Neither 'fantasy' or 'hard sf' have a corner on good characters, involving storylines or interesting concepts.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 12:18 p.m. PST

Fairly useless unless carefully defined, yes, I agree.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 1:04 p.m. PST

To Hollywood, "science fiction" means the story has some combination of aliens, time travel, spaceships, genetic engineering, robots, computers, advanced weapons/vehicles that we don't currently have, or is simply set "in the future" or "on another world." If they can dress up a character in a lab coat, label him or her a scientist, and have them spew nonsensical technical sounding blather, all the better. Whether it makes any sense or not or has any basis in science is irrelevant.

To Hollywood, "fantasy" means the story has some combination or monsters, witches, wizards, knights, fairies, elves, dwarves, people in goofy, vaguely medieval garb, castles, wands, "mystical" objects, and so forth, but nobody in a lab coat who bothers to attempt to explain it all.

To purists, "science fiction" includes elements of non-existant technology or scientific discovery or an exploration of such things as might actually be known or understood and which are central to the story and plot. The science at least needs to have some level of plausibility or at least decent "handwavium" to deal with the known physical laws and attributes of the Universe. "Fantasy" dispenses with any such attempt at rationalization, or even consideration of physical laws at all.

Oh, and @nazrat— Science posits plenty of phenomena for which there is neither evidence nor proof— the concept of multiple universes comes to mind.

Personal logo T Meier Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Dec 2012 1:49 p.m. PST

"Fantasy" dispenses with any such attempt at rationalization, or even consideration of physical laws at all.

Since experience is subjective and science is anything which can be demonstrated I don't see how you can differentiate between sci-fi and fantasy on the grounds of possibility. Anything can be explained scientifically in the context of a story, even if it defies physical laws, it could be mass hypnosis, a dream, a drug induced hallucination, mind control a la 'The Matrix' & etc.

That's why I think the only meaningful distinction is what the unreal elements are used for.

Space Monkey16 Dec 2012 1:59 p.m. PST

"Fantasy" dispenses with any such attempt at rationalization, or even consideration of physical laws at all.
Not so much. Many fantasy tales will try to make their setting rational and consistent through magic-babble (fantasy techno-babble?) and only subvert one or two physical laws… leaving the rest intact (zombies!).
If the zombies are explained by means of magic/voodoo/demons it's fantasy… if it's some sort of alien parasite/plague/radiation it's scifi… and if there's no explanation at all… ?

DMoody Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member16 Dec 2012 3:44 p.m. PST

The actress in question was Amanda Seyfried. Also of "Mama Mia!", "Jennifer's Body", "Red Riding Hood" and "Letters to Juliet" et al. And she's in next weeks release of "Les Misérables".

Covert Walrus16 Dec 2012 3:59 p.m. PST

I suppose it would be irrational of me to point anyone here in the direction of the actual science by this stage – the work currently being done on the genetics of longevity and aging, combined with the politics of population contriol and resource management which are the key points of not only this movie, but such stories as "Heartclock" of "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman" ? I mean, I could link to a bibiliography on the subject like PDF link but is it worthwhile when the discussion has reached it's own determined conclusions>

Yeah, what would I know? I'm not only a biologist, I'm not even <SNIP>

Personal logo Ambush Alley Games Sponsoring Member of TMP Inactive Member16 Dec 2012 6:04 p.m. PST

Roger Zelazny's LORD OF LIGHT is one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time. I've been told by Science Fiction Experts that it is actually Science Fantasy because there's insufficient explanation of the science behind the plot points.

I don't buy that.

First, Clarke's lovely truism about science and magic clearly indicates that a reader could be confronted with something that is a product of science but is beyond their understanding of science – or beyond the author's, for that matter. It's not required that the author have a strong scientific explanation for the technology presented in his story (although it certainly helps with accessability if it conforms at least partially to our current scientific beliefs), because he or she is writing science FICTION. If the author was writing a science THRILLER, it might be different.

I think the terms SF and Fantasy are meaningful. To me a Fantasy story is escapism. It might contain some meaningful philosophical or ethical challenges for me to puzzle through, but it might also provide me with nothing more than a vacation from my own world. I expect a science fiction novel to force me to examine the impact of science and technology on my life, my humanity, and the culture I belong to.

Yes, I do have higher expectations from SF. So sue me!

The Great Souled Shawn.

Dynaman878916 Dec 2012 7:56 p.m. PST

I go with the science fiction definition that limits it to one major departure from known scientific fact – and then extrapolating on how that would change things.

That said I don't give a rip, as long as a universe is internally consistant I'm happy.

Legion 416 Dec 2012 9:46 p.m. PST

Amanda Seyfried … she's [a] fantasy in my book … evil grin

dsfrank Inactive Member16 Dec 2012 10:58 p.m. PST

all science fiction is fantasy

Aksakal Inactive Member17 Dec 2012 3:03 a.m. PST

All lingerie is famtasy.

Personal logo T Meier Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Dec 2012 10:36 a.m. PST

all science fiction is fantasy

All fiction and most non-fiction is fantasy.

billthecat17 Dec 2012 12:23 p.m. PST

The difference is semantics.

Another vote here for internal consistency, however.

…Oh,and decent storytelling, theme, and characters.

I don't expect any of the above from Hollywood or its emulators.

Personal logo T Meier Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Dec 2012 1:39 p.m. PST

I don't expect any of the above from Hollywood…

You expect right, Hollywood is a business, they make a product for mass consumption. It's like one size fits most for your brain. What you end up with is chases and explosions (or in the case of the recent Hobbit movie, manic action, fighting and things crashing)everybody appreciates a good explosion and chasing appeals directly to the reptilian brain.

Legion 418 Dec 2012 9:12 a.m. PST

Anything involving Victoria's Secret models, Playboy Playmates, etc. is fantasy … period …

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