I was about to post a comment to this entry in “It’s All One Thing” when I realized my comment was longer than the original post. In the interests of not hijacking the thread, I shifted my post over here. You should read the original post and comments on Will’s blog first, though.
Those of you who’ve been watching the state of the world for the last half-dozen years plus will have noticed how much good polarized thinking has done it.
So let’s figure out this Science Fiction vs. Fantasy thing once and for all. Science fiction is for Republicans, fantasy is for Democrats. Science fiction is for boys, fantasy is for girls. Science fiction is for people who want to strip-mine in wildlife refuges, fantasy is for dope-smoking tree-huggers.
Listen: science fiction and fantasy are two ways to solve the same problem. And the problem is, How do we tell the truth about ourselves in fiction? Neither is inherently better at doing that than the other. They’re just different paths to the same place.
Because no, science fiction isn’t forward-looking, and fantasy isn’t nostalgic. If Stephan Zielinski’s Bad Magic is nostalgic for something, I’m not sure I want to know what it was. And I can recall half a dozen SF works from the last decade whose subject is, “Let’s go back to the good old days when men were men, sex was easy, and authority figures always had your best interests at heart.”
If fantasy did limit itself to ignoring technology, and science fiction did limit itself to embracing it, neither of them would be able to tell us the truth about ourselves.
There is no such thing as a pre-technological society. Look up the history of the stirrup or the horse collar, both of which transformed the cultures that adopted them. And the future of humanity isn’t shaped purely by technology; new philosophies, religions, domestic structures, and laws (among other forces) can and will change us just as much as our gadgetry will.
You can’t write for the world that will exist fifty years from now. You have no idea who those people are, what will speak to them. You may luck out, sure. But you really can’t write for the future. And you can’t write for the world of fifty years ago. It’s dead. The past can’t read.
You write for now. You write to make sense of the present, for people in the present. Whether you write science fiction, fantasy, historical novels, contemporary romance, or anything else, that’s what you’re doing. Different genres appeal to different readers at different moments. And each genre is a different kind of fun–and headache–for a writer. But they all have the same job.
I saw a liquor ad once–I think it might have been for Johnny Walker. It showed two people in a bar. The woman sat in a booth, doing a surreptitious check on her looks in the mirror of her compact. The man in the next booth was sneaking a look at himself in the mirror above the wainscoting. The caption was, “Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it.”
SF is fiction. Fantasy is fiction. However we define them, let’s do it in such a way that we don’t make it impossible for them to do the work of fiction.