Thursday, May 01, 2008

More About SF - Pseudo-Fantasy

Second-to-last post I talked about hard SF. (Last time I talked about a guitar string.) This time, let's go back a few posts and pick up on something I assigned to the category of science fiction but called pseudo-fantasy. What is pseudo-fantasy?

I threw out the example of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. It's the book that put her on the map, but I must confess that didn't get through it. Since what I read was many years ago, I'm going to use another example for the sake of discussion.

This is a book I reviewed in June of 2007 here on Frothing at the Mouth. It's a novel by James Maxey called Bitterwood.

I'm trying to do this without any serious spoilers, but if you want to read the book and have absolutely no hints about his world, do not read on. Come back when you've read it.

Are the hard-core newly minted Bitterwood fans gone? Good. Let's carry on.

Maxey writes what is essentially a solid fantasy story featuring dragons. As you dig deeper into the story, you discover that all his fantastic aspects are explained away scientifically. His magic? It's all forgotten technology or science. His dragons? Genetic engineering gone rampant. Everything about his world is well and plausably explained, and that makes it a science fiction story disguised as fantasy.

I get the impression that Maxey likes to have his fantasy universe grounded in reality. James, if you're reading this, would you post a comment about why you decided to go the pseudo-fantasy route with the Bitterwood universe?


In other news, some bozos left a campfire unattended in Grand Canyon National Park, starting the X fire.

People, if you don't know what you are doing, leave the matches at home! This part of the country is very dry and will ignite if you look at it wrong.


James Maxey said...

Rick, I went the SF route to ground my apparently fantasy universe for a couple of reasons. First, I'm a big geek. I used to play a lot of AD&D, and would often sit around thinking about how I could ever play the game for real... not on a computer, but going out to an actual dungeon with actual dragons. I imagined how close science and technology could get to reproducing the ground conditions of a fantasy universe. Genetic engineering could provide the monsters, and a few plausible though speculative technologies such as nanotech could provide passable magic. So, it was my geeky "what if" daydreaming of going off to fight dragons that laid the foundations of my real world fantasy world.

Second, I was bothered by some fantasy novels that I read that had as a foundation a reality in which there were such things as supernatural evil and supernatural good. It seemed to provide a fairly simplistic moral universe that didn't quite reflect the complexity of the moral choices I saw facing our world. So, from an artistic/thematic perspective, writing a fantasy novel in a universe in which supernatural forces never intervene or judge in the affairs of men was more satisfying than writing in a fictional universe where there is a clearly defined evil to be bested and a clearly defined good to be defended. My conflicts are set up as characters who fight for just causes facing direct opposition from other characters who are fighting for just causes.

Finally, a lot of advice in writing fiction centers on laying down the "rules" of magic. My "rules" are the earthly rules of biology and physics. Yet, working within these rules, I hope I make my fantastic elements have even more of a sense of wonder. The sense that the "magic" could really work hopefully will leave my readers daydreaming about these technologies. Maybe I'll see my D&D theme park come to life yet.

Rick Novy said...

Thanks for commenting, James. Your reasons are pretty much what I expected them to be, and I agree that it's more interesting to try making a fantastic world using real-world ground rules.