Science Fiction. Fantasy. Horror. Superhero. Every geek proudly defends his chosen genre. While art is always subjective, it can be interesting to explore how each genre has its narrative strengths…and pitfalls.
I love fantasy. The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest epics of all time, and, yes, I am a member of a Dungeons and Dragons club. #WaterdeepDragonHeist #NoShame
But, I do feel that science fiction has some narrative strengths over fantasy, which is why that is genre I am currently dabbling in for my creative writing. These are general patterns, there will always be outliers.
Strength #1: Sci Fi Avoids the Messiah Complex (When Done Right)
Fantasy stories frequently have a messianic character. Frodo. Harry. King Arthur. The Pevensies. These “chosen ones” are a very common fantasy trope. There is a time and place for this type of storytelling. I am a Christian and I do think that sometimes Providence calls people to certain missions. These fantasy characters (at least in Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia) can serve a christological function if done right.
However, it can be hard to relate to these characters. I don’t have a prophesy telling me what my role will be. History is not micromanaged by prophecies or chosen ones.
Consider Star Trek. Are the characters gifted? Yes. Are they in a unique position given the technological eliteness of the Enterprise? Yes. However one can more easily see oneself becoming a psychologist, like Troi, or an engineer, like Shorty, or a captain (albeit not of a Starship) like Picard than one can imagine being marked for greatness like Harry Potter.
Yes, some Sci Fi falls back on fantasy tropes (Star Wars, I’m looking at you). However Science Fiction generally does not need a “chosen one.” That makes the characters more relatable and raises the stakes. If there is a prophecy, we can trust it will be fulfilled. If a character is just one member of the crew among many…well they don’t have fate to shield them from danger.
Strength #2: We Can See Science Fiction Coming True
Wizards, as fantasy understands them, are not real and never will be real. The crocodile is as close as we are ever going to get to a dragon.
On the other hand, the communicators of Star Trek have come true in cell phones. The book burning world of Fahrenheit 451 is all too real in some countries (and will come to our own if we are not careful). And while we may not have cyborgs, like in Ghost in the Shell, human beings are becoming more and more attached to technology and that technology is providing a new platform for warfare. We may not be able to reanimate dead corpses like Victor Frankenstein, but the history of science is filled with less-than-ethical science experiments.
When we read fantasy we have to suspend disbelief. When we read science fiction the scenarios are often all too real.
Strength #3 Science Fiction’s “What If…”
Fantasy’s “What if” is often well…a fantasy. People joke all the time about how they are “still waiting for their Hogwarts Letter.” People wish they could go to Narnia. People wish they were a wizard. People wish they could find a genie.
With SciFi…it ain’t so simple. Do you wish you had an X-gene? Where your powers may be unstable, may cause you to kill your boyfriend if you kiss him, and will cause you to have to live in hiding from the fearful human population? It may be cool to be an X-man…but not completely.
We don’t wish to be Katniss from the Hunger Games, or the humans under attack in War of the Worlds. We don’t wish to be a Loonie from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Science Fiction makes it easier to pick “what if’s” that are blessings…and curses. This can make it all the more exciting and believable.
Furthermore, fantasy often falls back on recycled Lord of the Rings knockoffs. Elves, dwarves and dragons again and again and again. Science Fiction’s need for novel “what if’s” has spurred a great diversity. Just see the range from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Deep Space Nine, from the optimism of Star Trek to the crushing despair of Frankenstein. There is a massive difference between Xenomorphs and Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still.
I will go back to Narnia soon. But for now, I will hear the prophets warning and celebrating an all too close future.
Robot Image by Comfreak on Pixabay
Fantasy Image above by peter_pvw on Pixabay