The difficulty of SF vis-a-vis F

The difficulty of SF vis-a-vis F

It took writing and publishing a science fiction novel to learn that I am not really up to the task of writing what I consider to be genuine science fiction. Although Tolkein was my introduction to the SF/F genre – I began by reading the first ten pages of The Two Towers on an overnight trip – I quickly became a fan of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, devouring pretty much everything they published. While my first attempt at a novel and my first attempt at a game design were both fantasy, my first successful attempt in both the novel and game markets turned out to be science fiction. I rapidly abandoned that setting, though, for one very simple reason. Genuine and scientifically consistent science fiction is really hard.

It was Pat Wrede who convinced me, most likely unintentionally, that if I didn’t want to spend nearly as much time researching and rewriting things in order to get the science right, I’d be better off playing around in fantasy worlds of my own creation. In fantasy, it’s merely a matter of keeping things consistent and getting the psychology right, which is a much easier proposition. Human nature doesn’t change quite as rapidly as science; what is a perfectly reasonable and educated scientific proposition upon which to base an SF novel can look absurd and hopelessly unscientific less than ten years later.

There are a number of theories as to why science fiction appears to have been replaced by fantasy, even as ye olde high fantasy appears to be in the process of being replaced by urban fantasy and horror. I think several of them may be correct, but one thing I haven’t seen often discussed is the possibility that it’s simply easier to write about angst-ridden vampires and arrogant elves than it is about actual science.

So, my question for the writers here is what drew you to one sub-genre rather than the other, and if you write in multiple genres, which do you find easier to write in?

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John R. Fultz

What drew me to fantasy? Good question. Sometimes it feels like I’m beating a drum to a song nobody wants to hear anymore. But it’s the song I believe in, a tune that is so fundamental to all fiction, and offers so many terrific rewards, that I would never abandon it to sing another.
My love of fantasy began, as many writers and readers did, with Tolkien. I read THE HOBBIT when I was in third grade. This lead me to LORD OF THE RINGS–this and the animated LOTR movie from ’78–and eventually to THE SILMARILLION. Haunting the used book stores I discovered other fantastists whose work spoke to me, like an apprentice wizard digging through unearthed books of spells and arcane secrets: Clark Ashton Smith; Robert E. Howard; Lovecraft’s DREAMLANDS tales; in college I discovered the power and majesty of Lord Dunsany, the poetic brilliance of Tanith Lee, and the unsung mastery of Darrell Schweitzer. All of these writers SPOKE to me. They wove the stuff of fantasy into something magical and essential, at least to me.
There were also comic magazines: SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, EERIE, EPIC ILLUSTRATED, HEAVY METAL…Richard Corben’s DEN…Jack Katz’ THE FIRST KINGDOM. In the 70s (I was born in ’69) fantasy was more popular than it had ever been. All of these influences added up to a fascination with fantasy that would in large part shape my life, and definitely shaped my writing.
Why do I write fantasy? I guess because to me it’s the most powerful form of literature and the most compelling. All fiction is a form of fantasy, afterall.
I’ve written my fair share of horror as well, and it’s also a branch of fantasy. Dark Fantasy combines traditional fantasy with horror.
It’s all about the IMAGINATION. Mine was fired at an early age, and I never stopped stoking those fires.

John R. Fultz

One more thought about writing fantasy: To a certain point, anything can happen in fantasy. Science Fiction is a bit more limited in that you ideally have some scientific basis for the fantastic elements. When you go “too far” from the science, you end up in the realm of fantasy.
However, it must be said that fantasy has its own set of rules and parameters. Fantasy worlds must have their own internal logic…world-building takes skill in order to be believable.
Fantasy, in the end, inherently has less restrictions than science fiction. You can get away with more…
Their are lots of great works that blur the line, however. For instance, Robert Silverberg’s masterpiece NIGHTWINGS is on its surface science fiction, but you could argue that it’s really fantasy.


It was Conan that sparked my interest in fatnasy. First, as a child, I saw the cartoon, found out about the stories via the credits for the first movie, and jumped right in. The sword-and-sorcery world enthralled me, and the subsequent art-work by Frazetta, too. That things could be this raw and primitive, the only brightness gleaming from whirring sword, and a world full of forgotten monster–needless to say I found the perfect way to forget my life was dull 🙂 Science I learned in school, adventure in my imagination.
Now that I’ve gone all Hallmark on my memories, I’ll get sober. I’m only now getting into to sci-fi at 27 with Frank Herbert (great stuff, too.) Fantasy allows people to be heroic again instead of a collection of atoms controled by the excretion of chemicals in the brain. It’s easier for issues to be a matter of good and evil. Religion/spirituality can have a place in your world (which reminds me, it’s hard to base a story on hard science, it’s also hard to craft a believable theology for your fantasy cultures) rather than be brushed off as something insane or as ambiguous like “the force”.

I also just plain like swords and monsters 🙂

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