Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Can Science Fiction be Fused With Anything... and Still be Considered Sci-fi?

I've learned something over the last couple of days. I am not good at trying to force certain elements of a story together. I have been trying to write a short story for the online magazine that Gav over at NextRead is trying to launch, and my story suuuuucks. The submissions had to fit within a certain theme and this issue's theme was science fiction fused with myth. Sounds easy right? And given the latest trend of fusing fantasy & sci-fi, you'd think I'd have plenty of inspiration. But it just wasn't working out. The problem I had was my own interpretation of myths. My favorite kind has always been good old Greek mythology. I've been fascinated with it ever since I was a kid. I remember picking up books on mythology as early as fifth grade. I can't tell you how many times I watched the original "Clash of the Titans" growing up. And even though they were completely mythologically inaccurate, I was a bit of a "Hercules" and "Xena" addict. So I naturally gravitated toward Greek myth when trying to write my short story, but I really got caught up when trying to add sci-fi elements. How do you put a gun in the hand of a god? Or give them a reason to need optical implants? Or space crafts? I know I didn't have to put the constraint on myself that the characters I was working with actually be gods, but I thought I could make it work. Only not really. Science fiction isn't my strong suit. I'm kind of weird in that I like to read fantasy and watch science fiction, so I don't speak the language in print. Occasionally books with sci-fi elements will tickle my fancy. I really liked State of Decay by James Knapp, a book that put a really good spin on the zombie genre but was firmly grounded in science. But when I try to add a modern twist to a very old mythology, I end up with urban fantasy. So it leaves me wondering whether science fiction can really be fused with other genres and still remain true to form, and not just something out of a "Star Trek" episode. I have so many books right now that cross genres. I have a giveaway that is a mash-up of "Jane Eyre" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for Pete's sake. But nearly all of the books that I can think of that incorporate fantasy & sci-fi elements fall under the urban fantasy umbrella. I'm probably over-thinking this as usual. But it was grinding at me as I was writing the story. I didn't know if Gav was going for urban fantasy and I kept thinking that I needed to keep the sci-fi elements more crisp while staying true to the mythology. Is that even possible? Well, of course it is...but can you still, really, call it science fiction? I probably have way too much time on my hands if I'm dwelling on this.

12 comments:

Sullivan McPig said...

I think it depends on what your definition of SciFi is.
For me Star Wars for example isn't SciFi but fantasy. So for me it'd be difficult to write a SciFi story that fuses with something like myth as it soon wouldn't be SciFi anymore.

James said...

Hmm...

Have you ever read Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny? He fuses Hindu-Buddhist mythology and science fiction. Great novel, highly recommended, and if you are interested in mythology and SF and how they blend, then you should give it a read.

Kendama said...

I would say yes -- but only if fused with a genre that normally doesn't involve the supernatural.

The way I see it, if the supernatural is involved, it is fantasy, not science fiction. To me, science fiction must be grounded in plausible science.

(To be honest, I haven't read much science fiction myself, so yeah...)

Charles Gramlich said...

I rememeber a couple of Star Trek episodes where they either met an ancient Greek God, or interacted with people who'd visited earth during the "mythic" period in Greece. I always enjoyed those episodes. I think it is hard for SF to be combined with other genres without losing it's unique identity. I like stories that bring in such SF elements but they tend to become for me then something else rather than a hybrid or primarily SF.

SQT said...

Sullivan-- Huh. I've always thought Star Wars was sci-fi, even though it had the 'force.' The space settings and technology were enough for me to put it over-the-top in that category.

James-- I haven't read that. I'll have to pick it up. Thanks.

Kendama--That's exactly what I was thinking. I think adding mystical elements turns it into another creature altogether.

Charles--those were the episodes I was thinking of. You can make the story work combining all the elements, but you definitely end up with something that isn't 'pure' in any genre.

Jimmy P said...

I always thought that sci-fi and fantasy were the same genre, just one deals with magic and the other with technologies. In the basic sense, both are fantastical.

SQT said...

Jimmy-- I think I'd categorize them separately. Science and magic are like opposite sides of a coin to me. You can accomplish similar things with both but the methods are very different.

Fantasy is more malleable. You can write your own rules since we pretty much make it up as we go, but science-- even science fiction-- has rules to adhere to so it has to be have some basis in fact. Maybe I'm too literal, but I can't fuse them without thinking about the differences.

Jimmy P said...

I get your point but what I see them as are two sub-genres of a larger collection. Say that the larger is "Fantastical" whereby the sub-genre "fantasy" achieves it's stories by using magic and "sci-fi" uses technology or "magic by science", if you will.

It's like with my blog that I started, I thought I would comment on all things sci-fi, but I find myself muddling into other areas, so now I don't know how to categorize the site.

Love the conversation, everybody!

SQT said...

Jimmy, you have a point. If they weren't related to the same genre then I doubt they'd share an aisle at the bookstore.

But there does seems to be a separation. I'm weird in that what I like to read and what I like to watch on tv tend to go down different paths. Likewise, most people I know tend to read either sci-fi or fantasy exclusively-- maybe straying into the other side periodically. I occasionally read sci-fi and when I do, I like it to be easy to digest. That's why I'm such a huge fan of John Scalzi. His writing is very accessible.

avery said...

I have a hard time with SciFi. I can read some of it, as long as it's not too heavy on the technology/theories, because I just get lost and frustrated. I can't write it at all.

I just had an element in story with the potential for a bit of SciFi crossover. I was like Neo in Matrix the way I dodged having to commit to a SciFi explanation of what was going on, because it would have been a miserable fail. Science was never one of my strong points.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think the definition of scifi is that the basis of the story is based on either actual current science or extrapolations that might be true. (Of course, there are the accepted 'fantasy' elements of ftl flight and the inherent problems of mankind spreading throughout the galaxy due to that impossibility.)

"Genres are usually defined by their tropes—mysteries have murders and clues, romances have two people finding each other, etc. Science fiction doesn’t work well when you define it like that, because it’s not about robots and rocketships. Samuel Delany suggested that rather than try to define science fiction it’s more interesting to describe it, and of describing it more interesting to draw a broad circle around what everyone agrees is SF than to quibble about the edge conditions. (Though arguing over the borders of science fiction and fantasy is a neverending and fun exercise.) He then went on to say that one of the ways of approaching SF is to look at the way people read it—that those of us who read it have built up a set of skills for reading SF which let us enjoy it, where people who don’t have this approach to reading are left confused." Jo Walton

The above quote is from a recent article on Tor.com, and well worth reading in its entirety. I particularly like the concept of an SF reading skill set. I think that's very true.
http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=blog&id=58637

SQT said...

Writtenwyrrd

Thanks for the link. I totally agree that reading sci-fi is its own skill set-- One I'm still working on acquiring.