Realistic Fantasy

Wednesday, 30 March 2011 03:46 pm
staticsan: (Default)
[personal profile] staticsan
Amongst the works of Science Fiction, there is a significant subset called Hard Science Fiction. This is where the science is less wishful thinking and more possible. Even in works with faster-than-light (FTL) drives, as sometimes the explanation can be more scientific and less hand-wavy. Larry Niven is often held up as a writer of fairly hard science fiction, and for good reason. He has stories where there is no FTL travel, and even when he does, such as in The Mote In God's Eye, he has pages of unpublished technical description in how it could work.

That's not to say hard scifi can't be interesting. The webcomic is rich in humour and absurdity, yet the science in it is actually pretty hard. The current storyline involves a neural pruning algorithm for their robots, for example. It's difficult to get much harder than that.

So what about fantasy? 

Fantasy is usually the sort of stories that have things you can't find science to explain. Magic is the red-hot #1, here, but it does include psychic powers (e.g. telepathy), non-human races (e.g. elves), created worlds, other planes of existence, whole pantheons of gods... the list goes on. That said, some authors come up with coherent magic systems. Lyndon Hardy's The Master of The Five Magics has a range of magics based on some quite firm logic, for instance, and the old Vancian magic system used in Dungeons and Dragons (particularly 2nd edition) was also very well thought out.

Fantasy setting also play a lot with what would be possible in time. Many many many fantasy works have locks from only last century, for instance, and long-distance travel is often not unheard of, either. A good example is The Belgariad. I sometimes wonder why they don't have steam engines. And then I remember: because the author didn't write them in.

But fantasy can be harder than that. This is where horses are only used by the very rich. Where most people walk around and work very hard just to stay alive. Where an arrow in the shoulder will kill you in a few weeks because it got infected. Katherine Kerr writes closer to this level, despite the important role magic plays in her stories. And my writing is heading that way, too. But it's kind of the opposite of what happens in Dungeons and Dragons novels: in those, magic is almost everywhere and not all that unusual. I'm finding I prefer a setting where magic is much much rarer.

It's kind of a more "realistic" fantasy.


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