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Posts Tagged ‘Geekery’

Secondary world fantasy vs. future fiction

I was only stumped by one question at WorldCon, and that was posed by Elizabeth Bear at the “Looking Forward to the Post-Apocalyptic World” panel. She asked why someone would choose to write future fiction vs. secondary world fantasy and what the primary differences were, or something to that end.

The best I could come up with was, “Well, if I choose to write future fiction I don’t have to make up as many words.”

Seriously. That’s all I could come up with.


I realize I’m a bit weird when it comes to drawing a line between science fiction and fantasy. People kept asking at the con if God’s War was science fiction or fantasy and I kept pulling out my old Thundercats analogy. “Is Thundercats science fiction or fantasy? I mean, hey, they’re space-faring cats with swords!”

Perhaps I was simply scarred by too many Hanna-Barbera cartoons in my youth, but I’ve never seen a huge difference in science fiction vs. fantasy if the book’s done well. I was always a big fan of Gene Wolfe’s work because so much of it blurred the edge between fantasy and science fiction. The thing is, with my science fiction, I want it to be fantastic enough to give me that massive sense of awe and wonder, but I also want my fantasy to be believable in that I’ve been expertly sold on the rules, politics, economics, and machinations of the world. I don’t read a lot of out-and-out absurdist fantasy or parody fantasy (No Piers Anthony for me, or Terry Pratchett, and I’ve read exactly one Douglas Adams novel). I want worlds that feel real.

Like Mulder, I want to believe.

That’s why so much New Weird fiction really appealed to me – here are these fantastic gritty worlds with nasty politics and gruesomeness that have actually been more or less thought through. As for magic, as long as you can sell me on how your magic works, and convince me it has rules, I’m all in.

I write all kinds of worlds, and basically, the rule for me is that if I want to do something that has a very clear line from this world to the next one, then I’m writing sort-of future fiction. That does, indeed, allow me to make up fewer words, and to actually explore and extrapolate on existing, known stuff.  When I choose to write a secondary world fantasy, I think, I’m more likely to be extrapolating on unknown stuff.

So while God’s War may have spaceships and nanotech/bugtech with a shapeshifter thrown in, the secondary world fantasy I’m working on right now has weird portals between realities and particle magic with some nods to nanotech thrown in.  If I’m working with mostly-known stuff, it’s SF. When it’s mostly unknown stuff, I choose to write a secondary world fantasy.

But honestly, there’s not too much terrible difference between SF/Fantasy (cue the unsheathing of swords). I don’t see too much difference in imagining a future colonized world or a terraformed Mercury and, say, Arrakis (another good example for the “is it SF or fantasy?” debate).  Different sorts of SF writers do different sorts of hand-wavey stuff to make their worlds plausible.

I remember the big push toward “Mundane SF” and just about tore my hair out because holy crap, if all we ever did was extrapolate from what we knew, we’d never try to teleport and never try to build a faster-than-light technology because obviously, those things are impossible. It delights me to no end that people continue to try teleportation because, hey, it’s a common SF thing, and, lo, we are teleporting photons and even transmitting information from one atom to another now. Step one!

But if we, as fantasists, just didn’t even talk about teleportation because obviously, that’s impossible, would it have taken longer for folks to figure out? Would they even have tried? I’m reminded of the invention of the steam engine during the Greek period, and the probably apocryphal but still telling story of the ruler who took the inventor of the steam engine aside and said, “Yes, this machine is great. But if we start powering all of our industry this way, what will we do with all the slaves?”  And the guy who invented a very early glider/plane in China who had it destroyed by the emperor, because he just didn’t think humans should be airborne (or believed it could somehow threaten his rule).

We are hobbled all along the way by people telling us we can’t. By failure of imagination. I find that I’m just not as passionate about writing when I’m constrained by “What’s possible now?” because to be dead honest, half the stuff I use every day doesn’t seem like stuff that could be possible. The stuff I can do with my smart phone is, to put it mildly, astonishing. I don’t want to tell people they can’t do things because it’s not probable. I don’t want to limit my own vision.  Some of the most fantastic stories I’ve ever read were the ones that challenged me to think beyond what I believed was possible. And it can be done in any genre, as long as the people writing it are willing to really push beyond their own preconceptions.

So, maybe sometimes you choose to write future fiction with unicorns, or fantasy fiction with spaceships.

Or, like me, sometimes you write Thundercats.

It’s all good.


What’s On Your Bookshelf: Why I’m Still Holding Out On Buying an E-Reader

The local Books & Co. had several Nooks on display the other day. I’ve resisted e-readers for lots of reasons, but mostly because of Amazon’s weird “You bought it but we can take it away” thing. If I download a book, I want to download it like a PDF. A file that’s mine. No DRM. The idea that Amazon or a publisher can suddenly decide to retract something already given scares the anti-censorship fiend in me.

And yet… and yet.. I have too many books. I’m tired of moving them. And sitting in bed curling up with a 800-1000 page book isn’t really cozy. It’s awkward. Carting it around on a plane is even less cozy. Reading from a slim e-reader seems so much easier. 

But I’d also like to actually be able to, you know, read it. I love the color Nook, but the backlight kind of bothers me on that version. But I’m not sold on the non-backlight because if I can’t read in the dark on an e-reader without and extra light, what’s the point? And why am I paying as much for an e-reader as I am for a laptop? At that point, why not just read books on a laptop? And that’s just no fun. And why should I pay extra for Wi-fi? 

That said, I realize how much easier life would be if I could fit all my books onto a hard drive… but also how easy they would be to lose. Knowledge is great. But it’s also hard to hold onto.

I suspect that I will always buy really good books in print. The kind of books you really love and cherish. The ones you want to have signed by authors. Or the ones with really important information that isn’t likely to go out of date soon.

But there are other kinds of books – the popcorn reading, or the 8-book sagas, or the 12-book history compilations – that will just be easier to read and forget about or read and easily access on an e-reader. I love books, but the more junk I get bogged down in, the more I realize just how many of them I can live without. There are only so many books I love at any one time.

When book and movie libraries both move totally digital, I expect to have a couple bookcases of prized books, and that’s it. The more times you move, the more you appreciate having a clutter-free life. E-readers help with that. But I don’t love the technology enough (and it’s not yet cheap enough) to make the switch.

I’m a notoriously late adopter. I resisted getting a cell phone until I live in South Africa, and then I ditched it again for four years in Chicago.  I didn’t get a proper one again until 2007?

The e-reader will be the same. All the cool kids will have them, and stare at me wide-eyed when I talk about how much space all my books take up, before I finally find something that really turns me on.

Things Which Are Great

I’ve been busy with the new day jobbe, but wanted to share some things which are great:

Alice in Wonderland
Never been a fan of Alice in Wonderland. Annoying little kid wandering around a crazy place eating and drinking indiscriminately and poo-pooing about like it’s all a great inconvenience. Tim Burton’s take (with a lovely script by Linda Woolverton), was absolutely stunning. Not just visually, which you expect from a Tim Burton film, but a fantastic coming-of-age-and-finding-yourself story about a 19 year old Alice whose destiny it is to lead a rebellion against the Red Queen. Yes, really! Check out the Joan of Arc armor! There were some heavy-handed moments, but nothing so egregious as you wouldn’t expect it in a fairytale. It was wonderfully cool to see a girl-comes-of-age movie (she even ends up on the prow of a ship at the end… like Titanic!) where she gets to pick up a sword and slay a real dragon. The performances are all amazing, too. Anne Hathaway as The White Queen takes herself just-not-seriously-enough to make her incredibly likable. Helena Bonham Carter is a perfect Red Queen, and though Depp is often over the deep end, it’s not too terribly annoying because he’s not on screen the whole time.  Mia Wasikowska is a strange Alice – I especially like the dark circles under her eyes – but the strangeness is what makes her so interesting. Great story, great actors, great visuals – and, have I mentioned? – Alice gets to slay? Yeah. Highly recommended.

Dragon Age: Awakenings
This is the sequel/expansion for Dragon Age: Origins. I am a sucker for a lot of Bioware games, primarily because they’re full of great stories, great characters, and a level of interaction with other characters that you just don’t get in any other game. It’s a tough followup to Dragon Age: Origins. Origins was longer, had more in depth relationships with the characters, and all that. Awakenings got off to a rough, slow start, with lots of installation issues, game crashing, and annoying lack of access to character conversations. Once you figure out their new system for character interaction, it gets easier (basically, you can’t talk to your folks any time you want. When you unlock a prompt, it either automatically starts the dialogue, or you have to select an object to trigger the conversation). But, you know, the gear is better, you make more money, and the choices are sacrifice this or sacrifice that. Lots of ambiguity. Lots of gray. I love that. Also, ass kicking female characters. There’s still the requisite “chick with boobs hanging out,” but as with Origins, they’re not *all* that way, which is what makes the difference, to me, between a lazy, sexist game and one that acknowledges that hey, yeah, woman have different characters and personalities, too! They don’t all run around with their boobs hanging out! Was also pleased that my golem armor didn’t have the obligatory boob-enhancements. What the hell kind of armor forms a breasplate with two custom boob-protrusions? Really? Nice to get away from that at the end with my warrior and the Sigrun the dwarf rogue. Also, very nice Buffy moment there at the beginning with Mhairi. Love you too, Bioware. Overall, A-.