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I'm considering writing a fantasy novel. While I'm striving to make the world as original as I can, and not rely on many of the popular fantasy tropes, for the purposes of this question you can assume the world is your traditional fantasy setup: elves, dwarves, dragons, magic, wizards, quests, all that.

Because I cannot for the life of me stop worldbuilding, my insatiable need to design has expanded beyond the confines of my fantasy world. There are other alien species. Advanced technology. Spaceships. Defensive shields. The whole nine yards.

I would like to incorporate some of these ideas into my fantasy novel. I think, if the novel is successful and popular and the publisher agrees to a series proposal, the little hints that there is more beyond the fantasy world could tantalize readers into speculation about exactly what's out there, and the true nature of things. That speculation could in turn boost sales and popularity, which the publisher would love, thus creating the need for more novels. Hence my plan.

Don't worry, I'm not assuming this will happen. I know this is all speculation.

Now, I know not to sell something as fantasy and give my readers sci-fi. At no point in the novel(s) would I explicitly say something is high tech, or of alien origin, or that the star people see moving oddly is in fact an orbiting space ship. It would be on a level the inhabitants of my fantasy world could understand. Strangely moving 'stars', a 'rock' or 'metal' they've never seen before, or even a mysterious new creature which fell from the heavens in a fire ball and died shortly after. That type of thing.

Now to the reader, it's obvious that these things are not of fantasy origin. They can easily put two and two together and realize that there are orbiting spaceships, alien species, and perhaps even a whole galaxy full of life going on outside the little fantasy world. Would this be a problem?

Would my fantasy readers be displeased at being drawn into sci-fi, even though it is never really defined as that? Or would such hints at sci-fi only encourage curiosity about what's really going on outside the world? I realize readers will go both ways, but I'm looking for what the majority would think.

I realize this is very open to speculation, so if you have any sources, please cite them.

EDIT: The answer provided by Phillip, while not a true answer, does provide some excellent advice for anyone else with a similar problem.

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    This has been done to varying degrees of success. For example the Shannara series is on the surface straight heroic fantasy but the fact that it's a post-apocalypse world with elements from our world still present in places is clear if you look beneath the surface. I also read a book/series where things were even more blatant and half way through a fantasy novel they find a space ship. I can't remember the name of that book off-hand though. – Tim B Jun 7 '18 at 14:15
  • I have read some RPG books with similar concepts. For example Numenera says basically that there were multiple cycles of "Low-End civilization -> High-End civilization -> bombed itself back to the stoneage" where each cycle began with artifacts from the past with the typical "Technology so advanced it's like magic for the people" argument for why nobody knew what those strange things are. Maybe reading a bit about the setting could give you some ideas about how to do it. And the fact that it exists and people like it proofs that there are readers who would be okay with something like that. – Secespitus Jun 7 '18 at 15:00
  • Oddly enough, one can look to World of Warcraft's story as an example of very tightly woven fantasy and science fiction elements. The setting features such fantasy concepts as holy magic and fel magic - and the use of them to power spacecraft, a very sci-fi concept, which are then used in turn by a massive army of demons in an attempt to destroy all worlds in the cosmos, a blending of fantasy and science fiction. It's worth noting that the 'science fiction' on display is much more 'science fantasy' than 'hard science'. – CGriffin Jun 7 '18 at 17:33
  • Mark Lawrence mixes fantasy and sci-fi elements. I suggest giving his books a read. His latest series, The Book of the Ancestor, gets especially close to what you're describing. – Harabeck Jun 7 '18 at 20:34
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    A lot of Sci-Fi is within the Fantasy definition as well. You have to be a pretty careful to avoid it actually. Don't worry. – Stian Yttervik Jun 8 '18 at 6:39
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You are not the first writer to do this.

A prime example is the “Prince of Nothing” series by Scott Bakker. It belongs to the medieval fantasy genre, but in the later parts something is revealed that is clearly a crashed spaceship.

Maybe you want to read some books that feature this concept to see what works and what doesn’t.

I personally would suggest to not overload your reader. No cowboys + ninjas + aliens + pirates. The “song of ice and fire” books do this very well. There are subtle hints that some supernatural seeming elements might have a scientific explanation, there are subtle references to different genres like lovecraftian horror, but it all stays at the edges.

Also be careful to not switch genre mid-book. For example many readers objected to the supernatural elements introduced in later books of the "Dexter" series of crime novels.

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I would say, you don't get off on a technicality when it comes to readers, so whether you are explicit in telling them it is scifi, or aliens are spaceships or super-high-tech, is all immaterial.

If you expect them to figure it out, then it is not different than if you told them. Just because your characters have no concept of aliens living on other worlds doesn't make your readers stupid!

So the real question is only whether you should mix fantasy and scifi.

The answer: Yes, if you can make it work, with one big caveat: IMO you should not put significant mysteries into a story that do not have any influence on the plot in that book, and it sounds to me like you plan to do that. If you drop an alien out of the sky or talk about the rogue star, then you have Chekhov's Gun; and it needs to be fired:

‘Chekhov’s Gun’ is a concept that describes how every element of a story should contribute to the whole. It comes from Anton Chekhov’s famous book writing advice: ‘If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.’

In other words, everything that is introduced in a story needs to have a function.

So, if your intent is to just mention these things and they have no influence on the story, then yes, your readers will be displeased, partially for having ray guns in their fantasy, but more importantly, displeased that you wasted their time describing a bunch of stuff that did not matter.

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    Have no fear, I know not to use Chekhov's Guns (though I didn't know the term, so thanks for that). These little hints would be natural parts of the setting and backstory, and would be revealed when the plot required it, not before. – Thomas Myron Jun 6 '18 at 20:36
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    In original is was rifle on the wall, not a pistol. Rifles were used as wall decorations in Russia at a time, pistols — not really. – user28434 Jun 7 '18 at 10:04
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    @ThomasMyron Chekhov's guns aren't something to avoid by definition. They are a tough tool to use, but can be very effective. The thing to avoid is a not-quite-Chekhov gun that doesn't fire. – Jasper Jun 7 '18 at 14:52
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    Well, Scott Cawthon had already hung enough rifles on FNAF to make even the Murder /K/ube proud. – Mephistopheles Jun 7 '18 at 19:54
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    @JohnDvorak I had a very long response planned, but there's elegance in brevity, so here goes. A sequel hook is introduced at the end of a story, while a Chekhov's gun is introduced much earlier. So, the difference is in what part of the story it is introduced. – Jasper Jun 8 '18 at 9:15
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Mixing sci-fi elements into a mostly fantasy story has been done before. For example, Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern starts out as a typical fantasy series, and then turns out to have also been sci-fi all along (humans have come to a planet, bio-engineered dragons...). Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is also fantasy, with hints that the world has had a "modern" and even "sci-fi" period before becoming a fantasy world again. Diana Wynne Jones's Hexwood is a mindscrew that mixes King Arthur, aliens, and a calm English farm. So yes, you can mix elements of both genres, and it is possible to do it quite successfully.

However, @Amadeus is right: Chekhov's guns that do not fire do nothing but confuse the reader. You can leave hints that could be expended into sci-fi later, but those hints have to also be relevant to what's happening in the story you're telling right now. If there's an oddly moving star, it should be, for example, a part of local mythology that's relevant in some way to the plot. If there are people who "came from the sky", we should meet them, and they should provide the story something. And so on. Everything that is in your story, should have a reason to be there; not as a hook for the next book, but a reason that's relevant to the story you're telling here and now.

  • Comment on Amadeus' answer: Have no fear, I know not to use Chekhov's Guns. These little hints would be natural parts of the setting and backstory, and would be revealed when the plot required it, not before. – Thomas Myron Jun 6 '18 at 20:38
  • I'd add Katharine Kerr's Snare as another good example. Or for an interesting one which starts fantasy, adds a sci-fi dimension, and then adds a further fantasy element to boggle the scientists, try Sheri Tepper's The Visitor. (Yes, it has flaws as a book, but I've not seen a double bait-and-switch between fantasy and SF done before.) – Graham Jun 6 '18 at 23:53
  • I'd add the Tramorean saga by Javier Negrete, the first book is a straight fantasy book, but in the other ones, you start to learn a bit more about the magic and how it works and in no place is said that "wizards" can do magic because they have nanomachines in their blood, but after some inworld explanations you could understand where is coming from. They were four books which I loved. – Angrod Jun 7 '18 at 7:03
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Keep in mind that "SF" does not necessarily have to mean starships or phasers. It can simply involve a world in which "magic" and "technology" exist side by side. One doesn't need to "win" over the other any more than the Cola Wars need to end. Can Gandalf use a PC (especially a slightly futuristic one that would constitute an SF element)? Sure, if they exist, he can. Does a PC make his magic obsolete? Does his magic supersede any possible benefit of using a PC? Surely not!

One example of a successful mixture of science fiction and fantasy is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It has more or less "pure" SF stories (Guardians of the Galaxy) alongside primarily SF-based superheroes (Iron Man and Captain America) and more traditional fantasy stories with magic (Doctor Strange and Thor). Some of the characters have no magic whatsoever or even superpowers as they are traditionally understood, relying solely on advanced tech (Iron Man). Some have super powers which they augment with tech (Captain America, Black Panther, Spider Man). Some are magic users (Doctor Strange). Some are your stereotypical scurvy space pirates, arr.

Take a look at how they are intertwined. Each of the sub-stories exists to some extent as its own, but there are regular references to a broader, expansive world. At one point, Thor is exiled from his more or less swords-and-sorcery fantasy homeland and finds himself in spaaaaaace, battling an Evil Space Overlord and aquiring his cool starship.

When Thor goes to space, it doesn't become an "OMGWTF space?" moment. It's treated as entirely normal that there is SF stuff out there, and that Thor can find some way to function.

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    Although keep in mind that the Marvel conception of Thor/Asgard is that it was SF and aliens all along. – mattdm Jun 8 '18 at 10:42
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One example of space civilization being written along with medieval fantasy setting is Will Wight's Cradle Series. Maybe you could take inspiration from that.

In the series, the main character (from the medieval village) meets another character (lets call her X) from the space-faring civilization, pretty early on in the story. MC sees X as some kind of god (X is very powerful - both personally and technologically). This meeting is the true beginning of MC's journey.

Although the series never clearly states it as such, but the reader can see that there is a clear progression from medieval age to space age. The space-faring civilization is simply a more advanced version the medieval civilization, that has evolved over millennia.

MC's journey, as the reader can see, is to go from the primitive to advanced; to go from a small village on earth to travelling across galaxies.

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When I read your question I directly thought about The rest of us just live here by Patrick Ness. It's not a fantasy novel but have some, kind of hidden and unclear, fantasy/sci-fi elements which could be seen as something like what you are thinking about. I think that book could be good to check out! I'm still a bit confused about the story and haven't entirely decided what I think about the added fantasy/sci-fi in an otherwise contemporary YA novel, but it adds an extra dimension to the book (several of his books are written in the same way, with parallel stories) which is cool and interesting.

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Most of the answers to this question have provided good examples of how to mix medieval fantasy with futuristic fantasy. But one aspect which is IMO not clear enough is this:

Make it clear to your reader that they are reading a science fiction story as early as possible.

If you write your whole book as classical fantasy and then in the end (or even worse, at the end of a series) you suddenly introduce space ships, then the reader will just be confused by the sudden genre change. It will seem as if you wrote yourself into a corner, couldn't think of how to get out of it within the conventions of the genre and then just decided you want to write SciFi now. It might get perceived as a typical shark jumping moment.

So make sure that your reader understands early on that science fiction elements are part of your world. That way they won't feel betrayed if you suddenly pull them out.

  • Definitely good advice. While I don't plan on doing anything as drastic as having a spaceship land, it is definitely a good idea to mention those 'oddly moving stars' as early as possible. Hopefully the reader picks up on the hint. – Thomas Myron Jun 8 '18 at 16:33
  • @ThomasMyron I doubt that this alone will be enough of a hint. Mythology is full of divine beings toying with celestial objects. Maybe introduce some artifacts with properties the characters consider magic but which are described in a way which makes it obvious they are technology? – Philipp Jun 8 '18 at 17:07
  • Something along those lines, yes. – Thomas Myron Jun 8 '18 at 17:43
  • The Fred Saberhagen books "The Empire of the East" and "The Book of Swords" take place in a clear medieval fantasy realm with gods, magic, and dragons. The characters speak with wonder about "The Ancients" and their artifacts that are made with a wondrous precision that current people cannot achieve. We see one up close: a pair of binoculars. Hints like this teach us that the setting is the far future of our world. – Shawn V. Wilson Aug 15 '18 at 6:46

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