24

I have been cautioned against blending:

  • Traditional fantasy elements

Such as magic systems and exotic, less plausible creatures (on a scientific level - magic tends to explain away these beasts)

  • Traditional sci-fi elements

Such as advanced technology and civilizations amidst the stars.

I have taken it upon myself to harmonize the two in my current worldbuilding project. I know I cannot be the first. I love the creativity found in both, and it is going well so far. I have been exploring the potential for humanity with both tools at their disposal. (Magic and science, essentially)

Why do people advise to stick to one or the other? I encountered this on a video specifically dealing with magic systems, but he did not elaborate.

Posted this first on Worldbuilding, and was instructed to try it here. My apologies, still green to Stack.

  • 1
    Reminder: answer in answers, not in comments. – V2Blast Feb 8 at 1:48

12 Answers 12

40

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. - Arthur C Clarke

There's a reason that science fiction and fantasy are frequently shelved together - separating the two is usually a fools errand.

The Dragonriders of Pern features a preindustrial society where flying, firebreathing, teleporting, and telepathic dragons defend the skies from horrible creatures that rain down from above. They could easily be considered pure fantasy - up until the book where they discover the spacecraft that the human ancestors flew in on, and the labs where they bioengineered the dragons.

In Star Wars (arguably the most famous science fiction property of all time), the Force is really just space magic called another name. And they do all their fighting with swords.

The lists go on and on. Science fiction and fantasy are united in that they explore the impossible. Fantasy uses elements that will never be possible, while science fiction uses elements that theoretically might be possible. But the impossibility is shared.

Science fiction and fantasy are not a single genre - they are many

Epic fantasy (eg Wheel of Time) and space opera (eg Star Wars) are more similar to each other than they are to urban fantasy or "hard" science fiction.

In some ways, it's inaccurate to call science fiction and fantasy genres at all. They're setting elements. A romance doesn't stop being a romance because it's set on a space station, and a murder mystery isn't any less mysterious because it was an elf who was murdered.

The key to mixing these elements successfully is to understand the expectations of your readers, and meeting those expectations (but in surprising ways). Genre helps define expectations.

If you're writing hard SF, readers expect to see a world that's close enough to our own that they can believe that our world could become the world of the story - magic obviously has no place here.

On the flip side, urban fantasy readers expect the author to have considered the modern world and how it might interact with the impossible. Extrapolations from science to science fiction may be natural depending on the exact nature of the setting.

If the reader has led to expect that the serial killer is a Scooby-Doo villain, then the sudden reveal that the murders were done with actual magic will violate their expectations and frustrate them (in general - there will of course be exceptions). But if the story is framed as a space cop trying to capture a vampire despite not believing that vampires are real, the readers will accept that premise as well as any other.

  • 10
    +1 for In some ways, it's inaccurate to call science fiction and fantasy genres at all This should be hammered more often. – AmiralPatate Feb 6 at 10:15
  • 8
    @StianYttervik You'd be just as disappointed if the kidnapper was caught easily because the FBI pinged their iPhone on page two. The problem in your example is simply being the wrong story for the wrong genre. – AmiralPatate Feb 6 at 13:29
  • 3
    @AmiralPatate I think Stian has a very important point. Fantasy and Murder Mystery are very hard to mix because one implies that we don't know how everything works, and the other wants us to solve a puzzle for which we want all the pieces to be in sight if we just pay enough attention. – Andrey Feb 6 at 17:52
  • 7
    But there is a number of urban fantasy works that successfully combine detective/crime stories with fantasy, for instance Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series. – user23425 Feb 6 at 18:57
  • 5
    @Andrey Having magic doesn't restrict you from understanding how things work necessarily. Structured magic systems are very much a thing. As long as magic in your story follows some structure or limits, it can easily be incorporated into a murder mystery. There is a gap between knowing how everything works, and having all the pieces you need to solve a puzzle. A good writer should be able to work in both a sense of mystery, and enough knowledge to make solid logical connections. – JMac Feb 6 at 19:39
17

The reason this is often recommended against is because by mixing them you find yourself unable to meet certain genre conventions. Fantasy readers want swords and lords, sci-fi readers want spaceships and aliens. Even more importantly fantasy readers want epic tales of good versus evil, while sci-fi often want to grapple with trans humanist ideas. But trying to match both markets, you match neither.

That said, I don't think it is very good advice. It is not the writer's job to market, it is their job to write a good story. If you have a good story that involves fantasy and sci-fi elements, write it.

Plenty of existing works mix genres to varying degrees and been successful. Star Wars is mostly sci-fi with a little fantasy, while the Shannara books are fantasy with some subtle sci-fi.

Mixing genres can be a challenge, but don't limit yourself by blindly following a rule.

  • 4
    Great Answer @RTPax! I agree with everything you have said, except for the bit about writer's job not involving marketing. The job of the writer has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. Now in the age of amazon, marketing falls very much upon the shoulders of the author. There is no better time to start thinking about the marketability of a story idea than before the first word is written. That said, there are established genres for stories which bridge the gap between fantasy and science fiction. I don't think such blending negatively effects marketability in today's world. – Henry Taylor Feb 6 at 3:50
  • 3
    I'm not sure I'd agree that SW is mostly sci-fi - or at least not hard sci-fi, but apart from that nitpick this is a great answer :-) – eirikdaude Feb 6 at 8:09
  • 1
    @eirikdaude It depends on who you ask. Sure, if you ask sci-fi aficionados, Star Wars gets pushed heavily or exclusively toward fantasy. If you ask the general public, though, Star Wars is solidly science fiction. (Sort of goes toward Henry's point of "who are you aiming this at?") – R.M. Feb 6 at 13:55
  • 2
    Even more importantly fantasy readers want epic tales of good versus evil As a Tolkienist with well over 30 Tolkien books I would say that you're speaking for everyone but you're wrong. I most certainly don't want that nor in fact is the idea important to me. Not in the least bit. Couldn't care less about that. There's much more to fantasy that can keep one captivated. And then there's the imagination... – Pryftan Feb 6 at 22:21
  • 2
    @Pryftan ah, I see the distinction you're making. I was generalizing, and you make a valid point – rtpax Feb 6 at 22:51
12

You are correct that you are not the first to attempt this blending. The entire Urban Fantasy genre does an admirable job of blending today's scientific reality (which was yesterday's science fiction) with classical fantasy elements. Many science fiction subgenres such as Gothic SciFi, Space Horror and Slipstream exist specifically to categorize different approaches to such blending. Best selling authors such as Dean Koontz, Steven King, Raymond Feist, Mercedes Lackey, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Kim Harrison, Laurell Hamilton, Peter Straub, S.M. Sterling and George Martin (along with many many others) have at least one book which bridges the gap between fantasy and science fiction.

Whoever cautioned you against blending is ignoring this major trend in the modern fiction market. With all due respect, I couldn't disagree with them more.

There are challenges to successfully merging fantasy and science fiction. As @RTPax noted, there are genre conventions which must be respected as you mix your story together. But those conventions are not mutually exclusive. There are many scientifically plausible explanations for magic existing in an apparently physical-law-limited world. Mercedes Lackey suggests in her Razor's Edge series that the Elves have been hiding until just recently, when the rise of aluminum and alloy metals reduced the amount of (fatal to elves) raw iron exposed in our day to day lives. S.M. Stirling blames us humans for breaking our previously functional universe though our high energy physics experimentation, opening the door for all types of unexplainable events. You will need to find a reason for why magic now exists in your scientific world, or why the world still believes in science in the presence of magic which defies cause and effect.

Writing a merge is not easy. It requires that you wear two hats while you are writing so that the requirements of each genre can be filled. You must also be careful during editing, not to leave that hard-earned fulfillment on the cutting room floor.

But if it is what you are called to write, and if you are up for the challenge, the results can be spectacular.

Keep Writing!

8

A lot of wonderful books combine both science-fiction and fantasy.

And why not?

If magic can exist in books set in the modern age or in the past, why not in books set in an otherwise realistic future?

Why can't mythical creatures go to space?

What reason is there to ban ghosts and purveyors of the supernatural from a world of great technology?

One of the most common crossovers involves time travel. Time travel can be either science-fiction or fantasy, depending on how it's used and what other elements are present. If you're Wesley Chu (Time Salvager), it's 100% science-fiction. If you're Deborah Harkness (A Discovery of Witches), it's absolutely fantasy.

Why do people advise against blending the two?

My guess is because most readers who enjoy one genre eschew the other. Or at least that's the belief. I love both and so do a lot of readers. But if you write both together, you run the risk of turning off a subset of potential readers. Of course, you also have a lot to gain from crossover readers.

Write what you love. With luck, the audience will follow.

Examples: Dune (series), Ender's Game (series), The Bone Season (series), The Golden Compass (series), A Wrinkle in Time, Star Wars (movie series).

  • 2
    One good example of magic and technology mixing in a reasonably contemporary work is Event Horizon, which is a straight-up Haunted Mansion story, set in a futuristic spacecraft. The supernatural stuff is left pretty ambiguous about its origin, they claim supernatural, there might be a more scientific explanation but it's left alone. – Ruadhan2300 Feb 6 at 14:45
  • 1
    @Ruadhan2300 Another along the lines of Event Horizon (pretty much the same concept, really, except it's mainly action rather than thriller) is the Doom series of games, where the UAC has developed teleportation technology that lets you open portals to Hell and decided to experiment with that tech on Mars. – JAB Feb 6 at 23:14
  • Most people who read sci-fi will also read fantasy, and vice versa. The problem is that our standard for good worldbuilding is high, and it's easy to screw it up. I feel an answer coming on... – Graham Feb 7 at 10:16
4

If not done well, blending genres can ruin the suspension of disbelief required for enjoying either science fiction or fantasy. Typically, for a speculative fiction book, the reader absorbs some baseline rules for this setting, internalizes them, and then stops thinking about them, in favor of paying attention to the story. Usually you want this to happen pretty quickly, and in the case of a genre with set expectations, a lot of this work has already been done for you by previous writers.

Finding out that the rules of the world are different than what you thought they were can be a legitimate and compelling plotline. But unless that is your focus, you don't want to call attention to it. When one suspension of disbelief piles on top of the other, it can lead to disbelief fatigue. For instance, in the movie Looper, the main concept is time loops, traveled by assassins. For me at least, the addition of psychic powers to the mix threatened my sense of immersion in the story. The two plot elements didn't have any natural connection, so they had to be swallowed separately.

That isn't to say blending genres can't be done wonderfully and well (many of the other answers have given great examples). But your question was about the reasons to NOT do it.

4

Both Magic and Science provide constraints.

I think one problem with mixing magic and science fiction is that science fiction readers prefer some whiff of plausibility in however science is extended for the purpose of the story; so you run the risk of disappointing those readers by just using "magic" when you don't know the science.

And vice-versa! Magic, like science, is expected to be a tool, with constraints on how it is used. Your story cannot just be filled with deus-ex-machinas because they are convenient for you as an author. You can't just hand-wave everything away as "magic", or your heroes aren't heroic at all.

Remember you are writing a story. In order to be a good story, the hero must solve a problem and struggle to do that; they can't just wave their wand and solve the problem on page 1. Or page 100! Readers keep reading to find out what happens, which means the outcome (in the next few pages, by the end of this chapter, by the end of the section [Act], by the end of the book) has to feel up in the air. That means you need constraints on how the hero can solve the problems, and these need to feel (to the reader) near crippling; so they are kept wondering how in the world the hero will get it done.

Your magic system cannot be "anything goes," that just kills the suspense. Your scifi cannot be "anything is possible," either. For the same reason. No suspense.

By combining them, you run the risk of loosening the constraints (just use magic if you can't use scifi), and thus killing the suspense.

That is why fantasy stories have limitations on what magic can do, and why scifi stories have limitations on what science can do. In both cases, they allow non-realist stories to take place, but are actually obstacles that must still be overcome by human ingenuity and spirit. Harry Potter and his crew must still be brave and risk their lives in the face of lethal danger, because magic alone isn't enough.

  • Excellent. I should add however that sci-fi elements are localized to some societies, and fantasy to others. They all dabble in both to some extent, but it is an important aspect of their culture that they are more one or the other. When I have a rule system for the regulation of both groups of these broader elements, is lacking constraint an issue? There is still suspense when your party is a few mages you have learned your way around, and a few cyborgs with relatively well-understood capabilities. – DVNO Feb 7 at 8:03
  • 1
    @DVNO Lacking constraints is an issue when it makes problems too easy to solve. In a story, the character's problems must be difficult to solve. If the reader already knows some new magic or scifi will come along and that is how they will solve it -- boring story. You have to come up with a problem the MC cannot easily solve, and must work and struggle to solve, and that nobody else but the MC could solve. There is no suspense in a party of a few mages you know well and predictable cyborgs; that is boring. Suspense is unpredictability that is getting dangerous. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Feb 7 at 11:19
  • Believe I follow. It does not matter the characters of said party so much as that they cannot easily solve their problems, there is risk involved,, and it is ultimately our MC who makes it happen. – DVNO Feb 7 at 17:41
4

I'm posting as a reader here...

I can see why worldbuilding advised you to post here. Worldbuilding tends to want well-bounded questions, not the more woolly "meta-questions" like this. That said, the answer does come down to worldbuilding.

Building a believable world is hard, and most authors fail at it to some degree. Successful series get the opportunity to retcon those mistakes - for example, JK Rowling introducing Apparating and Floo Powder as the major ways for wizards to travel, retconning away the problem of how you would get all those people through the Leaky Cauldron entrance to Diagon Alley. But there still has to be enough internal consistency for suspension of disbelief.

High fantasy tends to live in medieval or pre-medieval worlds. Of course this ties in nicely with all the old myths and legends from around the world. But crucially, this is pre-industrial, pre-scientific and pre-scientific-method. By removing this potential crossover, the author has to address a whole lot less questions about how those crossovers work. To stay with the holes in JK Rowling's worldbuilding, HPMOR famously deconstructs how a kid with a reasonable interest in science could trivially combine basic magic and basic science to become almost godlike.

Rowling as a writer is very good at plot, and keeps things moving fast enough that you mostly don't have enough time to stop and notice the holes. But when you do have time to stop and think, you realise just how badly assembled that world is. So that sets your standard - you need to be writing to Harry Potter levels of competence before your worldbuilding can withstand Harry Potter levels of incompetence.

The problem you run into of course is that wherever you are, your entire society is shaped by its technology. Roman day-to-day living was shaped by its ability to get water around efficiently. The trading and colonisation empire of the Vikings (yes, they mostly didn't rape and pillage) was based around their shipbuilding. Medieval towns grew up along navigable rivers or coasts, because that was the best means of transportation; Victorian towns by contrast first grew up along canals, and then later along railways, and by the late 1800s we had regular commuter villages around major cities with people travelling to work by train just as they do today. Transport enabled the commuter lifestyle. So if your technology allows magical transportation between places, you need a reason why people would live in cities. (Answer usually: they don't.) If your technology allows magical creation of food, you need a reason why people would cook themselves. (Answer usually: either the Harry Potter solution that you can't magically create anything from nothing, or the Star Trek solution that replicators need some kind of feedstock which you might run out of.)

And then there's how your new tech/magic affects the plots you have on offer. With phones today we're never permanently out of contact with people, and we always know where we are, and we always have a map, and we always have a torch, and we always have a recording device. There have been many books and films created which hinged on the protagonists having or lacking one of those. All of those are now historical artifacts of a time that has passed, as much as stories of Beowulf or Achilles. You can look back at fantasy written in the past, where wizards had magical maps to show where they were, and wizards could create light from their staff, and then again the party couldn't get lost because the wizard knew where they were. (But take away the wizard, or take away the phone, and what happens...?)

With one degree of freedom, it's easier to answer those questions. With more degrees of freedom, it's harder. The most obvious question to answer is: where does the energy come from for magic? because if you can move something or heat something by magic, without a source for that kinetic or thermal energy, then you have a perpetual-motion machine. And the consequence of that isn't just "you can do anything", it's also the eventual heat death of the universe. You'd better have answers.

Sure it can be done. Terry Pratchett progressively introduced technology into Discworld, moving through the printing press, the telegraph and the steam engine. Scott Lynch has a Renaissance-like world which includes magic and alchemy. Charles Stross has one setting where maths is magic (and hence so is computer science); and another setting where it's possible to walk between alternate worlds. Tad Williams' War of the Flowers created a fairy world which is a warped-mirror version of our own with magic. All of them spent a lot of time making sure that their worlds fit together both technologically and sociologically. And in the roleplaying arena, D&D has included varying amounts of technology, and Shadowrun has rolled magic into sci-fi; in both those cases the challenge for the game creators has been ensuring a playability balance between magic and tech.

And in all this, it's worth bearing in mind Clarke's Third Law. What matters is the outcome, not the mechanism. We may pretend that Star Trek is hard sci-fi, but really it's just space opera with better scenery. Magical food creators, magic wands to shoot each other, magic spells (anything Scotty or LaForge comes up with), monsters with magical powers, humans interacting with dark elves (Romulans), orcs (Klingons) and halflings (Ferengi) - it's all there. Whether it's magic or technology only matters if it's on a scale we can easily follow, and beyond that it doesn't really matter whether you say it's nanotechnology or that it happened by magic. (Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, for example.)

If you can make your worldbuilding hold up, then great. The problem is that it's hard to break out of the "traditional" tropes and still make it stand up. That's why they're traditional, because they work. It's a safe place to start.

And yet, if you stick to the traditional tropes, it's hard to have something new to say. No-one wants yet another rewrite of LotR - Terry Brooks just about got away with it with Sword of Shannara by being the first, but everyone since then has needed some new story to tell, or something new to add to the basic quest idea. That doesn't necessarily need a new setting either; Stan Nicholls took traditional fantasy and wrote it from the point of view of the orcs. Even Game of Thrones is entirely derivative in setting and concept; the originality comes from adding the question of whether the humans will stop killing each other for long enough to fight the common existential enemy.

1

I would just make these a comment since I am only recommending two that I have not seen yet, but I don't have enough rep to comment on the question.

I would check out Warhammer40k and it's extensive universe with many stories for inspiration on how to blend fantasy and sci-fi. They have magic users that access something called the Warp while they also have mech troopers and space ships. I am not vary familiar with it but it is popular

The second source you could check out is Starfinder with any published adventure. While it is a table top game, the published adventures tell a story, and the universe has a good mix of magic and science fiction. I just started reading the Core book so I don't have good examples!

From these two examples, you can see they are not hard science fiction combined with fantasy. I think most people recommend separating those two, not the general fantasy and science fiction genres. People may argue that magical advances will halt scientific advances since magic will handle problems in the universe. I think that is the center of the argument against "combining" the two. However, as stated by many of the answers above, fantasy and science fiction are very diverse on their own and the blending of fantasy and science fiction is actually done numerous times successfully.

A [space] wizard goes on a quest to save a princess from an evil empire.

Take out space, and I would think we are talking about some Forgotten Realms story. So, moral of the answer is, there are equal audiences on both sides of combining or separating sci-fi and fantasy.

  • The question is why do some people recommend against blending. Please incorporate a response to that in your answer. – Cyn says make Monica whole Feb 6 at 19:00
  • 1
    Oops! I missed that part. I will write something up right away! – Cody Ferguson Feb 6 at 19:15
  • You know what? I’m a bit unnerved. Your surname matches mine. And so, incidentally, does your forename. Thankfully I have a middle name and I’m sure that doesn't match (not that I’m saying what it is). No I don't mean that as an insult I’m just - very ... well it's not strictly true but I'll just say I’m kind of mental. I’m not sure if I should be more unnerved, however, that I'm even saying it, but it feels extremely wrong... Not saying you're wrong but the idea is wrong, if you follow me. – Pryftan Feb 6 at 22:28
  • @Pryftan No, I am sorry I don't really follow most of it, but you are saying you disagree with my answer at the end? Yea, there are a lot better answers above. I originally just wanted to comment the two universes to check out that a lot of people don't actually recommend you don't combine fantasy and sci fi. – Cody Ferguson Feb 7 at 3:23
  • @CodyFerguson No! Nothing like that at all mate. No, I was saying that you share my forename and surname and it's unnerving. Not because of anything you've said or done or .. It's just a bizarre thing, if you follow me. Note the bold part of my message. My comment was rather OT and probably shouldn't even be there but it's just .. odd to see someone with my name (less middle name). But no. I wasn't talking about your answer in the slightest but just your name. Oh and don't worry about there being 'better' answers; that's subjective and you put effort into it and that's what matters! Cheers. – Pryftan Feb 7 at 16:34
1

Mixing can be done but you need to provide a framework that explains why they co-exist, or co-exist in some circumstances but not others. It really helps to consider some hard boundaries and then you can explore the cross-over of how a character can use one approach where the other is dominant.

Wen Spencer does a superb job of this in her Elfhome series starting with Tinker where the gimmick is that Pittsburgh spends most of the time in an alternative Realm, then gets swapped back to Earth.

Of course, there's the whole question of why bother. Here on Elfhome, there's enough magical power to fuel any spell without the cost of electrical energy. And on Earth, except for healing elves, there are already mechanical solutions for almost everything."

"Magic doesn't work on Earth."

"Does too." Tinker replaced the screws and tightened them down. "The laws of the universe don't change just because you hop dimensions. The difference is the amount of magical power in the dimension. Think of magic as a waveform passing through multiple realities. Elfhome exists at the top of the wave: Magic is plentiful. Earth exists at the bottom of the wave: Magic is rare. Magic follows the laws of physics just like light, gravity, and time. I could show you the math, but it's fairly complex. There are types of radiation more common in one reality than the other, but lucky for us, the generation waveform seems larger, so we fall close enough on the curve that it doesn't affect either species adversely."

"So you can do magic on Earth?"

"It's how I kept Windwolf alive," Tinker said. "I had magic stored in a power sink and used it to feed a healing spell."

There's also the Hell's Gate series by David Weber and Linda Evans, where you have magic vs techno civilisations, again separate by different dimensions as a way of separating the physics.

0

I'm of the opinion that "Don't Mix" should be seen more as a caution than a prohibition. A very useful caution, but a caution nonetheless.

Hard sci-fi and pure fantasy work with very different world-views - one embraces technology and the other magic. Technology works within the framework of physical law, where what you want is entirely beside the point. Magic is (traditionally) based on a rejection of physical law, and the desires/will of the magician are what count. Technology is above all impersonal: predictable, although often obscure - Mother Nature is a coy lady whose secrets need effort and intelligence to uncover. Magic is (or was) fundamentally personal, full of irrationality and wonder. Attempting to mix the two runs into the strong temptation to mix the worst of both worlds, producing either technology which is indistinguishable from wish-fulfillment, or magic which is, well, boring.

Over the last several decades, there has been a tendency for fantasy to be infected by technological influences. I personally blame Larry Niven's "The Magic Goes Away" for starting the movement, with his concept of magic being limited by a resource (mana) which can be used up and never replenished, very much like, say, oil reserves. While modern fantasy can produce good stuff, many writers seem to treat magic as just another skill, just another set of rules to be obeyed. There is an impersonal quality to the practice, and magic is not dark, irrational and dangerous. Magicians tend to be more like mechanics than wizards.

In other words, the magic gets sucked out of magic.

While the converse is also to some degree true of technology, the danger has always been there, since the author can simply describe almost any level of effect and invoke "advanced" concepts to justify it. As Arcanist Lupus pointed out, Arthur C. Clarke identified the problem at least 45 years ago, although to be fair, he was referring to real technology, rather than fictional, so the meaning is rather different.

One way to look at the problem is to consider dramatic tension, which is the heart of most stories. Stories are about protagonists overcoming obstacles. If a knight battling a dragon can whip out a heavy machine gun and shoot it out of the sky, it takes a lot to make the story interesting. If a scientist trying to invent a serum to stop a plague can call up a demon to do the job, well, who cares?

The trick in either case is one of tone, plot, and ingenuity. Crossovers can work. It's just that striking the balance gets harder, since crossovers need to address the rules of both schools simultaneously - or break them simultaneously, if you prefer. Either way, it's tricky to do well.

0

There's no problem with mixing. In fact, it's the norm. That's because sci-fi tech and magic are both shorthand tropes to accomplish many of the same things.

Consider Star Trek. Even TNG, which is the "hardest" of the canon, has various forms of biological telepathy. If pressed, their official explanation will use scientific language. But that's just the flavor. For example, "Betazoids were natural telepaths, an ability centered in their paracortex, with psilosynine being a main neurotransmitter" 1 is no different than "Deep elves were blessed by their volcano god to have telepathy." In terms of accommodating the supernatural into your story, it's the same effect either way.

Similarly, almost all fantasy uses technology which is not only beyond the established mechanical engineering of the world, but is often beyond modern engineering methods (or flat out impossible, though not considered magical). Again, it'll be described in narrative appropriate ways, such as "gnome/dwarf/elf", "ancient/forgotten/forbidden", use impossible materials like adamantium, Orichalcum, etc. Admittedly, that rarely involves spaceships and lasers. But it regularly involves otherwise impossible travel and weapons. Again, different words for the same effect and necessary considerations for the story.

So you see there's a natural attraction between sci-fi and fantasy. The challenge becomes not blind-siding your reader. For example, if the final chapter of your heretofore "pure" fantasy book ends with the dwarves launching their mountain into space to colonize a new world, that's almost certainly a problem. As with any significant event in your book, it should be at once a surprise but also expected (or, at least, expectable).

  • Thanks, Adam! I am inclined to agree with many of your points, but I want to clarify: You posit there is no problem in mixing the two, aside from unpleasantly surprising your reader? – DVNO Feb 7 at 7:55
  • 1
    Yea I think that's right. Another user mentioned sci-fi and fantasy aren't even really genres. I think that's true and part of what I'm saying as well. Thinking of them as "setting elements" we can more clearly see how they can be used in ways that are interesting without being jarring. Shannara is a good example of that, with its allusions to an extinct industrial civilization. But to take another example, if Sauran rolled out of Mordor in a WWI tank at the end of book 3 (6, really), LotR would probably not be remembered today. – Adam Prime Feb 7 at 17:49
0

I think there is a bigger issue than just "setting".

I'm having difficulty believing that "magic" works down in the valley while "science" works at the observatory up on the hill. That honestly sounds nonsensical to me, the antithesis of coherent worldbuilding. I would have no trust in this world, which means I am willing to accept a lightweight adventure romp with amusing situations and fun characters, but I am already skeptical that the story could carry any emotional weight or that it deserves to be taken seriously.

I would need this story to written with cleverness and a wink. It is a world of convenience, stakes are as contrived as dues ex machina, and I expect a climax that relies on the rules of melodrama, neither sci-fi nor fantasy just villains in black hats shaking a fist at a blond hero who wears a smirk and wins a girl. Since I have seen this story many times before, it sets itself a higher bar for entertainment.

Genre (and to a lesser extent Style) is a promise to the reader – that promise includes the nature of the protagonists, the types of conflicts they face, and how problems are resolved. There is also a Mary Poppins' bag of fully-formed tropes that can be produced-whole in one genre but might be ridiculous in another.

There are successful cross-genre stories, but they rarely bounce back and forth, or even straddle the two. Instead, like celular cloning, the "dna" of one genre is transposed nearly intact into another genre's "cell". A murder mystery in space is likely to be a classic detective story transposed to a sci-fi setting. The trope bag will be sci-fi, but the characters, conflicts, and resolution will follow the structure of mystery genre.

Star Wars is a fantasy-adventure set in space, but it does not have a shred of science or pretend to be sci-fi. It follows very traditional fantasy genre rules (a false dichotomy of good and evil, magic based on how much you believe, bloodline as destiny, etc). No one ever invents anything in SW. Science and technology aren't even MacGuffins – they don't exist. It's all magic under the greeble surface.

Most sci-fi relies on one or two fantastical elements, but that's not interchangeable with a universe that is magical at its foundation. Since you have said nothing about your story, I can only comment on how I perceive worldbuilding that includes mutually exclusive foundations. These things did exist side-by-side throughout history as mortal enemies. The existence of one denies the legitimacy of the other, and heretics were tortured. I can't shrug that away. The rules of the world are either natural and some of your characters are religious charlatans, or the rules are magical so there are no rules.

Yes, you can write whatever you want. No one says you have to take advice. What you have mentioned in your OP and comments suggest to me that you are not doing this for story reasons, but purely to worldbuild a fantasy genre universe that makes no distinction between what is real and what is convenient. This is a world with no actual rules, and that's good for comedy and spectacle, but it's not going to support gravitas. For me it means the writing will need to be on-point, satyrical, or saying something witty about the genre itself (self-aware).

Obviously this is no insult to your story or writing ability, since they aren't mentioned in the question. To me, this is not a good thing. I need my sci-fi to not insult my brain. (If my brain is insulted, it had better be laughing.) I'm more lenient with fantasy because I am not expecting a resolution that relies on logic or consistency, instead I'm expecting some heartfelt learn your place in the world realization (Fantasy), or a villain going over a waterfall (Melodrama).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.