A new thread at Google Groups asks why Fantasy is gaining market share over science fiction. Reasons include “sensawunda”, difficulty identifying with post-humans and/or truly alien psychology, easier suspension of disbelief in fantasy, elimination of tech that is “not helpful from a story point of view” and flexibility

The replies in the thread are somewhat down on sf, but I would say that these arguments just don’t ring true. For point of reference, I should say that I definitely prefer science fiction over fantasy. So perhaps it’s no surprise that I find very similar arguments for why sf is more to my liking.

First off: Sense of Wonder. Hel-LO! This term was first used in reference to science fiction for a reason. Indeed the term was coined by sf author Hugo Gernsback. What else evokes sense of wonder than something that could conceivably come to pass? It’s quite doubtful that magic and dragons will ever be real. (Although, I’m not too sure about hobbits.)

Being able to identify with characters in a book is a good thing. I agree. And in most cases, the protagonist of fiction stories is human or, in the case of sf, shows human characteristics. (I’m guessing that stories where the main character is a dinosaur or wooly mammoth exhibit such human traits as will to survive, etc.) Including post-humans or exotic aliens in a story does not mean it is immediately unidentifiable. Rather, it adds to the glorious “sensawunda” that is the main attraction of sf in the first place.

Suspension of disbelief is critical in both sf and fantasy. In my opinion, fantasy is more likely to be unbelievable because things are explained away by virtue of it simply being magic. However, as discussed previously on this blog by sf author John C. Wright, “…any story, fantastic or mundane, that pulls a solution out of thin air is a bad story.” The point here being that the disbelief is tied to the writing, not the genre.

The same argument for skillful writing can be applied to the argument against technology in a story. Having a futuristic optical light-cone-emitting laser can not only be helpful, it could mean the difference between a stagnant scene and one filled with dramatic tension. Technology is not a storytelling impediment, it is another tool the author can use to evoke wonder. And, in the world of fantasy, aren’t swords and trebuchets the latest technology of the era?

The thread says “In fantasy, you can do whatever you like, which makes it easier to plot. In science fiction, there are all these scientific constraints.” Well, yeah, that’s what makes sf so cool. It exists within the bounds of scientific reason. Doing whatever you like is what makes fantasy so much harder to swallow. See previous comment on suspension of disbelief.

The thread, especially the comments section, says more. Don’t even get me started on quality of writing in one genre vs. another. “Quality” is a subjective term and to assume that one genre attracts the cream of the crop is ridiculous. Every genre has it’s good and bad writers, its literary and hack writers, and an infinite number of gradients in-between. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In terms that the raging fantasy fanboys in the thread can understand, is Terry Brooks fit to wear J.R.R. Tolkien’s jockstrap?

I have no idea why fantasy is outselling sf. Maybe Harry Potter makes it fashionable? For sure, the points mentioned in the thread are not the reason.

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