What is the Science Fiction Equivalent of Sword & Sorcery?

This week’s SF Signal podcast asks the question: What is the SciFi equivalent of Sword & Sorcery? I was delighted to see this topic strike a cord with the podcast panel and thought it would make a good topic to throw at you, dear reader.

Sword & Sorcery has been getting a lot of press thanks to high-profile anthologies like Swords & Dark Magic edited by Lou Anders & Jonathon Strahan. But what, if anything, equates to this genre in the pure science fiction realm?

Jay Garmon, I think, said it best: “Sword & Sorcery is the gritty, personal down and dirty alternative to epic high fantasy. It might be useful to analogize: High Fantasy is to Space Opera as Sword and Sorcery is to…?”

Several people had thoughts on this over on the podcast, but I want to know what you, the reader of this blog, thinks.

So take a minute, listen to the podcast and the come back, tell us your thoughts and point us at a book that embodies your take on this.

8 thoughts on “What is the Science Fiction Equivalent of Sword & Sorcery?”

  1. I think that the answer to this question lies with the original usage of the word “sci-fi.”  When the SyFy (then SciFi) channel was launched, many authors opposed the use of the label “Sci-Fi” for the channel, claiming that the word was derragatory slang for the genre.  It was Isaac Asimov, acting as a member of the company’s advisory board, who alayed their concerns over the use of the label.  Since then, the term “sci-fi” has come to be taken for granted as a abbreviation of “science fiction” without any negative connotation whatsoever by a generation that’s grown-up with an increasing number of abbreviations and accronyms in their daily vernacular thanks to the internet.  But I think that the original intent of the term “sci-fi,” which was first popularly applied to bad B-Movies and pulp fiction, was to denote a piece of science fiction that was…  not bad, per se, but very shallow in scope and emotion depth.  Therefore I think that “sci-fi” is the “Sword & Sorcery” of science fiction.  Though, personally, if I had to coin a new phrase, I’d use the term “Laser & Horseback” in commeration of the terrible Flash Gordon rip-offs I used to watch as a kid.

  2. I’m not sure there is a direct analogue to Sword and Sorcery in SF. Perhaps the planetary romance comes the closest. However, the planetary romance (which predates S&S) has all the hallmarks of Sword and Sorcery except the magic is replaced with some sort of technology or pseudo-science (i.e. Psionics).

    I always compare S&S with the Hard-Boiled detective genre. It follows one viewpoint character, usually a somewhat unsavory person, through a gritty world that has any attractive veneer stripped away and is populated with equally unsavory people. I’m honestly wracking my brain to come up with a science fiction novel or series that has this feel and am drawing a blank.

  3. I am not sure there is a sub genre of science fiction that relates directly to sword and sorcery, unless you consider soft scifi to be a sub genre. For me sword and sorcery always sums up fantasy that just uses fantasy as a setting to tell a story without paying too much focus to the world, so really any non hard scifi is S&S scifi.

  4. Easy: SPACE OPERA

    Examples: Star Wars, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Perry Rhodan, Simon Green’s Deathstalker series, Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr series, The Chronicles of Riddick, E.E. “Doc” Smith . . . much more.

  5. I agree Andy W. there should be a clear distinction between sci fi and fantasy, or space opera etc. space opera generally parades as sci fi when in fact it has very little science. To me sci fi denotes things that can reasonably be expected in some future world, given that technological developments continue and are based on the laws of physics. For example, the sci fi of the past where men went to the moon in a rocket was fiction until Neil Armstrong. novels like brave new world, drosophila, various ones by asimov and philip k dick fit into this definition.

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