The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 181): Panel Discussion SF Readers vs. Fantasy Readers

In episode 179 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester assembles a panel to discuss something that came up in a recent critique group meeting.

A month ago, I attended a critique group meeting. One of the submissions was a scifi piece that elicited a 25 minute debate on how kinetic energy and the concussive blasts from exploding rockets would ‘really’ impact a telekinetic sphere and whether or not people inside that telekinetic sphere would be turned to mush as a result.

Which caused me to quip, “This is why most of my stuff is fantasy. Tell the reader your characters traveled from the Earth to Mars in the blink of an eye and they will demand you give them every little detail of the science behind how your FTL works or else they won’t believe it. Or you can say, ‘the Wizard raised his hands, a fireball formed and he threw it at the enemy’ and the reader will go, ‘Cool!’ and accept it.”

(this got some laughs)

The gist was that a fantasy reader is more willing to accept the impossible versus the science fiction reader – because of the ‘science’.

I asked our panelists what they thing. Do science fiction readers expect more logic and for the science to ‘make sense’ versus the fantasy readers? Are fantasy readers more ready to accept magic over science fiction? Yes, magic in fantasy has to have rules and the author cannot break those rules, but are the rules less important in fantasy versus science fiction?

This week’s panel:

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5 thoughts on “The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 181): Panel Discussion SF Readers vs. Fantasy Readers”

  1. My main comment would have been, as long as you are consistent to the story world, it doesn’t matter if it’s Fantasy or Science Fiction. You don’t have to explain everything, just be consistent with not breaking any of the story world’s rules.

  2. Obviously there is also a nearly mindless obsessive focus on pedantry in the form of historical accuracy in alt-history fantasy, which is practically a sub-genre all its own. Whether in SF or fantasy I find such approaches of zilch interest.

  3. LOL, I’ve had the same “five minutes in the future” issue that comes up halfway through lately, but only with short stories. There’s an online market now that can turn a short around fast enough to be future proofed for couple weeks, anyway.

    I dunno if I’d even try that with a novel these days I was going to publish the traditional route. That seems like inviting heartbreak.

    And a totally nerdy note: the for-narrative/play purpose limited-magic systems discussed go back before D&D. Those came from Jack Vance’s books, so were literary devices before being incorporated as a basic mechanic for RPGs.

    1. Robert,

      You’re so very right that the fire-and-forget (literally) spellcasting concept came from Jack Vance. I had played (A)D&D for decades before I heard the phrase “Vancian Magic” from a friend. I immediately looked it up and started my search for some of Vance’s works. I have a few here sitting on the shelves, but I’ve not had time to delve into them.

  4. I loved everyone’s take on this topic. Well thought out and interesting discussion.

    My two cents on the subject go along these lines:

    With sci-fi that relates to anything near-Earth or near-present-reality, there are already solid handholds for the reader to grasp. If you’re going to vary from historical events, physics as we understand it today, or “facts of the universe” then you have the very difficult task of prying the reader’s grasp of their reality loose before you can shift their grip to your facts and reality. This is the barrier most sci-fi authors have to overcome. However, writing a compelling story with fascinating characters will lubricate the handhold the reader has on their reality and allow you to more easily shift their perceptions around. Do it well enough, and they won’t even notice.

    With fantasy, it’s much easier to shift that “reality grip” because you get to make things up as you go and the reader, typically, is reaching for the handles you provide. However, once you set up some rules for the characters/world/environment/magic/whatever to follow, you better damn well NOT break those rules or suffer the most vile of revolts from your readers. Even if you have a “good reason” for breaking your own rules, it won’t go well for you.

    Another great episode! Thanks to Patrick for putting this one together and for everyone that participated.

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