Science Fiction and Fantasy

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The question is whether it is possible to distinguish between fantasy and true science fiction. I am reminded of the analogy, attributable I believe, to Theodore Sturgeon, of the elf ascending vertically the side of a brick wall. In a science fiction story the knees of the elf would be bent, his center of gravity thrown forward, his stocking cap hanging down his neck, with his feet quite possibly equipped with some form of suction cups. In a fantasy, on the other hand, the elf would simply stride up the wall in a normal walking posture, with his stocking cap standing straight out from his brow. What is the difference between these scenarios? The typical answer is that the science fiction story must play by the implicit rules of the universe; in this instance, gravitation. Fantasy, however, need not "tip its hat" to the Law of Universal Gravitation the story can bend the rules in which gives it the fantasy genre.

But what if, for some specified reason, in the local vicinity of the elf on the wall, the vector of gravitational force just happens to be perpendicular to the side of the wall rather than parallel to it? In this case the behavior of the elf in the fantasy would be in perfect accord with physical law. One might then say that the fantasy is actually science fiction since we have posited a "scientific" explanation for the behavior of the elf. Both science fiction and mainstream fiction explore the political and social implications of religion. The chief difference is one of setting. Science fiction considers what religion may become under vastly altered circumstances. Leigh Brackett The Long Tomorrow (1955) suggests the possibility that one religion might better prepare its followers for post-holocaust existence than others do. Kate Wilhelm Let the Fire Fall (1969) takes place in a future United States swept by millennial fanaticism. Frank Herbert Dune stories examine in some depth the effects of political rule by characters that are regarded as divine...
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