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#1
Old 09-07-2003, 01:39 AM
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Aliens in stories: Sci-Fi or Fantasy?

This might end up a great debate but I'm posting it here in Cafe Society because it deals with science fiction.

There was a recent discussion about Kubrick's Napoleon. It got off topic when we started talking about the aliens (or robots) in Artificial Intelligence: AI by Stephen Speilberg, and the aliens making it fantasy. I am bringing that discussion over here.

Clearly the popular opinion is that anything with metal, plastic, space, and advanced machinery is science fiction. But what happens when you bring something important into the story that defies current knowledge, like aliens? I say that aliens as of today's knowledge do not exist. Therefore stories that include aliens are fantasy. Stories based on science like Jurassic Park or Gattaca are Sci-Fi. Therefore, Star Wars is fantasy. Star Trek is Fantasy. Woah! Hold on there! Star Trek is fantasy??? Yes. Aliens are a very important element in the Star Trek universe. Perhaps the MOST important part of the Star Trek universe. So if you think that aliens = fantasy then Star Trek is fantasy.

I follow the teachings of one of the pre-eminent SCI-Fi writers living today: Orson Scott Card who wrote in his book:
HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY Pagse 20-25 about the differences in Sci-Fi and fantasy. He says:
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Here's a good, simple, semi-accurate rule of thumb: If the story is set in a universe that follows the same rules as ours, it's science fiction. If it's set in a universe that doesn't follow our rules, it's fantasy.
Or in other words, science fiction is about what could be but isn't; fantasy is about what couldn't be.
Clearly, following this set of rules, since there is no "force", Star Wars is fantasy. But is Star Trek? I say yes because even though it is possible for aliens to exist, we have no scientific evidence as to what they look like or what they are capable of. We have to make guesses. And you can't make an educated guess without any evidence to back it up. We have NO evidence of aliens existence. And the Klingon and Vulcan races are 100% creative fantasy. Most certainly the "Q" are.

Do I need to clarify that I am speaking of the separate sub-genre HARD sci-fi when I say aliens are fantasy? Can aliens exist in regular sci-fi? Or do you think that aliens can even exist in hard sci-fi? What are your opinions? Does anything with metal, plastic, space, and machinery automatically become science-fiction, even if an important part of the story contains something that is impossible in our universe, like the force? I'd like to hear some logical evidence about why you believe that aliens do or do not make the story sci-fi or fantasy.
#2
Old 09-07-2003, 01:59 AM
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Oddly enough, I'm actually somewhat qualified to answer this question.

I'm currently taking a course called "Modern Science Fiction: Alien Encounters."

The first few weeks of the semester have been devoted to defining SF as a genre, especially in relation to Fantasy.

The difference lies largely in the presentation. SF asks you to accept the presented story as a possibility, while Fantasy does no such thing. A Fantasy novel is set in a universe where real-world laws simply do not apply. In a fantasy novel, the third son of a farmer can become a king, and carpets can fly.*

Aliens are a long accepted staple of SF literature. War of the Worlds, regarded as one of the earliest works of SF, set this standard more than a hundred years ago (along with flying saucers and, of course, the Death Ray).

* Paraphrased from an essay which I do not currently have in front of me.
#3
Old 09-07-2003, 02:01 AM
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Crap. I just skimmed over that quote, which basically said the same thing I just did.

In any case, there are no "rules" in determining genre. They're guidelines which establish a set of expected condition between the the author and the reader.
#4
Old 09-07-2003, 02:16 AM
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Sounds like an interesting course Johnny Bravo. If the school you attend happens to be in the Chicago area I'd be interested to know about it and maybe give it a shot just for fun...sounds like my kind of class.

I always thought of fantasy as a sub-genre of sci-fi. To my way of thinking they both create 'un-real' worlds. Whereas straight fiction uses the earth and what is already here or in our history sci-fi/fantasy extrapolate, bend reality and invent what hasn't happened yet.

Sci-fi's unreal worlds exist within the realm of possibility...our universe with science as a basis for what's going on...even if sometimes often far fetched (ala Star Trek transporters). Fantasy takes it a step further away by creating a wholly made-up world with its own rules of how things work and no real necessity to support the mechanisms behind those workings...magic just works they way they say it does, don't ask why (Star Trek transporters are equivalent to hocus-pocus but they try and use some science to support their operation and leave the rest to suspension of disbelief that it is just advanced technology we don't know and we go with it cuz their cool and sparkly).
#5
Old 09-07-2003, 02:51 AM
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The point, Whack-a-Mole, is that Star Trek's effort to give us scientific reasons for the transporters working is the difference between Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

In a Fantasy universe, there wouldn't be any bother. It would be hocus pocus and abra cadabra. You're somewhere new.

And the course is at UF, so it'd be quite a commute for you.
#6
Old 09-07-2003, 02:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Whack-a-Mole
I always thought of fantasy as a sub-genre of sci-fi. To my way of thinking they both create 'un-real' worlds. Whereas straight fiction uses the earth and what is already here or in our history sci-fi/fantasy extrapolate, bend reality and invent what hasn't happened yet.
Actually both sci-fi and fantasy are sub-genres of the genre Speculative Fiction. Horror is another sub-genre. Alternative History is a sub-genre of sci-fi. Interested? Harry Turtledove. What would happen if time-travelers gave AK-47 rifles to the rebels of the Civil War? Read The Guns of the South: A Novel of the Civil War
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Sci-fi's unreal worlds exist within the realm of possibility...our universe with science as a basis for what's going on...even if sometimes often far fetched (ala Star Trek transporters). Fantasy takes it a step further away by creating a wholly made-up world with its own rules of how things work and no real necessity to support the mechanisms behind those workings...magic just works they way they say it does, don't ask why (Star Trek transporters are equivalent to hocus-pocus but they try and use some science to support their operation and leave the rest to suspension of disbelief that it is just advanced technology we don't know and we go with it cuz their cool and sparkly).
Okay then, should stories that include strangely evolved aliens with no explanation about how they evolved be fantasy?
#7
Old 09-07-2003, 05:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by prisoner6655321
Okay then, should stories that include strangely evolved aliens with no explanation about how they evolved be fantasy?
Only if their evolution is deliberately counter to what is known, or they're stated to have not evolved but sprung fully formed into the universe.

Assumption of evolution, with no explaination of the mechanism is SF. Description of the evolution is complicated SF. Non-workable description of the evolution is badly thought out SF.

Magical creation is fantasy. Although, actually, a fantasy setting could assume natural evolution as well.
#8
Old 09-07-2003, 07:48 AM
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Apparently that depends on the definition of fantasy and science-fiction. If you stick to your definition, then it is fantasy. However, I think that the explanations in Starwars and the likes are of a scientific nature, so they are science-fiction. Since stuff like Heisenberg-Compensators circumvents currently accepted scientific theories, I´d say Startrek is heavy on the fiction part, yet it still is not fantasy. Fantasy needs (imho, ymmv) supernatural aspects.
#9
Old 09-07-2003, 07:49 AM
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I'd like to see you respond to at least one of the points I raised in my last post in the original thread, if you don't mind.
#10
Old 09-07-2003, 02:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by prisoner6655321
Okay then, should stories that include strangely evolved aliens with no explanation about how they evolved be fantasy? [/B]
Why would there be an explanation of how they evolved? That might be germane to very small percentage of stories, but an explanation of their specialization hardly seems necessary just because they have a different physiology as humans.
#11
Old 09-07-2003, 02:53 PM
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Science fiction is fantasy fiction that assumes that the explanation behind the fantastic events is based on science -- our current and potential future knowledge of the way the uniververse works.

Fantasy assumes the explanation is not scientific.

Since aliens are assumed to have a scientific background (usually evolution), they are science fiction.

In addition, certain tropes are automatically put in one genre or the other, whether they're truly scientific or not. Thus, space ships, aliens, time travel, telekenesis, teleportation (using a machine), etc. are markers of science fiction while ghosts, witches, wizards, magic, vampires, etc. mark a work as fantasy.

Ultimately, though the differentiation is extremely unimportant.

Trust me on this. I'm a pro.
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#12
Old 09-07-2003, 03:19 PM
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As a fellow pro I have to agree with Chuck. Pros generally don't care one whit about the distinction. They see the whole fantasy/sf business as a continuum, with a messy gray area in the middle. In fact, the good ones see it in multiple dimensions, adding in magic realism, alternate history, horror, surrealism, modernism and post-modernism, utopias and dystopias, and all the other varieties of non-mimetic fiction.

The people who care are the marketing types, who have to know whether to slap a unicorn or a spaceship on the cover along with the big-breasted cleavage-baring female.

Some fans get very persnickety about this too: about any editor of a "science fiction" magazine what happens when a "fantasy" story is published. Or when a "fantasy" wins a Hugo Award as "Best SF".

Definitions in the field have been argued about for decades, but mostly the way things are argued here on this Board: because people like to argue.

It matters exactly not.
#13
Old 09-07-2003, 03:23 PM
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Actually both sci-fi and fantasy are sub-genres of the genre Speculative Fiction.
Bah. Both supposed "sub-genres" were invented by people who wanted to mock one story of a genre while supporting another. "Speculative Fiction" is an utterly unnecessary nomenclature... it simply adds another level of specificity where none is needed. Leave it at "fantasy" and "sci-fi"... and dump this "hard" sci-fi crap.

It's really simple: Science fiction deals with fictional science. It doesn't need to follow known laws of physics... it's free to invent its own fictional laws. However, the difference between sci-fi and fantasy is that the fictional laws in sci-fi need to jive with known laws, AND remain internally consistent (that's science for ya). In fantasy, no such restriction exists... the author is free to do whatever the hell he or she damn well pleases.
#14
Old 09-07-2003, 03:31 PM
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I'll start off by saying that I am beginning to change my mind. But it needs to be clear that the aliens' evolution was based on science. They don't necessarily need to give the family tree or even any scientific evidence. But if the aliens are too far removed from reality, like in E.T. or Aliens, it seems more like fantasy to me.
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Originally posted by Miller
Oh, Card said it! That changes everything. If it's just some random guy from the internet saying something like that, I tend to assume he's just full of shit. But when it's Orson Scott Card saying it, then I know he's full of shit. No, I'm not particularly a fan.
Well you are a pretty rare breed. Card is a highly respected teacher of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. http://hatrack.com/ is his official site, which he maintains very well. If you don't know, and you might not since you are not a fan, he is working on the conclusion to the Alvin series... finally. You will be able to read the first third of "The Crystal City" on his website. He has 6 of the 14 parts available now.
Anyway, he teaches several classes. I'll quote his website if I'm allowed:
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He has taught writing courses at several universities, including most recently a novel-writing course at Pepperdine, and has also taught at such workshops as Antioch, Clarion, Clarion West, and the Cape Cod Writers Workshop.
Sure, being a teacher doesn't mean you aren't a hack. But he is respected. I mean, he broke the Hugo/Nebula award barrier. And he won the Hugo award for the How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy book I am referencing.
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But, my biases aside, he is indeed one of the pre-eminent living science fiction writers. Mostly thanks to the reputation of one book: Ender's Game, since most of the rest of his stuff is pretty middle of the road (actually, I liked the first couple Alvin Journeyman books better than EG, but those were definitely fantasy). And what is that book about? Space aliens. In fact, it involves four distinct "impossibilities" that I can recall off the top of my head: space aliens (not an actual impossibility, as will be dealt with later), interstellar war (not impossible per se, but highly unlikely: the resources of a single solar system should be able to sustain an interstellar civilization almost indefinitely), faster than light travel, and telelpathy (both of which are impossible according to the laws of physics as we understand them). Which means, by yours (and, apparently, Card's) definition, Ender's Game is a work of fantasy. Which means that Card is not a pre-eminent science fiction author, unless you want to argue he deserves that status on the strength of The Worthing Saga or that god-awful Book of Mormon in Space series he did. Homecoming? Whatever, I'm not going to waste the time to google it. The point is, your quute only comes from a pre-eminent sf author if the quote is untrue. If it is true, then Card isn't an sf author, and is no more an authority on the subject than you or I.
I respectfully disagree. Time travel and interstellar war I think could be possible. I don't recall mental telepathy in Ender's Game. Oh. I remember... between the aliens. Well, of course since I think the aliens in EG are works of fantasy and the book is entirely based on their existence, the book "must" be fantasy. But I am beginning to change my mind, since his aliens are supposed to have been evolved from a hive-like species. This is that educated guess thing in action. Telepathy is another story. But it wasn't an essential aspect of the alien species. They could have conquered the humans without it. Of course they invented the ansible starting with that technology so maybe it is important. Anyway, I've always thought of Ender's Game as a fantasy anyway, even though it's labeled Sci-Fi. Card would probably disagree with me about it though. I can see that while re-reading that part of his book. So I am thinking about it more and this is why I created a new discussion about it. I'm not too closed minded to change my mind. But I don't think I can completely allow aliens enough to say that the movies in the alien series and E.T. are science fiction. They are 100% fantasy. But I think I'm starting to be convinced about Star Trek.

BTW. Even if Ender's Game is fantasy, that doesn't mean he hasn't written sci-fi. Homecoming is pure sci-fi. And I loved it BTW. He also wrote a time travel book about some people keeping Christopher Columbus from discovering America. Pastwatch. Granted, it had more history than science, but he did have some rules about the time machine that made sense in his universe. So, yes I do say he deserves the status based on his other books. And I am not the only person who thinks of Card as a great writer because of his writing style and ability. You are the odd man out in that respect. I respect your opinion. But you are wrong anyway. And anyway, just because you don't like his sci-fi doesn't mean it isn't sci-fi.
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Regardless, the idea that science fiction cannot deal with space aliens and still be science fiction is contrary to the popularly accepted definition of science fiction, and even the more specialized definition of science fiction favored by most people who are versed in the genre. I suspect that even Card would disagree with you, since I simply can't imagine him making the argument you claim he is making. I'd need a better cite than a link to Amazon.com before I accept your interpretation of that quote, and even if you find one, I can tell you right now that it'll do more to change my opinion about Card then it will to change my opinion about the definition of "science fiction."
The key words there are popularly accepted definition. Hard sci-fi has always stuck to scientific possibility. Granted, Larry Niven is one of the great hard sci-fi writers and he deals with aliens all the time. Furthermore, you are probably right about Card disagreeing with me. The point he makes in his book is that the writer needs to set up the rules of the universe early on. And he seems to generally agree with the popular opinion.
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Nonsense. Haven't you ever heard of an "educated guess"?
I didn't know that you could be educated on aliens. Sorry, I just couldn't resist. There is a difference between "educated guess" and fantasizing. Most space aliens, like in the Alien series, are 100% fantasy. Some, like in certain species of Star Trek, have some scientific foundation. But not many.
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Again, nonsense. No, more than nonsense: bullshit. Certainly, sf aliens don't resemble any actual alien species that might exsist somewhere in the universe, but that doesn't mean that a solid grounding in science can't allow an author to make reasonable guesses about how life might evolve under different circumstances than that on Earth. Hie ye to the bookstore and find something written by C.J. Cherryh, Vernor Vinge, or one of Wayne Barlow's books of sf illustrations.
Will do. But calling "bullshit" doesn't disprove my argument. It's true that some grounding in science lends some credibility to the aliens existence, but how many authors do this in reality? I'll check out the authors you suggested. And they might fill the bill. But most "sci-fi" writers just dream up the alien. So I'll say that it might be that the aliens presence itself doesn't necessarily make it a fantasy story. But the lack of scientific explanation, if they are too far fetched, does.
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Star Wars is Fantasy.
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True, although I doubt you can explain why. Hint: it's not because of Chewbacca.
Thanks for the confidence. Chewbacca is among the reasons, but so is the force. The new "scientific" reasons for the stupid little creatures (midycloreans or whatever) that make up the force are too late in the storyline to make the difference. The force in the first movie was a rule that explained a magical presence in this otherwise popular-sci-fi movie. The first movie set the genre: fantasy.
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Wrong. Star Trek is sf. It's generally really bad sf, but it is still sf.
Read below.
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Correct, but note that the science underlying Jurassic Park is not much better than the science underlying Star Trek. Can you explain why one counts as sf and one doesn't?
I don't know about the science being the same as Star Trek. We can clone animals now. We can't even imagine a way to transport anything so far. Still, transporters and warp travel have been explained in great depth in ST so they aren't the reasons I said that ST is fantasy. It's the aliens. There are some evolutionary examples of how certain species evolved, but they are still guesses, and the guesses aren't based on science rather than creativity. Again, ST is more about the interraction between alien races than the scientific principles of the transporter and faster than light travel. Still, just because we don't have the evolutionary proof of the Klingon's existence, their evolution is implied. So maybe ST is sci-fi after all.
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I never saw AI, so all I can do here is reinforce the fact that, wether they were robots or aliens has no effect on wether the movie was science fiction or not.
That only works if they were robots. These beings just appeared with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. Granted that gives evidence that they were robots, but they sure did look a whole lot like tall greys. That's why I thought they were aliens at first. They were too "perfect". They were so far removed from what we recognize as human or robot and there was no "bridge" between them and the robots we saw throughout the movie that they appeared alien to me. Sure it was a movie about robot intelligence so it made sense to make them robots. But I needed to see the evolution to make that connection. I'm sure when (if) you ever see the movie you will see them as robots, simply because of this discussion. Sorry for ruining this sappy movie for you.

Conclusion: It might me that aliens per-se don't make the story fantasy. And their presence and evolution don't necessarily need to be explained to make the story sci-fi. But there needs to be something that keeps them from being fantastical. The Ferengi, Vulcans, and Klingons do this. I can see each of them evolving into the beings they are. I'm not exactly 100% changing my mind. The aliens in the alien series are pretty outrageous. I'm sure the rest of you "experts" agree that their evolution is implied. Shoot, maybe it was explained in the series. I didn't really like the movies all that much so I only saw them once. But they are the only examples I can think of, besides "Q" and other god-like races in Star Trek. But then again, they are supposed to be super-highly evolved.

I don't know. Maybe I am totally wrong after all. I'll have to sleep on it.

Maybe I should ask to change my username to "back-pedal."
#15
Old 09-07-2003, 05:07 PM
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Assuming the dichotomy asserted in the OP (and provided the caveat that "SF" vs. "fantasy" is more of a continuum as described by Exapno Mapcase with lots of gray area in the middle), I would say that aliens can be either SF or fantasy depending on how they're handled by the author.

Examples: The cheela in Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg and Starquake? SF, without question. He extrapolates from modern knowledge about high-energy astrophysics to create a species that could be, and he is extremely careful about staying consistent and never violating either his rules or what is presently known in the scientific field. By contrast, the singing blue lawn mower in Piers Anthony's... uh... don't remember which book... anyway, that's pretty much fantasy, as far as I'm concerned, because it doesn't seem to be based on much of anything, and is invented out of whole cloth so Anthony can explore whatever ideas have come to mind.
#16
Old 09-07-2003, 06:29 PM
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1. If aliens are from other planets, then it's science fiction. If they're from other planes of existance, then it's fantasy and they're referred to as demons.

2. Star Wars is a fantasy story in a science fiction setting, just as Blazing Saddles is a comedy in a Western setting.

3. Only in the worst fantasy novels do characters say "abra cadabra" and things happen. In the rest, characters spend manna, tap into the energies of the universe, manipulate the four Elements, make deals with powerful entities, shape contingencies, unlease chaos and rip holes in the fabric of the universe. Good fantasy has as much logic, science and internal consistency as science fiction - except the logic is deliciously twisted, the "science" is made up (and thus will never be proven obsolete) and the writers don't have to worry about that pesky external consistancy, whoich is why, while most science fiction dates itself hoplessly within a decade or three, good fantasy lasts forever.

Fantasy is the genre for writers with poor research skills and excellent imaginations.
#17
Old 09-07-2003, 07:22 PM
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This bit about evolution makes me think back to a high school teacher (giving us extra writing conferences outside of class) who insisted we offer explanation for why animals could talk in the fairytales we wrote for another teacher's assignment... In order to enjoy anything other than non-fiction you at some point have to accept that certain things are the way they are because the author say so. If you need a detailed "why?" for everything, fiction isn't going to be very satisfying.
#18
Old 09-07-2003, 07:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Exapno Mapcase

The people who care are the marketing types, who have to know whether to slap a unicorn or a spaceship on the cover along with the big-breasted cleavage-baring female.
But, but....where does my story about unicorn astronauts go?
#19
Old 09-07-2003, 08:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by prisoner6655321
I'll start off by saying that I am beginning to change my mind. But it needs to be clear that the aliens' evolution was based on science. They don't necessarily need to give the family tree or even any scientific evidence. But if the aliens are too far removed from reality, like in E.T. or Aliens, it seems more like fantasy to me.
As you've pointed out yourself, we have absolutely no knowledge about how life might evolve on an alien planet. Considering that, how can you say that the xenomorphs from Alien it "too far removed from reality?" What about the xenomorphs, specifically, is not "based on science"?

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Well you are a pretty rare breed. Card is a highly respected blah blah blah
I don't need Card's resume, thanks. I know he's highly respected. I said as much in my last post. It doesn't change the fact that his reputation rests entirely on the popularity of Ender's Game. Nothing else he's ever written, not even (or especially) its direct sequels, has had the sort of impact EG did. If you want to find someone to support your idea that aliens aren't sf, you'd do better to find someone who's entire reputation as an sf writer doesn't come from a novel he wrote about humans fighting BEMs.

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I respectfully disagree. Time travel and interstellar war I think could be possible.
Most physicists would disagree with you.

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I don't recall mental telepathy in Ender's Game. Oh. I remember... between the aliens. Well, of course since I think the aliens in EG are works of fantasy and the book is entirely based on their existence, the book "must" be fantasy. But I am beginning to change my mind, since his aliens are supposed to have been evolved from a hive-like species.
How does the aliens evolving from a hive-like species make them more realistic? How is that more grounded in science than any other sf alien?

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So I am thinking about it more and this is why I created a new discussion about it. I'm not too closed minded to change my mind. But I don't think I can completely allow aliens enough to say that the movies in the alien series and E.T. are science fiction. They are 100% fantasy. But I think I'm starting to be convinced about Star Trek.
How are the xenomorphs from Alien any more or less grounded in real science than Q from Star Trek?

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BTW. Even if Ender's Game is fantasy, that doesn't mean he hasn't written sci-fi.
No, it just means he hasn't written any good science fiction.

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Homecoming is pure sci-fi. And I loved it BTW. He also wrote a time travel book about some people keeping Christopher Columbus from discovering America. Pastwatch. Granted, it had more history than science, but he did have some rules about the time machine that made sense in his universe. So, yes I do say he deserves the status based on his other books.
You might think he deserves that status based on his other books, but I assure you that he would not have that status, were it not for Ender's Game.

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And I am not the only person who thinks of Card as a great writer because of his writing style and ability. You are the odd man out in that respect.
No, I'm not. Card has no particular reputation as a stylist. He's not a bad writer: he has a good, clear prose that doesn't interfere with the ideas he is trying to communicate, but he doesn't have any particularly unique authorial voice. Stylisticly, he's indistinguishable from the thousand other post-Hemmingway modernists. It's his ideas and especially his characters that propelled Ender's Game to its place in the sf canon.

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And anyway, just because you don't like his sci-fi doesn't mean it isn't sci-fi.
I never said it wasn't sf. You're the one making that argument.

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The key words there are popularly accepted definition.
Definitions are meaningless unless they're widely accepted. If you want to define science fiction so as to exclude aliens, that's your perogative, but no one, and I mean no one is going to know what the hell you're talking about.

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I didn't know that you could be educated on aliens. Sorry, I just couldn't resist. There is a difference between "educated guess" and fantasizing. Most space aliens, like in the Alien series, are 100% fantasy. Some, like in certain species of Star Trek, have some scientific foundation. But not many.
There's nothing particularly outrageous about the xenomorphs. They've got a radically different physiology, but an alien should be radically different. Star Trek is a perfect example of how not to do aliens in science fiction: they're all humanoid, they all speak English (you want to talk fantasy? Two words: universal translator), they tend to be two-dimensional representations of a human trait (Vulcans are logical, Klingons are angry, etc.) and, of course, they can all interbreed with each other.

At any rate, no you can't study aliens directly, but you can study biology, to get an understanding of how life works on a basic level. You can study sociology, to understand how human society works. You can combine those studies with geology and astronomy, and start forming hypotheses on how life might develop under radically different circumstances than those found on Earth. This is what science fiction is all about: what if? What if life arose on a planet with a methane atmosphere? How would creatures who's primary interactions are based on pack dominance create a modern society? On one level, science fiction is an attempt to guess what the future will be like, including what sort of life we might meet out in the galaxy. Just because the authors are mostly likely going to guess wrong doesn't mean they aren't writing science fiction.

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Will do. But calling "bullshit" doesn't disprove my argument.
No, my reasoning disproves your argument. Calling it bullshit just emphasizes how wrong I think you are.

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It's true that some grounding in science lends some credibility to the aliens existence, but how many authors do this in reality? I'll check out the authors you suggested. And they might fill the bill. But most "sci-fi" writers just dream up the alien. So I'll say that it might be that the aliens presence itself doesn't necessarily make it a fantasy story. But the lack of scientific explanation, if they are too far fetched, does.
Define "too far-fetched." Do you think "real" science fiction should have aliens that are very humanlike? Isn't it pretty unlikely that two life forms evolving of the course of billions of years, in totally different enviroments, on planets thousands of lightyears apart, would both end up with the same number of limbs?

Quote:
Conclusion: It might me that aliens per-se don't make the story fantasy. And their presence and evolution don't necessarily need to be explained to make the story sci-fi. But there needs to be something that keeps them from being fantastical. The Ferengi, Vulcans, and Klingons do this. I can see each of them evolving into the beings they are. I'm not exactly 100% changing my mind. The aliens in the alien series are pretty outrageous. I'm sure the rest of you "experts" agree that their evolution is implied. Shoot, maybe it was explained in the series. I didn't really like the movies all that much so I only saw them once. But they are the only examples I can think of, besides "Q" and other god-like races in Star Trek. But then again, they are supposed to be super-highly evolved.
Well, you aren't totally mistaken. There is a limit to what you can get away with before you've crossed irrevocable into fantasy. It's just that you're raising the bar ridiculously high. True, most authors don't put a lot of thought into the science behind their aliens. But most authors don't need to. There are still enough unknowns in science to allow them a lot of wiggle room when it comes to creating alien spiecies. In this case, out ignorance works in their favor. As you've pointed out, we don't know anything about "real" aliens. Rather than limiting authors, this frees them up considerably, because there are fewer contraints. Aliens with acid for blood? Could be possible: we don't know enough to say one way or the other.
#20
Old 09-07-2003, 08:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Captain Amazing
But, but....where does my story about unicorn astronauts go?
Into the rejection pile, because the marketing gurus wouldn't know how to place it.

[This, sadly, is exactly how it would happen in real life unless you are already a superstar.]

[How do I know this? Because I have, literally, explicitly, had a {non-fiction} proposal that had already been accepted by the editor rejected after the marketing meeting members decided they didn't know what area of the bookstore it should be shelved in. This is extremely common in the publishing world these days -fiction and non-fiction.]
#21
Old 09-07-2003, 08:33 PM
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Quote:
But, but....where does my story about unicorn astronauts go?
Next to a big-breasted cleavage-baring female, of course. Who also happens to be a virgin, since it's a unicorn story.

But seriously. If aliens make a story fantasy because you have to make guesses, then all fiction, not just SF, is fantasy. I mean, the writer of a pulp romance has to guess "How would a wealthy daughter of a plantation owner react to a studly, hard-working new farmhand?". OK, so that's a different sort of guess, but who's to say which guesses are fantastical?

In fact, in fantasy, you're guessing a lot less than in other genres, in the sense that "guess" implies that there's a right answer you're shooting for. For example: In the hard SF story "The Hole Man", Larry Niven guesses what would happen if a tiny black hole were let loose in a planet. As it happens, he guessed wrong: That was before Hawking radiation was known, which makes the story obsolete. But if, instead of a black hole eating a planet, he had written about a demon eating a planet, he wouldn't have needed to guess: What the demon does is whatever he says it does, and nobody can say that he's wrong.
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#22
Old 09-07-2003, 08:46 PM
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Re: Aliens in stories: Sci-Fi or Fantasy?

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Originally posted by prisoner6655321

I follow the teachings of one of the pre-eminent SCI-Fi writers living today: Orson Scott Card who wrote in his book:


It's been a while since I've read Ender's Game but I always thought it was a science fiction. Since it includes aliens then I guess that would make it fantasy though.

Quote:

Do I need to clarify that I am speaking of the separate sub-genre HARD sci-fi when I say aliens are fantasy? Can aliens exist in regular sci-fi? Or do you think that aliens can even exist in hard sci-fi?


Is Ender's Game hard sci-fi or is it fantasy? Is it science fiction at all?

Marc
#23
Old 09-08-2003, 01:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Captain Amazing
But, but....where does my story about unicorn astronauts go?
Next to the story about the dolphin astronauts of course.
#24
Old 09-08-2003, 01:33 AM
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prisoner6655321, looking at your quote from Card in the previous thread, his test for SF appears to be "could be" vs. "couldn't be".

Aliens "could be". Various scientists as well as respected SF authors have tried to calculate out the probabilities based on our one extant example of an inhabited planet. From memory, Asimov's calculation came out at around 1/2 million in our galaxy. From this perspective, if your hard SF story postulates FTL travel and galactic exploration, but no aliens then I think the author needs to explain why there aren't any.

"Could be" doesn't dictate shape of aliens (though it could preclude some with fantasy chemistry or abilities).

So... Aliens? ("could be" = SF). Vaguely equine-like aliens? (still SF). That can talk (still SF).

Talking horses? ("couldn't be", wrong brains, wrong vocals = Fantasy). Unless you're then going to describe (or even have undescribed in the background) some form of uplift like Brin's chimps and dolphins.
#25
Old 09-08-2003, 02:41 AM
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Another view is that SF is a sub-genre of Fantasy which uses science (actual or speculative) to rationalize the fantastic elements.
#26
Old 09-08-2003, 10:17 AM
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Fantasy and science fiction as genres of popular literature are distinguished by the conventions employed in each class of book. The mighty-thewed hero with the elfin companion and the sword who goes in quest of the magic talisman is a fantasy convention; the spaceship which uses Doubletalk Drive to get to Tau Ceti III where strange aliens live, a SF one.

However, the true distinction is whether assumptions contrary or not contrary to known fact are introduced. Heinlein and Niven both wrote "fantasy with rivets" -- things using the fantasy conventions that had explanations within the realm of plausible undiscovered facts. Glory Road and Not Long Before the End start as apparent fantasy stories and then structure a SF explanation for what happens.
#27
Old 09-08-2003, 11:44 AM
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For what it's worth, I'd say that movies like Star Wars occupy a middle ground between science fiction and fantasy, one that can perhaps best be called "science fantasy".

Science fiction extrapolates from what is currently known and deals with what is possible (even if highly unlikely).

Fantasy is not an effort to extrapolate from the known and instead creates a new world with physical properties that explicitly differ from known physical laws.

Science Fantasy is fantasy that is clothed in the language of science (robots and space ships instead of elves and dragons), but still creates a new world with physical properties that explicitly differ from known physical laws ("The Force," audible explosions in the vacuum of space, and -- perhaps -- even such time honored staples as faster than light travel and aliens that all speak English).

Regards,

Barry
#28
Old 10-01-2003, 09:50 AM
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Ok, then to further muddy the waters, I present you with Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.

This is a Terran (Earth) population colonizing a planet called Pern after their world was devastated by an interstellar war. They have a very highly advanced technology in the beginning of the timeline (i.e. the Colonization) and an indiginous lifeform they call "fire-lizards" are found, being very similiar to minature dragons. A hostile situation develops after "Thread" begins to fall from the sky, and they use genetic science to bio-engineer "dragons" from the original stock of the fire-lizards that bear a telepathically bonded rider and sear it from the sky with fire produced by chewing "fire-stone". It is a physiologically explained process of the dragons, there's zero magic involved. There is zero magic in the society, period. At most, the society loses alot of technology over the years and resorts to an agarian society not unlike the Middle Ages. This would normally clearly be considered science fiction and by most people's definition is.

Yet because it has dragons, she's usually called a fantasy author, and most people think of The Dragonriders of Pern as a fantasy series.

In the end, the experts can argue till the cows come home about what makes sci-fi sci-fi, and what makes fantasy fantasy, but to most fans of the genres, sci-fi has aliens, fantasy has dragons and unicorns.

There's been cross-overs of the two genres before, such as Star Wars and The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy (another sci-fi work with fantastical elements), and there will be again.
#29
Old 10-01-2003, 02:36 PM
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Quote:
Another view is that SF is a sub-genre of Fantasy which uses science (actual or speculative) to rationalize the fantastic elements.
Or is it that Fantasy is a sub-genre of SF which uses magic and mysticism to rationalize the fantastic elements?

That's the problem with most such distinctions... if reversed, they make as much sense.

Myself, I primarily stick with a "I know it when I see it" philosophy. Event Horizon is sci-fi, Willow is fantasy. Sci-fi explores how advancement shapes and influences people and society, whereas fantasy explores how society once was and how it might've been with certain new elements or conditions (not necessarily supernatural... look at The Princess Bride) introduced.

Not that this isn't a mere "future vs. past" delineation, as Star Wars (technically sci-fi, in my opinion... though I tend to call it "space opera", as the science aspect is almost nonexistent) takes place a long time ago...
#30
Old 10-01-2003, 04:12 PM
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So, Prisoner etc., etc.
Would you say that the real world we live in is Sci-Fi or Fantasy?
I'm getting to your point about the Force in Star Wars.
I'm just guessing here, but I bet I'm close, when I say that probably 95% of the world's population is spiritual.
Don't know your own inclination but just because the Force doesn't fit into your own view of the cosmos it doesn't make it fantasy.
That would be like saying Luther is a fantasy film.
#31
Old 10-01-2003, 04:36 PM
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Quote:
Science fiction is fantasy fiction that assumes that the explanation behind the fantastic events is based on science -- our current and potential future knowledge of the way the uniververse works.

Fantasy assumes the explanation is not scientific.
I've actually spent some time thinking about a scientific magic world. Rather then magic be pulled out of thin air, they come from background energy present everywhere, accessed by humans via some kind of machinery.

Prisoner:

The odd disconnect you are getting from the "aliens" at the end of A.I. has nothing to do with the distinction between Fantasy and SF. It's a phenomenon known as "deus ex machina" - suddenly suddenly pop out of nowhere and the story takes a completely unexpected twist with no logic or explanation behind it. Consider:
SPOILER:

<sad stuff about david praying to the blue fairy forever>
You: "Aww. What a sad movie."
...2000 years later...
Aliens: "It's not over yet, buddy boy! David, we can bring back your mom. But, uh, just for one day. Because of the... cosmic... time... thingies. Yeah. Anyway, it'll make the ending all sentimental and bittersweet. Not what Kubrick was going for, but Spielberg says so."
David: "Yipee!"
...Credits...
You: "Where the fuck did that come from?"

For the record, though, they are SF, because it COULD happen. If you replace the aliens with a cluster of benevolent warlocks, it'd be fantasy. It wouldn't be any better, just a different genre.
#32
Old 10-01-2003, 06:24 PM
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If you replace the aliens with a cluster of benevolent warlocks, it'd be fantasy.
And if you replace the Warlocks with a squad of G-men with radios and guns, you'd have an X-files episode. And if you replace the G-men with the hero's best friends, you'd have a teen angst flick. And if you replaced the friends with giant piles of mutant man-eating cotton candy, you'd have the best goddamned movie ever made.
#33
Old 10-01-2003, 09:53 PM
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It seems that everyone is forgetting that the operative word here is FICTION. If you like it, read it. If you don't like it, don't read it. None of it is real... I can't live in the heart of a star because I've been genetically engineered to grow faster than other humans and then be downloaded into a probe to live in the sun... (Stephen Baxter's Ring) but it's just as likely that 70 billion years in the future a benevolent warlock could do just that.

Discuss it by all means. If it hadn't been for this thread, I never would have picked up The Dragonriders of Pern, because I don't like "fantasy" (whatever that means) as much as I like "hard sci-fi" (think Greg Bear and Stephen Baxter). A lot of Bear's work has fantastical elements, as does Baxter's. But after that description, I will check it out.
#34
Old 10-01-2003, 10:51 PM
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This [Pern] would normally clearly be considered science fiction and by most people's definition is.

Yet because it has dragons, she's usually called a fantasy author, and most people think of The Dragonriders of Pern as a fantasy series.
On the contrary; I can't see how anyone could consider Pern to be SF. OK, we've got aliens. That's fine, most SF has them. They're approximately reptilian. No problem, they could be approximately anything. They're called dragons. But what's in a name? They're intelligent, I can live with that. They can fly, and are large enough to carry riders. Well, either of those is fine, separately. They breath fire... We're stretching it here. They're telepathic and can teleport... Now we're irredeemably in fantasy territory. As for "zero magic involved", what do you think what's-her-name is using to ruin the Aruthra Holding? Just because you call it "the power" doesn't make it any less magical.
#35
Old 10-02-2003, 12:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Chronos
On the contrary; I can't see how anyone could consider Pern to be SF.
As a point of information, the first Pern story was published in Analog, the purest science fction magazine, when it was edited by John Campbell. I rather suspect he was having fun publishing a science fiction story with dragons. There were lots of telepathy stories in Analog also. I haven't read many of the Pern books, but I've read the first couple, and I'd say their science fiction.
#36
Old 10-02-2003, 01:20 AM
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The distinction between any two fictional genres is basically a matter of general consensus, heavily biased by the label the publisher chooses to slap on it, or the reputation of the author.

For example, Dean Koontz has written much more about time travel and genetic engineering than about horrible undead things that suck the souls of the living, but he's still stocked under "horror".

Asimov's collection of George and Azrael stories, which doesn't even PRETEND to be sci-fi, is in the sci-fi section, along with Gaiman and Pratchett's "Good Omens", which is about angels and demons and such.

We can all draw lines wherever it suits our reading tastes, but there are no right or wrong answers here.
#37
Old 10-02-2003, 01:27 AM
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If you could replace the aliens with some fantasy creature and the story would not really lose anything, then they are more a fantasy creation. If the scientific realities of the creature are part of what make it interesting, such as an alien with an unusual nature due to evolving in very different conditions, or one with an unusual but well-thought-out biology, it's going to lean more towards SF.

For instance... (minor 'The Legacy of Heorot" spoilers)

SPOILER:
One of the most important elements of the storyline is that the unusual grendel biology, though certainly believable, confuses the colonists and prevents them from realizing what a threat they are.


You could definitely do a story about isolated people dealing with a fantasy monster with mysterious powers, but the mysteriousness of it's powers would be undercut by the fact that it is not expected to follow real-world science. If the mysterious monster makes perfect biological sense (as in 'The Legacy of Heorot'), but in a very unusual way, that makes it easier to relate to the characters, and makes the revelation of why the monster is what it is more interesting.
#38
Old 10-02-2003, 01:55 AM
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I also believe that the Pern series is Sci-Fi, even if the publisher calls it fantasy and even if it has a sort of fantasy flavor, and even if the general public calls it fantasy. The "dragons" are biological beings. They are explored and explained pretty well by McCaffrey. The entire Pern universe is very well organized and there isn't really anything supernatural about it, except for the dragons' capabilities to travel in the blink of an eye. Of course that is pretty important, especially in the first story, where it is used for a spin. So maybe it works as fantasy too. Oh well. Fantasy... Sci-Fi... still a good story. Though I've only read the first book.
#39
Old 10-02-2003, 06:46 AM
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My point was that Dragonriders of Pern, by all definitions IS sci-fi...and that hasn't stopped her from being considered a fantasy author by many of the people who read and publish the genre. Which, as I said, furthered (imo) muddied the waters regarding the OP's question.

As for Lessa ruining Ruatha Hold, it was always alluded to be more of a telepathic (possibly mixed with a sort of empathic sense in the "power" of the Ruathan bloodline) sense than any true magic, and it was also what allowed her to hear all dragons. Sixth sense does not mean true magic. There was never ANY true magic alluded to, or even hinted at in Pern, imo. The only thing even approaching "magical" in nature was the telepathic powers, and I thought she took plenty of steps to infer a scientific explanation for those.
#40
Old 10-02-2003, 07:01 AM
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And FWIW, telepathic abilities, telekinesis, precognition, premonition etc. are all considered paranormal sciences. There's not really considered to be magic to them at all, by classic definitions of High Magic.

The dragons of Pern didn't teleport as most people think of it, they used telekinesis to move themselves, their passengers, and anything they carried, which isn't the same thing. It was how Aivas explained the dragons' ability to lift "as much as they think they can" to Jaxom in of All the Weyrs of Pern, IIRC.
#41
Old 10-02-2003, 12:12 PM
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No FORCE?

My sophomore year in college a fraternity brother told me his family lived in a "haunted" house. He said his family had been sitting at the dinner table and a broom moved acroos the room.
How can a "ghost" move a broom without a body.

In Oriental martial arts there is something called CHI this can supposedly apply force without touch. If the system works on reincarnation then we are all "ghosts" occupying bodies. Some call this the life force. With sufficient knowledge and control can we move objects. Fantasy may be more reality than we think.

research DION FORTUNE.

The FORCE be with you.

Dal Timgar
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