Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Wed Aug 30 01:02:03 EDT 2000

The whole issue of splitting SF and fantasy is fascinating to me, and for
some reason I've been hearing about it from several different sources
lately.  The one that matters was a post on the Reading for the Future list
by a person who was griping about "magic as technology", who wrote (among
other things) that he wanted fantasy to make him suspend his disbelief, that
it shouldn't fall back on the physical laws as we know them.  He
specifically mentioned conservation of mass for shapeshifters, which is what
made me stop because I knew I'd read something recently that did this but
couldn't remember the title....anyway.

I don't have a neat definition of SF or fantasy either.  Ven's comments on
"world" versus "planet" seem intuitively right, because so often in fantasy
the inhabitants have no sense of anything beyond their own world, or even
that they live on a planet at all.  But I suspect that some of the
difficulty with such definitions happens because you can have a discussion
about what writers *have* done in the past that may not be relevant to what
writers *could* do in the future.  Trying to define fantasy by existing
works isn't proscriptive at all, or shouldn't be.  And probably the most
groundbreaking work in speculative fiction will be done by people who say
"but why can't fantasy exist on a planet in a universe?"  I imagine Charles
de Lint's brand of urban fantasy came about in this way, and Brust's Taltos
novels (let's hear it for _Issola_, due out next April!)

But the fact that we can still recognize, if only by instinct, that
something is fantasy suggests to me that there is *some* underlying
principle that defines it.  I suspect it has to do with the nature of the
otherworldliness in a book.  As a reader, I don't much care if I can
specifically define science fiction or fantasy, but as a writer I think it
matters very much.  There is a difference between science fiction and
fantasy (this is for you, Simon, and I love your reading of _Time City_!)
that is separate from the idea of internal consistency in adherence to its
laws.  A friend of mine who actually did his master's thesis on Tolkien, and
is way more informed on the subject than I am (at least in the sense of
knowing the vocabulary), gave me his take on it a while ago:  that which is
fantasy delves into the specifically mythical or archetypal, while SF uses a
more "scientific" approach.  Both are answering the question "what if?" but
with different metaphors and images.  And before you say "but doesn't that
mean they are the same thing in different clothes?" let me add that it
*makes a difference* which language you choose for the story you're telling.
I am trying to think of an example of the same story told from both
traditions, but it's late and the baby is fussing.  Fairy tale would be a
good one, as that's a popular genre these days, but I can't think of any
modern retellings that I wouldn't classify as fantastical.

But it's too late for me to think properly; I will have to wait for all of
you to point out the holes in this argument before I can figure out what I
really think.  :)

Melissa Proffitt
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