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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of what’s required.

Michael Swanwick once talked about how, when he was writing The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, he found that one difference between fantasy and science fiction was that fantasy was often normative, and science fiction was often transcendent. (Forgive Michael, if I’ve mangled that.) Another way to say this is to say that the purpose of the quest, besides collecting enough plot coupons to get to the end of the book, is to right a tremendous wrong and bring order back into the world or kingdom. Sometimes, as it is in Tolkien, the order is a less glorious order—maybe you’ve got men in charge instead of elves with all the reduction in aesthetics that implies—you know, instead of palaces among the trees we’ve got Elvis paintings on black velvet.

In science fiction the point is often to shatter the existing order, to transcend it. People evolve and become something better, cooler, Slan. Or the AI is released into the system at large to evolve and change, thereby changing the world as we know it, as in Neuromancer. Dune does that, in a Christ-figure sort of way, with Paul Maud’Dib clearing the way for his son, the giant worm, who transcends human.

This is kind of dangerous ground, getting deep into the parlor game of what is the difference between SF and fantasy, but I thought it was really cool so I felt compelled to talk about it. You can start getting into sticky stuff. I think, under this rubric, Star Wars is space fantasy because it is overthrowing the emperor to re-establish the republic and the old order of the Jedi Knights.

But something required for the genre or genres, whether to reestablish order or transcend it, is the hero who changes everything.

Maureen F. McHugh

—posted 44 days ago


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