There is no doubt that I write fantasy. The whole secondary-world settings kinda give that away.
The trouble starts when I try to narrow my work into a sub-genre.
My stories don’t have the scale and scope of epic fantasy. They don’t have the the coming-of-age themes or adventures of heroic fantasy. I stay away from writing in a historical or alternate Earth setting, so those genres of fantasy (including steampunk) are out. Some of my work is obviously based on fairy tales, but a large part is not. YA fantasy is a nice catch-all, but my protagonists are mostly older and I write with an adult audience in mind.
But, Rabia, why not call your genre traditional fantasy and be done with it?
Well, see, that’s what I started writing, way back when. My first novel was set in a pseudo-medieval world, with its attendant attitudes and technology. But since that book, my worlds have become more modern. They feature indoor plumbing and firearms, trams and trains, elevators and radios. My societies perform great feats of science and engineering, whether its using a radioactive element to punch portals into other worlds or hanging an artificial sun on a track made from the skeletal remains of a cosmic dragon. I have magic in my worlds, but my sorcerers are just as likely to be scientists as they perform genetic experiments and create mechanical constructs.
And not only that, but I have a fixation with what goes on in high above the ground. My first novel featured a sorcerer-made flying fortress. I love to deprive worlds of their suns and create weird universes. The back stories of many of my races has them traveling from other planets. Events on my worlds are affected by what comes from the sky, whether it’s space dust or the aforementioned cosmic dragons.
You could blame all this on too many episodes of The Universe. But truth is, science fiction elements have always crept into my stories and woven themselves into the background.
Can it be that I’m really writing science fantasy?
Turns out that it’s not too easy to define what science fantasy is. It’s a fluid genre with fuzzy boundaries. Often it looks to be straightforward fantasy, with the science fiction elements so well-hidden that they come out either in later books or in bonus material. Or it might look like science fiction until the elves and dwarves show up.
Take for example, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern book. The first book, Dragonflight, has a pseudo-medieval and low-technology setting that is familiar to readers of traditional fantasy. It contains dragons, another classic fantasy element. Yet the threat to Pernese society comes not from Dark Lords rising from their underground tombs, but in the form of Thread falling from the skies when the Red Planet draws near to Pern. In later books we learn that the dragons were genetically engineered to fight Thread and that the Pernese people can trace their origins back to our Earth.
The Star Wars movies are often classified as science fantasy, and I can see why. When you take fantasy conventions (princesses, a brotherhood of mage-monks with arcane powers, swords–even if they are made out of lasers and called sabers) and plunk them into a universe with spaceships, firearms, and tanks, you’re blending the two genres. I think one could even put Cameron’s Avatar in the same sub-genre.
I love both science (chemistry and anything space-related) and the humanities (literature and history). When I write science fantasy, I’m free to draw inspiration from both these wells. And that makes for a happier writer and better stories.
Do you read or write science fantasy? Do you have any other examples of the genre? How would you define it?