Friday, January 2, 2009

Would you rather live…


…in a science fiction world or a fantasy one?

I saw this question on someone’s blog (can’t remember which it was now) and liked it a lot. The choice seemed easy – I’m nuts about fantasy, after all – but I had to justify it as well.

Science fiction often produces worlds in which it would be easier to live. I’d love to have a house like the one in Ray Bradbury’s “There Shall Come Soft Rains”, where meals are served automatically and little mechanical mice scurry out from the walls to do the cleaning. Robots could do heavy or repetitive work – or serve other functions, a la Jude Law in A. I., and I wouldn’t mind my morning commute being replaced with a transportation booth.

Oddly, although I like artificially intelligent computers, I’ve never wanted one. Maybe because my computer is associated with guilty pleasures like playing Civilization III when I should be writing.

Most fantasies, though, are set in medieval times, or at least in places without indoor plumbing and antibiotics. Especially if you’re in something written by Martin or Mieville, your life will probably be nasty, brutish and short (and in something written by me, you had better hope you don’t have some special magical ability, because you’ll have a big handicap or some really bad luck down the line to balance it out).

On the other hand, to me a fantasy world is a place of unlimited possibilities. Anything can happen there. That’s not to say they’re inconsistent; good fantasies adhere closely to their rules and don’t break their contract with the reader. But more things can happen in a fantasy than in a science fiction. Introduce magic into a science fiction background and it becomes a fantasy; introduce chemistry or railroads or even computers (e.g. the Construct Council) into a fantasy, and it remains a fantasy.

And then there’s the sheer coolness of fantasy, the dragons and unicorns and other strange creatures, the fascinating weapons and secret artifacts waiting to be discovered, the magic and the mystery. And the clothes are definitely a plus. Try wearing a lace and velvet concoction in a science fiction story. Most of the time, you’d look out of place. But in a medieval fantasy, you’d probably fit right in.

So those are my reasons for preferring to live in a fantasy world. Which one would you choose?

21 comments:

fairyhedgehog said...

I'd choose science fiction every time. It's cleaner, warmer, smells better and has less work and more leisure.

Plus, I'm more comfortable in stretchy trousers than in a skirt and blouse that probably need ironing.

You can have all the apparent magic you want in science fiction - as long as the technology is sufficiently advanced.

GunnerJ said...

Moving to a fantasy world more than likely means accepting regression of every standard of human freedom and wellness to a medieval level on the off-chance of something cool eating you for lunch or frying you with a spell, which honestly isn't that different in the end than just being killed because the local warlord needs target practice. No thanks.

Moving to a sci-fi world means seeing leaps and bounds of technological progress and knowledge with the slight risk of being eaten by aliens. I'd choose this every time so long as i didn't end up in some cyberpunk or post-apocalyptic hellscape. (Arguably, though, we're basically living in a cyberpunk novel now...)

writtenwyrdd said...

I would want to live in the fantasy world I've been working with for a couple of decades. I feel pretty at home there already. My sf universe is also cool, but I've mostly focused on the groups I didn't want to live in, so that's not such a good spot.

Madison said...

For me, it's a toss up. I mean, I LOVE fantasy! It's mainly what I write and I love the idea of knowing how to weild a sword and all that jazz. But I'm also a HUGE TOS Trekkie and think that living on a huge starship and seeing the universe would be totally awesome! Honestly, it depends on what day I'm having. Today? I want a world that blends the best of both! :D

Michael Morse said...

I find myself transported easily into a good fantasy novel while Science Fiction takes longer. Plus, the magic is cool, and I like horses better than machines.

Becky Mushko said...

Um, could I have the best of both? Unicorns and robots?

Loren said...

I'd choose the science-fiction world unless the sorcery in a fantasy world gave me capabilities similar to the SF world's technologies.

Marian said...

On the blog where I first read this question, someone mentioned the many dystopias in science fiction. Which is accurate, but then fantasy has its share of nightmare worlds (e.g. the lunatic city of Paradise in the Tanith Lee novels).

GunnerJ also makes a good point about technological and social regression. I wouldn't want to live in a medieval world where I was treated badly for being a woman - "the unsealer of the tree... the first forsaker of the divine law".

On the other hand, I come to work using public transportation and sit before a computer. I look out and see a city, an airport, planes landing. I appreciate science and technology and progress, but I want something different in my dreams.

Marian said...

"Um, could I have the best of both? Unicorns and robots?"

Maybe they're robot unicorns, like the mechanical animals in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

fairyhedgehog said...

I come to work using public transportation and sit before a computer. I look out and see a city, an airport, planes landing. I appreciate science and technology and progress, but I want something different in my dreams.

I feel like I am living in a science fiction future because so much technology that we take for granted today was only fiction when I was a girl. I love it!

I want more though, and better. I dream of transport gateways that will take me anywhere, kitchens that will cook my dinner for me, robot companions, endless leisure with no one having to do all the hard work because the robots do it.

I think the only equivalent in fantasy is to be born very, very rich and you still wouldn't get the exciting new worlds.

Pink Ink said...

Science fiction. I love gadgetry and robots that can do your bidding.

Sometimes I feel odd that I don't get into unicorns and dragons like my oldest daughter does. Well, we're just different I guess.

Loren said...

The usual sort of fantasy world is pseudo-medieval-European sword-and-sorcery (any sword-and-sorcery set in other premodern places and times?), but as I said, I would not want to live in such a place unless I could get plenty of sorcery at my disposal.

Like magic carpets for traveling. You wouldn't even have much of a parking problem -- all you'd need to do is roll it up.

Or conjuring up golems and the like to do a lot of the manual labor, like heavy construction work. Or such low-skill labor as making fabric or copying books (as a rather serious high-grade bookworm, the idea of books being difficult to get is rather painful).

Or magic medicine that works.

Merri said...

It's a fantasy world for me! The clothes are definitely better and the emotional attachment for me is greater. Fantasy worlds often lean heavily on the roles of good and evil and persevering through troubling times.

Merri said...

Another thought about fantasy, since I'm the one dreaming up the fantasy world, how about a place where women are in high positions of power! We would only be limited by our own creativity. We could also envision a world with no war, pink waterfalls and talking trees. It's funny how we even think about our fantasy world as what we've already been exposed to rather than what we could create.

Marian said...

"I feel like I am living in a science fiction future because so much technology that we take for granted today was only fiction when I was a girl. I love it!"

I remember when I was very little, there were large black vinyl records if you wanted to listen to music.

When I was about eleven or twelve, we had cassette tapes, and I had a Walkman. By the time I was in high school, there were CDs.

When I was in graduate school, music came in mp3 form, and last year I got an iPod.

I'm thinking that in the future, there'll be little tiny ear implants with music transmitted directly from a satellite or something.

"I want more though, and better. I dream of... endless leisure with no one having to do all the hard work because the robots do it."

I can't help wondering, though... would that get boring after a while?

There was a SF story about a future where intelligent robots did everything and protected people from harm, but it also meant the main character lived in a golden cage. The robots wouldn't let him do anything if it carried any risk to his health, like going outside.

Marian said...

"We could also envision a world with no war, pink waterfalls and talking trees."

Hey Merri, great to see you here!

Your comment reminded me of the Enid Blyton books I used to read as a child. Those had magical lands where trees grew sweets, like the lunch box tree in Return to Oz.

Yummy.

Marian said...

"as a rather serious high-grade bookworm, the idea of books being difficult to get is rather painful."

There could be substitutes. A magic mirror could supply the local news, or you could have a music box which told stories.

I take your point about travel, though. There are too many fantasy novels where the horses are four-legged perpetual motion machines.

Barbara Martin said...

Fantasy worlds do not have to be something alien to the world we live in. A fantasy world with fantasy characters can be set in the modern contemporary world we live in now.

The Fantasy Art Blog said...

Since a sufficiently advanced technology can look like magic, I'd go with SciFi.
Besides, in Fantasy, there'd be a strange tension of not advancing technologically.

Marian said...

"Besides, in Fantasy, there'd be a strange tension of not advancing technologically."

Really? I always thought most fantasy worlds did advance, like Ankh-Morpork - that's gotten a postal service and a newspaper.

Some of them are better off in an undeveloped/unspoiled state, though. I did like the Scouring of the Shire chapter in The Return of the King.

DW Golden said...

Fantasy all the way baby, but then my fantasy world is one without cars, wars, bombs or money. Of course when everyone lives good harmonious life where's the story. I gotta agree with the awesome clothes though. I love velvet dresses minus the corsets. Who needs a warlord when you have fantastical creatures battling for control of the land.
Anyway, scifi has space. I'd love to see that one day. Hey maybe dragons live in out there in the universe somewhere sort of like Anne McCaffrey's Sci-fi/fantasy blend.
If forced to choose I would live in fantasy since I do most of the time already.

DW Golden
Are fairies living in the woods behind your house? Maybe you go to school with one. Discover the world that Lucy Discovered when she befriended a fairy child : http://www.eloquentbooks.com/PurpleButterflies.html