Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a fan of all flavors of speculative fiction. The first adult book I remember reading for fun was a battered copy of Star Trek 8 by James Blish that contained short story retellings of classic Star Trek episodes, and I still remember how amazed I was that the first story I read was an episode I hadn’t seen yet. My siblings were avid readers, so I had access to lots of classic science fiction and fantasy like Foundation or the Lord of the Rings. Pretending to be Legolas running to rescue the hobbits helped me endure running the mile in gym class (thank you, JRR Tolkien).
What I love about speculative fiction is the whole “what if?” attitude. What if humanity was part of an interstellar civilization? What if elves and dragons existed? What if teleportation worked? Every piece of fiction has a question embedded within, yet the questions embedded within speculative fiction address twists on what we know is real. Sometimes we can learn more about how humanity works by throwing characters into “unreal” situations and seeing how they dance.
While I love both science fiction and fantasy, I tend not to like stories that mix the two. My usual refrain is “Get your magic out of my science,” or on the flip side, “Get your science out of my magic.” I think my objections stem from the conflict between proof and faith. Magic tends to break scientific laws, therefore the use of magic in an SF story feels like a cheat, as if magic comes in to save the day because the science wasn’t enough. Likewise, fantasy stories tend to simply assume that magic works, so if science comes in to explain why magic works, the story loses the sense of wonder and faith.
I write both fantasy and SF stories, and up until now, I’ve been keeping the two universes separate.
Or so I thought.
When I began working on my SF universe, I used my fantasy universe as a springboard for character development. I’ve now come to realize I’ve been writing the SF stories using the same foundation and themes I’ve explored in my fantasy universe. Furthermore, I believe I can place all my stories within the same basic framework and make it work. My fantasy world can exist within the same galaxy as the Earth from my SF stories. At this point, I do not intend my fantasy and SF characters to ever meet, but it’s a valid possibility. By melding the two universes together, I can channel all the effort I’ve already put into world-building the fantasy universe and flesh out the SF universe.
No matter the framework of the story, whether it be spaceships and aliens or dragons and knights, a story is ultimately about people. A good story throws interesting people into interesting situations and shows how they attempt to survive. Both fantasy and SF showcase extraordinarily interesting places and situations.
I believe the mix of SF and fantasy that I’m heading toward is called “science fantasy.” My SF and fantasy characters are all manipulating the same powers, only the SF characters have quantified those powers, while the fantasy characters call it magic and go by instinct. I intend to make sure all the science is reasonable, and that I don’t unintentionally break any known laws of physics. Likewise, I intend to keep my magical system consistent so that my characters can’t simply wave their hands and use magic to solve all their problems. Story comes from characters working to exceed their limitations. I am a firm believer in happy endings, but the characters have to work to earn them.
So I’m now in major world-building mode. I look forward to what comes next.