Why is "Mr. Sakrison's Halt" Considered Science Fiction?

Star-child

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I think that is a spurious distinction.
Off the top of my head I can think of: chess, a ring, the holy grail, a talking lion, characters finding out by various means that they are offspring of gods, the eternal hero and the multiverse, a very big castle full of obscure rules.
That sounds like a list of examples of those multiple elements. Would Narnia have a different plot with a man instead of a lion?
 

hitmouse

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That sounds like a list of examples of those multiple elements. Would Narnia have a different plot with a man instead of a lion?
I dont see how that is relevant to the substance of the argument. You have posited a rather fragile concoction to distinguish why sf is different from fantasy. I have provided some notable exceptions to your generalisation, and I suggest that there are enough of these out there for both SF and F to limit the utility of your observation.
 
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Star-child

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I dont see how that is relevant to the substance of the argument. You have posited a rather fragile concoction to distinguish why sf is different from fantasy. I have provided some notable exceptions to your generalisation, and I suggest that there are enough of these out there for both SF and F to limit the utility of your observation.
I think you could be more polite about stating your opinion.

As I don't follow how your examples run counter to my observation, so I will restate it: Fantasy often combines completely unrelated fantastic elements - fantastic animals, magical objects, multiple sapients, special powers and prophesies. In contrast, SF may have a variety of fantastic results, but often with only one or a few underlying fantastic principles driving them.

Hobbit: Wizards, orcs, hobbits, men, trolls that turn to stone, magic rings, talking dragons, dwarves, elves, magic swords. Every one of those existing for largely unrelated reasons. The world simply is chock full of the fantastic. Would the Hobbit be the same plot with all human characters, for instance? Sure - the miners could ask Judge Gandalf for help getting their mine back, and various bad people could try to stop them.

Dune: FTL, shields, knives, super powers, seeing the future, suspensors. All of those are due to the Holzman effect (shields, FTL, suspensors) and the alien spice. SF authors use a few fantasy element to create broad effects which drive the story. Could you re-write Dune without those two fantasy elements? No, because they cause the shape and limits of the world, the reason for the main character's existence and the stakes of the conflict.



Which isn't to say that all SF works like that, because some SF has no truly fantastic elements at all. But SF usually says "this amazing thing is true, therefore the following happens". And this distinction isn't qualitative - I love Tolkien and Dune, and the way those worlds came to be are not good or bad.
 

Bick

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... a lot of SFF readers find the experience of SF and Fantasy very different, like a savory vs a sweet. The fact that both might be excellent doesn't change the fact that some desire one or the other at times.

The OP sounded disappointed to find what they felt was fantasy in a SF anthology. I assume that's because they have a preference and didn't want ice cream mixed in with their fish and chips.
Exactly, well-made point. This is me, basically. I like all sorts of genre, but I like to know what I'm going in for when I start a book. I don't actually like to be slapped with an unexpected genre twist in my reading or for it to not meet broad genre expectations. Two examples come to mind: in Jonathon Strahan's 2007 Best SF&F anthology, he slipped in a story that for me isn't SF or fantasy (by Elizabeth Hand). It grated and I didn't like it - I felt it had no business being in a SFF collection and weakened my enjoyment of the anthology. Second example: Weber's Out of the Dark has grated with several on this forum, because it starts as SF as ends as fantasy (apparently). It's very clear what is SF and what is not to readers of that book, and the combination of both SF and fantasy bothers some. This tells me that we may all have subtly different definitions, but some attempt by publishers to accurately define a book by genre is valuable and what many of us want. It doesn't sound like the publishers probably got it right with the Clingerman for me.

I also liked Masaix's comment:
I can't define the difference but I know it when I see / read it.
- I tend to feel the same way. I could define as I personally see it, badly at least, but won't bother here as it's been done to death, as Dave points out.
 

Bick

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I think you could be more polite about stating your opinion.

As I don't follow how your examples run counter to my observation, so I will restate it: Fantasy often combines completely unrelated fantastic elements - fantastic animals, magical objects, multiple sapients, special powers and prophesies. In contrast, SF may have a variety of fantastic results, but often with only one or a few underlying fantastic principles driving them.

Hobbit: Wizards, orcs, hobbits, men, trolls that turn to stone, magic rings, talking dragons, dwarves, elves, magic swords. Every one of those existing for largely unrelated reasons. The world simply is chock full of the fantastic. Would the Hobbit be the same plot with all human characters, for instance? Sure - the miners could ask Judge Gandalf for help getting their mine back, and various bad people could try to stop them.

Dune: FTL, shields, knives, super powers, seeing the future, suspensors. All of those are due to the Holzman effect (shields, FTL, suspensors) and the alien spice. SF authors use a few fantasy element to create broad effects which drive the story. Could you re-write Dune without those two fantasy elements? No, because they cause the shape and limits of the world, the reason for the main character's existence and the stakes of the conflict.



Which isn't to say that all SF works like that, because some SF has no truly fantastic elements at all. But SF usually says "this amazing thing is true, therefore the following happens". And this distinction isn't qualitative - I love Tolkien and Dune, and the way those worlds came to be are not good or bad.
I agree with this - very good examples of a definition that makes sense to me.
 

dask

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I like what Damon Knight once said at Norwescon a long time ago: Science Fiction is what you point your finger at and say that's Science Fiction.
 

hitmouse

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Hobbit: Wizards, orcs, hobbits, men, trolls that turn to stone, magic rings, talking dragons, dwarves, elves, magic swords. Every one of those existing for largely unrelated reasons. The world simply is chock full of the fantastic. Would the Hobbit be the same plot with all human characters, for instance? Sure - the miners could ask Judge Gandalf for help getting their mine back, and various bad people could try to stop them.
Change a few of the species and the macguffins and you are practically describing Star Wars, including the wizards and the magic swords.
 

Star-child

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Change a few of the species and the macguffins and you are practically describing Star Wars, including the wizards and the magic swords.
But the wizards are men and the swords are no more magic then a plasma cutter. And both are reasonable results of other elements. They aren't just an arbitrary collection.
 

tegeus-Cromis

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As I don't follow how your examples run counter to my observation, so I will restate it: Fantasy often combines completely unrelated fantastic elements - fantastic animals, magical objects, multiple sapients, special powers and prophesies. In contrast, SF may have a variety of fantastic results, but often with only one or a few underlying fantastic principles driving them.
First example that comes to mind, M. John Harrison's The Course of the Heart is a fantasy book that works precisely the way you describe SF working. Premise: two decades ago three university students tried to perform a magic rite that went terribly wrong. Results: in the present, each is (literally) haunted by the supernatural consequences of that in his or her own way.
 

HareBrain

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A line between the two is whether the action issued from the extrapolation of a single fantastic element (melange, bobbles, time travel) or if there are multiple elements that don't need to drive the story (elves, dragons, wizards) but provide the texture.
That's a reasonable distinction, but say the single element is "by a process of intense mental concentration, thought-forms can be physically manifested". That single element could lead to a whole load of stuff, such as the summoning of apparent gods, demons, sea-monsters etc. I'd suggest whether that story is classed as SF or fantasy would depend pretty much on whether it is set in the future.
 

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Okay, I'll bite again....


...classification can sometimes be a worthwhile thing to think about with regards to the philosophy of a 'literary movement' such as for SF or good for a getting a rough idea of a book I've never heard anything about if I'm being recommended it by someone.
Yes, I agree with this, and I would be lost in a bookshop or library if there was no classification. So, my argument is not against any kind of classification, merely that a focus too strongly upon it is a pointless exercise. I see that the thread starter has not returned to this thread and it sounds like something that would be asked in a school class to provoke a strong discussion among students without an expectation that any real light would be shone about the reason for the inclusion of the story.

As for time travel to the past, those speculative ideas you mentioned concern, as you said "impossible objects that in reality can never be made," and never a real thing that could be seen and touched, much less a living thing or a human. However, I wasn't being entirely serious when I wrote my first post and my examples were quickly thought up and could have been better.

I like all sorts of genre, but I like to know what I'm going in for when I start a book. I don't actually like to be slapped with an unexpected genre twist in my reading or for it to not meet broad genre expectations.
Some advice then: never read Mother London by Michael Moorcock. I couldn't tell you what it is, as it has fantasy, science fiction, local history, historical fiction, and a blend of all, and more too. It will be a complete anathema. It was one of the most unusual books that I read recently, and I liked it precisely because I have never read anything like it. However, you are not alone from the reviews of it online. It takes most of the book to discover any kind of link between the threads at all.

Fantasy often combines completely unrelated fantastic elements - fantastic animals, magical objects, multiple sapients, special powers and prophesies.
I can see that my very broad definition of 'Fantasy' may be one reason I am at odds with some people here. What about other books like that Moorcock book that explore the workings of the mind? I'm thinking of something like Iain Banks' The Bridge. That is firmly 'Fantasy' to me but no sign of any wizards, prophesies or magic swords in that, and it takes at least half the book to understand what is actually going on.

Working out what is going on is part of the pleasure of a book for me. Being "slapped with an unexpected genre twist" is a joy. It is the reason that I liked The Second Sleep by Robert Harris so much. I see that is described in reviews as "Speculative Fiction." Margaret Atwood is someone who is adamant that she does not write "science fiction" but only "speculative fiction." I think a better question than 'What is the difference between Fantasy and Science Fiction' might be 'What is the difference between Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction.' I think that discussion would produce more light and less heat on the issues.

Is Slaughterhouse 5 also fantasy?
Thinking over this some more, then I'd say definitely, yes! It may have aliens and other planets, but that doesn't make it science fiction. I love Kurt Vonnegut but I'd say that most of his work was actually Fantasy. Cat's Cradle is definitely science fiction. Or, is it really speculative fiction? :rolleyes:

I can't define the difference but I know it when I see / read it.
This is how I would like to view it too.
 

Star-child

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First example that comes to mind, M. John Harrison's The Course of the Heart is a fantasy book that works precisely the way you describe SF working. Premise: two decades ago three university students tried to perform a magic rite that went terribly wrong. Results: in the present, each is (literally) haunted by the supernatural consequences of that in his or her own way.
Hence the "often" in my post. This isn't a hard rule but a general observation.

I'm thinking of something like Iain Banks' The Bridge. That is firmly 'Fantasy' to me but no sign of any wizards, prophesies or magic swords in that, and it takes at least half the book to understand what is actually going on.
The Bridge is a dream, not fantasy. Several of. Banks non-SF books deal with delusions and trying to find reality. The standard for fantasy is that the events are real for the characters, or the stories would lack jeopardy and any need for internal consistency.


I'd suggest whether that story is classed as SF or fantasy would depend pretty much on whether it is set in the future.
Cryptonomicon, Consider Phlebas, The Difference Engine?
 

Star-child

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You'll have to expand. I've not read those.
Cryptonomicon takes place partially in WWII and today, Consider Phlebas about 1200 years ago elsewhere in the galaxy and The Difference Engine supposes that the information age happened in the 19th century because Babbage got his engine to work correctly. Also, 3 William Gibson novels are present day.

So I wouldn't say SF is chained to the future.
 

HareBrain

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I wouldn't say SF is chained to the future.
Nor would I. My point was that the example I gave (manifesting thought-forms) might well be classified as F or SF based on past/future, because it could fit either. So it wouldn't necessarily be SF even though it fits the "extrapolation of a single fantastic element" you mentioned above.
 

Star-child

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Nor would I. My point was that the example I gave (manifesting thought-forms) might well be classified as F or SF based on past/future, because it could fit either. So it wouldn't necessarily be SF even though it fits the "extrapolation of a single fantastic element" you mentioned above.
I agree that what I mentioned is not a rule, just an observation about the commonalities between a lot of SF and a lot of fantasy.
 
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