Sci-fi in pretty fantasy clothes?

Peppa

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Everyone knows what fantasy in a sci-fi wrapper is. It's space opera. But what about sci-fi in pretty fantasy clothes?

In Andrzej Sapkowski's The Lady of the Lake, a character called Nimue says that people who can see the future in their dreams are only able to do so because their internal secretion glands work a little differently from normal people.

In his other books, characters also offer scientific explanations for why elves are dying out and humans are multiplying, and a perfectly logical explanation for why the world of The Witcher might experience a sudden cooling of the climate and an ice age.

But my favourite episode is the one where a shapeshifter takes the form of one of Geralt's friends and tries to get into his business (he's a hobbit-like merchant). When this shapeshifter is caught and they try to bring him to justice, he says he's not guilty of anything. Humans have built Novigrad (i.e. New City in English) in the lands where his ancestors have long lived. When there were swamps and forests in the place where Novigrad is now, they took the form of animals in order to survive. But now there is a city, and the poor shapeshifters are forced to take the form of humans, hobbits and other humanoids in order to survive.

In my opinion, it's a kind of sci-fi in a fantasy wrapper. In such books there are prophecies, magic and all the rest, but all these miracles do not happen by the will of some deities (Lloth or Eru or something else), but according to certain laws, reminiscent of the real laws of ecology or biology.

In the Ted Williams books, the Sithi live as long as they do because they use the fruits of the witchwood. In Barbara Hambly's Darwath trilogy, a slight change in climate sets off a chain of environmental changes that causes monsters that look like blobs of darkness to break out of their dungeons and attack humans.

Perhaps there are more books like this where science fiction is dressed up in pretty fantasy clothes?
 
There is a fair bit of low tech sci-fi which has a fantasy feel, but not actually elves etc.

I'd recommend the Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kerstein.
 
I would second the suggestion of the Steerswoman series. Another obvious example is Zelazny's Lord of Light. Somewhere nearer to fantasy might be Brin's Practice Effect.

If you wanted to go all the way to fantasy but retain some science, I could suggest Graydon Saunder's Commonweal Series. Much of science fiction has been described by Bujold as "fantasies of political agency" and the series tries the parallel approach of imagining how political structures might work in a world with magic. Also there is sometimes a little bit of science spilt into the training of sorcerers as in "A Succession of Bad Days":

“Change of plan,” Blossom says, still cheerful. “Learning how to make a light.”

We troop outside; light is just heat, Blossom says, only moving faster, but let’s not risk a heat-bloom inside, or where it’s pointed at anyone. Remember how when something is hot, it glows? That’s the same thing, there’s enough intensity of heat that it’s moved up into the energy levels where eyes will detect the glow as light.

So we line up in the mist, facing east, and are instructed to point our efforts at making a light up and away.

The way Blossom is talking, this is a straight Power-to-light thing, you summon up some Power and you emit it as light, just as you would with heat to heat something up.

That might be how the others have been heating things up; I’ve been thinking of heat as the average motion of the atoms, and kinda stirring with the Power to get them moving. Which makes having no atoms, going straight to photons, difficult. Photons are just energy, there’s no actual substance there; if you pull all the energy out of a photon it goes away. Getting the Power, which isn’t itself material, to just become material, well, I know it’s possible, people do it, but I’m not finding a how you do it lying around in my brain.

Still, there’s a lot of air, and while heating any amount of air white-hot seems implausible as a useful thing to do, heat is just motion, school made an analogy with a harp string. Which disgusted all the mandolin players who had never seen an actual harp. So if I grab some air, a little bit, a litre or two, and make an illusory mirror around the pointed-at-me end, I should be able to hold the stuff in the air, the nitrogen and the oxygen and the water and all the tiny amounts of everything else, fixed, not let them move, because otherwise I’ll get hot air mixing with all the other air, and shove enough of the Power in to get a glow out of my analogy to really tiny harp strings.

Nothing, nothing, nothing, red light, a beam of red light, narrow as thread and sparkling its way through the mist. Well, red is the first colour things glow when you heat them. Orange, yellow, green, and it’s going blue in an amazing sphere of sparkles off the mist when Blossom says “Edgar, stop.”
 
A lot of the old science fiction is more along the line of fantasy dressed as SF or SF dressed as fantasy e.g. Ann McCaffrey's Pern and Crystal Singer novels, quite a few of the Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman series (Darksword trilogy, Deathgate Cycle, Stars of the Guardians).
Tad Williams Shannara novels are basically set in a post apocalyptic Earth - it's more obvious if you read the novels closer to our current time.
Janny Wurt's Cycle of Fire trilogy - I thought it was pure fantasy, until you get to the part somewhere near the end of the second book.
Walter Jon Williams' Knight Moves - you have centaurs and space aliens. It's an odd little book.
Andre Norton's Moon Magic quartet - magic and space travel.
Simon Hawke's The Whims of Creation - essentially a fantasy novel set on a space ship (this one is fun)
Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle - odd book, more SF than fantasy.
The Faded Sun trilogy (I think, there were swords and spaceships) by C.J. Cherryh, also the Finisterre duology (telepathic, carnivorous "horses" on a struggling colony planet) and the Morgaine Saga to a certain extent (not everyday you come across someone running around with a mini-black hole creating sword, trying to destroy ancient alien artifacts, and using horses as transport rather than spaceships and shuttles)

A newer SF/F mishmash is Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. Post-apocalyptic, space faring civilization with magic and fantasy flavouring, especially the first novel.
 
ElfQuest has elves in a crashed space ship, but other than that, I don't think I've come across "Elves in Space" (unless you count Vulcans?)
 
Elentarri makes some good suggestions but I think that Golden Witchbreed (and its sequel Ancient Light) is pure SF just set in a world where high technology has been mostly lost but, alas, is not completely inactive. By contrast Ash, also by Mary Gentle, fits the requirement of starting off as fantasy or perhaps alternate history and only becomes science fiction towards the end. The Faded Sun trilogy also seems to be pure science fiction. The Mri just throw knives at each other and catch them because being able to react quickly or die is how the Mri like to be. However, the Morgaine Saga fits very well. There are many many stories involving telepathy that were originally classified as science fiction although Cherryh's night horses are unique.
 
Human beings are defined by their use of technology. That means that essentially all fiction has SF elements. It might be an elf on a horse, but that saddle is technology. When is the technology no longer background and becomes SF?
 
I would contend that sci-fi is fiction about the possibilities that science can offer in the future.

As such, I don't think that fantasy where the magic is explained should count as sci-fi. That's not the difference between the two genres.
 
Gene Wolfe's "Book of the the New Sun" quite quickly reveals itself as SF. Zelazny's "Lord of Light" takes a while to do the same thing as I remember. There's a particular pleasure in realising that the fantasy book you're reading is actually SF
 
Tad Williams Shannara novels are basically set in a post apocalyptic Earth - it's more obvious if you read the novels closer to our current time.
I believe these are Terry Brooks?

To the OP - Brian Aldiss Non Stop is a Sci Fi but hides itself as Fantasy for a good chunk of the book, also a fantastic book.
 
There's a book of linked short stories called The Traveller In Black by John Brunner which is the closest thing I can think of to a Hieronymous Bosch painting in written form. In it, a man from the present day stumbles into a fantasy world and becomes a king. Yet, in a later story, a new city is founded which, we are told, later becomes Paris. It's not quite what the OP is looking for, but it's very cool.

More on topic, Mark Laurence's Thorns trilogy is set in the future but feels like fantasy.
 
I believe these are Terry Brooks?

To the OP - Brian Aldiss Non Stop is a Sci Fi but hides itself as Fantasy for a good chunk of the book, also a fantastic book.
Yes - sorry. My mixup. Blah. It's been ages since I read either author.
 
There's a book of linked short stories called The Traveller In Black by John Brunner which is the closest thing I can think of to a Hieronymous Bosch painting in written form. In it, a man from the present day stumbles into a fantasy world and becomes a king. Yet, in a later story, a new city is founded which, we are told, later becomes Paris. It's not quite what the OP is looking for, but it's very cool.

More on topic, Mark Laurence's Thorns trilogy is set in the future but feels like fantasy.

*makes notes on Brunner*

There's quite a lot of fantasy that is officially set in Earth's future. Was a particularly popular thing to do in the 80s/90s.
 
There is a fair bit of low tech sci-fi which has a fantasy feel, but not actually elves etc.

I'd recommend the Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kerstein.
Thank you so much! I will definitely read those books.

Elves are not really necessary. It's just that elves and elf-like Sithi happen to be in the two examples I gave.
 
I would second the suggestion of the Steerswoman series. Another obvious example is Zelazny's Lord of Light. Somewhere nearer to fantasy might be Brin's Practice Effect.

If you wanted to go all the way to fantasy but retain some science, I could suggest Graydon Saunder's Commonweal Series. Much of science fiction has been described by Bujold as "fantasies of political agency" and the series tries the parallel approach of imagining how political structures might work in a world with magic. Also there is sometimes a little bit of science spilt into the training of sorcerers as in "A Succession of Bad Days":

“Change of plan,” Blossom says, still cheerful. “Learning how to make a light.”

We troop outside; light is just heat, Blossom says, only moving faster, but let’s not risk a heat-bloom inside, or where it’s pointed at anyone. Remember how when something is hot, it glows? That’s the same thing, there’s enough intensity of heat that it’s moved up into the energy levels where eyes will detect the glow as light.

So we line up in the mist, facing east, and are instructed to point our efforts at making a light up and away.

The way Blossom is talking, this is a straight Power-to-light thing, you summon up some Power and you emit it as light, just as you would with heat to heat something up.

That might be how the others have been heating things up; I’ve been thinking of heat as the average motion of the atoms, and kinda stirring with the Power to get them moving. Which makes having no atoms, going straight to photons, difficult. Photons are just energy, there’s no actual substance there; if you pull all the energy out of a photon it goes away. Getting the Power, which isn’t itself material, to just become material, well, I know it’s possible, people do it, but I’m not finding a how you do it lying around in my brain.

Still, there’s a lot of air, and while heating any amount of air white-hot seems implausible as a useful thing to do, heat is just motion, school made an analogy with a harp string. Which disgusted all the mandolin players who had never seen an actual harp. So if I grab some air, a little bit, a litre or two, and make an illusory mirror around the pointed-at-me end, I should be able to hold the stuff in the air, the nitrogen and the oxygen and the water and all the tiny amounts of everything else, fixed, not let them move, because otherwise I’ll get hot air mixing with all the other air, and shove enough of the Power in to get a glow out of my analogy to really tiny harp strings.

Nothing, nothing, nothing, red light, a beam of red light, narrow as thread and sparkling its way through the mist. Well, red is the first colour things glow when you heat them. Orange, yellow, green, and it’s going blue in an amazing sphere of sparkles off the mist when Blossom says “Edgar, stop.”
I think the Steerswoman series is really interesting. ) As for Lord of Light, I read it as a kid and really enjoyed it.
As for Brin, I've read some of his books, but not Practice Effect, and Graydon Saunder is still a completely unknown author to me. Thanks for the tip!
 
A lot of the old science fiction is more along the line of fantasy dressed as SF or SF dressed as fantasy e.g. Ann McCaffrey's Pern and Crystal Singer novels, quite a few of the Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman series (Darksword trilogy, Deathgate Cycle, Stars of the Guardians).
Tad Williams Shannara novels are basically set in a post apocalyptic Earth - it's more obvious if you read the novels closer to our current time.
Janny Wurt's Cycle of Fire trilogy - I thought it was pure fantasy, until you get to the part somewhere near the end of the second book.
Walter Jon Williams' Knight Moves - you have centaurs and space aliens. It's an odd little book.
Andre Norton's Moon Magic quartet - magic and space travel.
Simon Hawke's The Whims of Creation - essentially a fantasy novel set on a space ship (this one is fun)
Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle - odd book, more SF than fantasy.
The Faded Sun trilogy (I think, there were swords and spaceships) by C.J. Cherryh, also the Finisterre duology (telepathic, carnivorous "horses" on a struggling colony planet) and the Morgaine Saga to a certain extent (not everyday you come across someone running around with a mini-black hole creating sword, trying to destroy ancient alien artifacts, and using horses as transport rather than spaceships and shuttles)

A newer SF/F mishmash is Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. Post-apocalyptic, space faring civilization with magic and fantasy flavouring, especially the first novel.
Thank you! Some of these books I've read and some I haven't. But Golden Witchbreed and Ancient Light by Mary Gentle are some of my favourite sci-fi books. They are strange and sometimes sad, but very unusual and memorable. And the world building is really amazing.
As for the Shannara books, I tried to read them, but only got through one or two. I remember the story about the girl who turned into a tree, but that's about it.
 

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