~ posted by David H.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ~Arthur C. Clarke
Though many fans will vehemently deny it, the truth is that science fiction’s most closely related sister genre is fantasy. Both tell fantastic stories set on different worlds with unusual societies and often featuring non-human characters. But while science fiction strives to base its explanations in scientific knowledge, fantasy often feels free to explain no further than the words “it’s magic”. For this column, we’ll be taking a look at novels that blur the lines between them.
Is there any creature more associated with fantasy than the dragon? From Tolkien’s The Hobbit to George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, dragons have been a staple of fantasy fiction. Yet one of the most popular science fiction series also features dragons: Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern. Set on the planet Pern, the books detail a pre-industrial society that is the remains of a colonizing attempt by space explorers. Plagued by a deadly spore known as Thread, the colonists’ only hope in destroying it lies with the telepathic dragons that can only be ridden by a select group of men and women. Beginning with Dragonflight and composed of 23 novels (several completed after her death by her son Todd), McCaffrey’s books are favorites of both science fiction and fantasy fans.
A common trope in science fiction is the concept of parallel universes: places that differ from our own reality, sometimes by only a minor amount. Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber takes that concept and applies it to a fantasy setting. Awakening in a hospital bed on our Earth, an amnesiac slowly discovers that he is the prince Corwin belonging to a royal family that rules over the one true world Amber, which our world is only a shadow of. Learning that his father has disappeared, he finds himself embroiled in a war of succession that rages across many different worlds. Zelazny’s basic idea would later be adapted by Charles Stross’ The Merchant Princes series. Beginning with The Family Trade, Stross tells the story of a young woman who discovers she is part of a family that can travel between worlds, using their talent to build a trading empire. Like Corwin, she finds herself pulled into a war between siblings, with control of the family business as the prize.
Our last series is The Book of the New Sun written by award-winning author Gene Wolfe. Set in a far distant future where the roots of technology have grown so distant that it is considered magic, the books follows Severain, a lowly Torturer’s apprentice who rises to the position of Emperor by the final volume. Beginning with The Shadow of the Torturer (collected with the second novel in Shadow & Claw), Wolfe details an amazingly rich world that seems both archaic and futuristic at the same time. Consisting of four novels (and a novel-length epilogue The Urth of the New Sun), the series is a classic that can stand proudly in both genres.