The Easy and Hard of It: Science Fiction and Fantasy

In my last post, I wrote, much to my annoyance, that I find it easier to generate ideas for fantasy projects compared to science fiction. Over the weekend, I took the time to contemplate this state of affairs. Why do I find it easier to come up with fantasy ideas rather than science fiction? Does this equate a “natural” calling or will the harder genre be more fulfilling?

When I read J.L. Laynesmith’s The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503, I immediately began to think up ways I could use that in my own fantasy world building. It has been a few years, but I was thinking of having a subplot where the queen is either especially litigious or is the victim of an overly litigious neighboring magnate. In fact, I wonder if that could not be married to my (currently) discarded medieval fantasy project. Could a lawsuit of some kind be the spark that lights a revolution (I’m thinking along the lines of lawsuits to rebind peasants to the land after decades or longer of freedom). See? Boom. Idea. And incorporate either prophetic dreams or local witchcraft traditions. Again. Boom. Idea.

I recently completed George Chauncey’s Gay New York. While the book is, unfortunately, very repetitious, it is an eye opener in regards to how the gay subculture of New York developed over the half century before World War II. I had originally planed to read the book for research for a historical fantasy set during the 1920s. But, as I read the book, numerous ideas came to me. Take a great, new metropolis like New York. It has to be a magnet for immigration. It has to be new and brash. One of those immigrant groups have a shamanic tradition little understood by the dominant culture. Start of an idea. 

I think two examples will suffice. 

But when it comes to science fiction, that ease of generating ideas isn’t there. I have to work for it. I have to think. 

The reason why, I think, is that I have to extrapolate. I have to take inspiration and project possibilities. 

The postapocalyptic project has been bugging me for years. The biggest headache has been trying to figure out what type of apocalyptic event occurred to destroy civilization. The plot would revolve around the actions of a group of activists committed to rebuilding a new civilization out of the chaos of what used to be the U.S. has descended into. 

The reason why I need to figure out the apocalyptic event is because I need to know its effects. What will Earth be like fifty years after the Fall? A hundred? Two hundred? How much of the previous human civilization is left? How much has decayed? What knowledge has survived? 

You get the idea. I have to work on it. I have to ask and answer those questions. Though I have to work harder, that does not mean that the process is any less fun. In fact, I am more engaged in projects that I have to struggle with. My attention remains focused while I tend to wander when things come too easy. 

Fantasy, given its typically historical settings, has a ready made world building scaffolding just waiting to be used. Science fiction isn’t like that. The science, and everything else, has to be extrapolated. And gotten right. While a wizard may be a useful hand wave in fantasy, such shenanigans don’t truck in science fiction. 

I think I’ve answered my questions. But, to make matters more complicated, why am I so concerned with making a binary of science fiction and fantasy? I want to write both. So what if one genre is easier to generate ideas for while I struggle mightily with the other. In the end, as long as I’m doing what I love, why obsess over these things? 

But that is, I’m afraid, a question for another day. (And likely relates to my inherent “armchair literary critic” complex). 


Posted on January 21, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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