The Importance of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Books and stories have always been doorways into new worlds where people can explore the unknown. Once the journey is done, the book is closed and tucked safely away. But the experience remains.
Fiction gives people a way to live vicariously, experiencing fantastic events through relatable characters. Nothing can do this like the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. There’s just something about good Fantasy and Scifi that has a way of making you miss it, just a little, at its end. While any book can create this feeling, it seems to be Science Fiction and Fantasy that leave the deepest impression, but why?
The Importance of Science Fiction and Fantasy
This feeling arises when everything comes together exactly right. When the world is immersive and new, with just enough familiarity to draw you in entirely. When the characters remind you of yourself, or who you want to be; or who you fear to be. When all the little details add up to an honest expression of what it feels like to be human.
These are the stories that survive generations, the ones we read as children before passing them along to our own kids. While great literature can exist in any genre, there’s something different about science fiction and fantasy. Every story, fiction or nonfiction, lays somewhere between reality and imagination. But Scifi and Fantasy fall a little further down the rabbit hole.
Here, imagination outweighs reality. The normal rules may still apply, but they can be warped too. And, because the stories have such a healthy dose of the fantastic, the reality stands out in stark contrast. This is the real magic of Science Fiction and Fantasy: to make the mundane seem incredible again.
Separate Roads Going the Same Direction
While they may both end up at the same place, Science Fiction and Fantasy take different routes to get there. Science Fiction relies on a grounding within current technologies and scientific knowledge to make predictions for the future. However, the stories always say so much more about today than they do about tomorrow. Good Science Fiction captures both the present and the future precisely because it understands the past as it relates to the current moment.
This is how projections of an unknowable future can ring so true to the reader. The idea of it can bring the choices and circumstances of the present moment into sharp focus, both within the book and actual life. It’s that moment the reader finishes Orwell’s 1984 and immediately hurls it across the room. It’s the relief that it wasn’t real mixed with the fear that it could be.
Fantasy, on the other hand, doesn’t have to rely on the current body of scientific knowledge to ground its stories. Instead, it often romanticizes a past filled with dragons and mythical beasts; or it goes one step further and brings those things into the modern age. This creates the nostalgic sense that we once lived with magic and can find it again, or that we still do and may one day turn the right corner and stumble upon it.
This is a big part of why the Harry Potter craze took off. There wasn’t a twinkle-eyed kid who read those books and didn’t wait patiently for their owl-letter inviting them to Hogwarts. Tolkien was a master at making an ancient history of fantasy and lore seem real. He did so by presenting his stories as the rise of man and the decline of magic.
And that too captures one of the key differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy, and also a key to what sets them apart from other genres. They represent two schools of thought: that of religion, and that of science.
Science and Religion
These things haven’t always gotten along so well, but they really are a lot like the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres: two roads going the same direction. They both seek to explore the basic fundamental truths that unite us, to make sense of the world that surrounds us, and to bring a sense of security through this increased awareness. What’s that adage about how opposites attract, but a man will meet his likeness with resistance? That may apply here …
So, the differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy really only exist on the surface of things. They both look at the human condition, asking what if or what could be. While the stories may contain unbelievable things, they are always real at heart. And the ones that don’t forget this, that their real power lies in truth more than fiction, those are the ones that keep us up at night. They’re the ones we remember for years to come. They're the stories that we tell to our children.