by Robert Waltz
Not for the faint of art.
You're all expecting me to rag on Hubbard here, aren't you? Aren't you? But no, the organization he founded has armies of lawyers and this shit is public.
Instead, I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about science fiction.
I talk about it sometimes in my Fantasy newsletter editorials, because there's a lot that fantasy has in common with science fiction. Incidentally, I really hate calling it "sci-fi," but I have been known to abbreviate it as SF. Rarely, though, because that could also mean "speculative fiction," which is probably a broader concept but I can't be arsed to get into the technical nuances of the differences between genres. I'm certain that for some people, it's their hill to die on.
But, as much as SF has in common with fantasy, there are important differences. I mean, yes, I'm intimately familiar with Clarke's Third Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.") I'm also familiar with the people who think they're oh-so-clever and turn it around to "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology." That's not nearly as clever as you think it is.
And I'm not saying that there aren't shades between the two genres. Hell, some of my favorite stories are somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes. And by "extremes" here, I mean that on the one pole, you have magic and maybe the supernatural. The Platonic ideal of this is, of course, Tolkien. On the other pole you have pure science and technology, no supernatural elements, everything is explainable in terms of laws of the universe. I can't be arsed to come up with a Platonic ideal for that.
I do know it's not Battlefield Earth.
And no, it's not Star Trek, either. I love Trek, but it takes too many liberties with the laws of physics to be pure science fiction. Just to be clear, I have no problem with that; it's just a mental categorization thing.
I can also tell you that the difference between fantasy and SF isn't about time period. There's fantasy set in the future, SF set in the past, and all kinds of variations thereof. There's also fantasy set so far in the future that the basis for the magic is actually science, in accordance with Clarke's Third Law.
Before I stopped reading Orson Scott Card's books, I attended a book signing he did. As a published writer of both fantasy and science fiction, he's probably more qualified to discuss the differences than I am, a mere reader and unpublished writer. And he said: "Look at the book covers. Fantasy has trees. Science fiction has rivets."
This was before steampunk, though. Lots of rivets. No grounding in science.
Also, to be perfectly clear, Star Wars is fantasy. Sure, yes, I know, spaceships, warp drive, robots, whatever. All the tropes and trappings of science fiction. But it's not science fiction; it's fantasy that uses SF props. That is a hill that I will die on.
Again, it doesn't matter. I don't feel the need to choose, any more than I need to choose between Wars and Trek, between Marvel and DC. But genre has one important function: marketing. Some people prefer one over the other, but almost everyone wants to know, at least vaguely, what they're getting into when they start a book or movie or whatever. If it bills itself as horror, it probably shouldn't focus on romance. If it's supposed to be a detective novel, maybe don't turn it into a gothic vampire story (or if you do, at least warn us).
Other people might disagree. And that's where the battle comes in.