A Response to a Rebuttal

  • by Gitabushi

This is a response to this rebuttal to the piece I wrote recently.

monster men

First, I seem to be good at offending people with my opinions, and that wasn’t my intent.  What seems to have come across is me saying “These types of stories, including Pulp Rev, are bad stories.”

In fact, my point was that I used to see them as bad stories, but I’ve come to realize that they are actually good stories that just don’t do it for me.  And that’s okay.

Second, I actually *like* Campbellian SF.  I can’t say “Campbell did nothing wrong,” because a quick glance at his wikipedia entry shows that later in life, he got into pseudoscience and alienated many of his best writers.

But I like his demand that writers write an alien that thinks as well as a human, but differently than a human.  And I guess I also kind of agree with his insistence that writers “rise above the mire of Pulp,” except that I really don’t think I’m quite as dismissive of Pulp as Campbell was.

I mean (third), if I thought Pulp is an inferior story form, I should be able to prove it by churning out tons of pulp stories.  But I recognize I can’t, because Pulp is written better than Campbell (or the literati in general of the time) gives it credit for.

I can’t write anything that matches A Princess of Mars, but I don’t want to. I didn’t really like the first few Barsoom novels.  The change is now I recognize those are good stories, I just don’t like them.

The first Barsoom story I actually enjoyed was Chessmen of Mars.  It explored a little bit of human nature in several aspects, including someone breaking away from a coercive society, the problem of fame/desirability in a woman and how it impacts romantic pursuit of her.

When I read Conan or John Carter stories, I don’t have any urge to write like that.

But, again, this doesn’t make them bad.

A good example is REH’s “The Frost Giant’s Daughter.”  It is filled with lush descriptions. You feel Conan’s desire and determination. You feel the chill.  But ultimately, nothing happens in the story.

Nothing really happens in “The Queen of the Black Coast,” either.  I mean, a bunch of stuff does happen, but it’s like a SitCom: after everything happens, Conan ends up where he started before he met Belit, and hasn’t really learned anything.

In most Conan stories, the only thing Conan “learns” is confirmation of his cynicism toward civilization, that so-called barbarians have more honor and are thus more trustworthy than the machinations and deceptions of sophisticated city dwellers.

But those both have been criticized as not being as well-plotted as “The Black Stranger.”  But even there, while it is a well-written story, I’m left somewhat unmoved. There’s a lot of action, there is clearly a plot, but ultimately, nothing is learned and Conan doesn’t grow in any perceptible way.

 

So what *do* I like?

I guess I like Campbellian fiction. In contrast to the people who say Hard SF is garbage, say that Campbell ruined SF, or those who say nothing written after 1980 (or was it 1970? Or 1960? I don’t remember) is any good, I *like* quite a bit of 1980s SF and Fantasy. There’s a lot of Leftist garbage influencing SF&F in the 60s and 70s…no one hates Heinlein’s later works (including Stranger in a Strange Land) more than I do.

But I see that as the fault of those writers who lost the science as they wrote social science fiction.

I am still moved by Haldeman’s “The Forever War,” and consider it one of my favorite books.  There is a great deal of wise insight into the human experience.  I also really appreciate many of Haldeman’s short stories, particularly those collected in “Dealing in Futures.”  But I don’t like many of his other works, because of the influence of Leftist ideology on his writing.

But that’s okay. I don’t reject The Forever War because I dislike most of the rest of his writing.  I just point to The Forever War as a great book, because there is insight and chaaracter growth. (although, at heart, it is more of a Milieu story than a Character story).

The key point is: I’m re-reading “Cyteen,” and while I’m enjoying the crap out of it and reading slowly so I can digest every nuance, I’m also somewhat inwardly seething because I *want* to write like that, and I don’t think I can, I’m afraid I never will be able to, and I don’t even know how to work towards making a half-way decent attempt.

And in trying to explain, I’ve probably offended other people. I apologize unreservedly.

I’m just trying to understand my own likes and dislikes, and thinking out loud, in hopes that it helps other people understand themselves better.

Episode Six: In Which I Find I Have More to Say About Vox Day

  • by Gitabushi

I recently wrote about my opinion of Vox Day, as part of completing an assignment from a friend to read his book, ‘Jordanetics,” to see if I would be convinced Jordan B. Peterson is a con man.

I ended up convinced that Vox Day is a con man.

However, I now think I have a little bit more to add to that.

To be honest, I rushed through my first response. Partly because I was just irritated with having read what felt like a steaming load of nonsense, but partly because I wanted to discharge the obligation.  But I kept thinking about it, and I think there are a few more points I want to make.

First, Vox Day gives his own “12 Rules.” The most charitable take is that if he’s going to spend a book criticizing JBP’s 12 Rules, he should have his own.  The churlish take is that he wanted to demonstrate his superior intelligence by providing a list better than JBP’s.

Actually, Vox Day’s list isn’t bad.

  1. Embrace the Iron
  2. Take the wheel
  3. Be the friend you want to have
  4. Envision perfection and pursue excellence
  5. Put a ring on it
  6. Set your face against evil
  7. Do what is right
  8. Tell the truth in kindness
  9. Learn the easy way
  10. Believe the mirror
  11. Get back on the horse
  12. Find a best friend

But at best, Vox Day doesn’t realize what JBP’s purpose is; at worst, Vox Day simply doesn’t care.  Because this list is largely inaccessible to the people JBP is trying to reach.  “Put a ring on it,” indeed. One of things JBP is addressing is males who cannot attract a woman, because their life is in chaos.  “Take the wheel.” The whole point of JBP’s teachings are to help males learn that they can take the wheel, and to avoid disaster when they try. You can’t just tell them to take the wheel; you have to teach them to walk before they can run.

So Vox Day’s rules aren’t bad, they just reveal that Vox Day doesn’t comprehend JBP.

This is a problem.

It indicates that Vox Day is criticizing JBP because JBP’s advice doesn’t apply to Vox Day.

It may even indicate that JBP’s concepts threaten Vox Day in some way.

Vox claims to be very, very smart, and expensively educated. We aren’t told exactly what “expensive” means to Vox Day, but based on his writing, he isn’t very highly educated. It seems very likely to me that he never continued past a baccalaureate.

To characterize Vox Day’s fundamental error that underlies his entire book, his choices demonstrate that he has no interest in constructing a compelling argument, but feels it is sufficient to merely make a plausible one.

You see this error in several places.  As I pointed out in the last post on this topic, he comes up with a single plausible argument why Ben Shapiro would get his work promoted over Vox Day’s. Having found that single plausible argument, he assumes and declares it must be true. He makes little attempt to consider other reasons. He doesn’t address all the potential challenges to his theory.  He makes his claim, explains why he thinks that, and stops.

This is undergraduate level thinking: “Here’s what I think, and why.” Period. End of thought.

Studying for a Master’s Degree, providing a single plausible explanation isn’t enough.  You must make a case for why your view is the most compelling.  You must provide multiple chains of logic that support your view, and address competing arguments.  Heck, the first thing you have to learn is to recognize that there *are* competing arguments.

Vox Day rarely take that step, and certainly doesn’t do so in any systematic effort.

For all the problems in our education system with Marxist indoctrination, this is one reason I still recommend people go to college, and in some cases, study for their Master’s.  Education teaches you better ways of thinking, understanding, and arguing.

Elementary education is mostly (or should be) rote learning.
Secondary education is about regurgitation of what you are told, but with more complexity than just memorized tables.
Undergraduate education is about demonstrating that you understand what you are taught, that you can understand arguments that are made for or against something; to research what others think; to analyze and come to basic conclusions.
Graduate education is about synthesizing conclusions: sorting through existing knowledge to find new connections and new conclusions.  Your master’s thesis should result in new conclusions and new understandings of existing knowledge, and learning to make arguments to support your new conclusions, so they can be accepted as accurate.
Post-graduate (doctoral) education is all about creating *new* knowledge: researching, experimenting, and studying to find accurate knowledge that was either not known, or was an incorrect conclusion.

Vox Day’s writing never gets beyond the Undergraduate level.

I can tell he’s intelligent.  But his intelligence hasn’t been trained or honed into useful application.

His argument is, in a nutshell: “I’m smart and accomplished. I don’t like JBP’s teachings. Therefore, no one should.”

But let’s look deeper at that first claim.

One of Vox Day’s claims is that JBP’s advice is for Gamma males. Elsewhere, he says JBP is a confirmed Gamma male.

The last time, I criticized Vox Day as not understanding that the high status/low status lobster is just one paradigm of how life works, and JBP likely was saying to reject that paradigm, and *not* to try to end up at a mediocre status of not being bullied, yet not being a high status lobster, either.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Vox Day embraces the paradigm of Bully or Be Bullied because he fancies himself an Alpha Male, and wants to enjoy that status.  Naturally, he would resist encouraging people to reject that paradigm: what good is it to have high status if people don’t recognize that status?

Look at the things Vox Day points to for credibility to criticize JBP and to claim the right to dismiss Jordan and his followers as Gamma males:

  • National Merit Finalist.  Who is going to know what this means, except for those vying for it (i.e., geeks)?
  • Game designer. Who cares, except for geeks?
  • Member of “successful” techno band. Main claim to fame was being on a Mortal Kombat soundtrack. More geekness.
  • Started a Science Fiction publishing house. Geeks.
  • Nationally syndicated writer.  Okay, this one doesn’t seem related to geeks.
    Hot wife.

These are not things to be sneered at, but clearly aren’t accomplishments most people would recognize as providing credibility to criticize the works of a popular Self-Help guru with a PhD in Psychology.

To be sure, you don’t really need credentials to criticize ideas.  You merely need enough of a platform to promulgate your ideas and criticisms of ideas, and let the ideas speak for themselves.

I think Vox Day provides his accomplishments as credentials for two related reasons. First, he has a sense his criticisms aren’t compelling, and so wants to claim a status that elevates him above JBP.  In a sense, it is a dick-measuring contest. “Pay no attention to his ideas.  My dick is bigger than his. You can tell this because I have a hot wife.” Second, he is signalling to an audience that is actually receptive to that sort of posturing.  What sort of person would be convinced by the “I have a hot wife” argument?  Gamma males.  Which is why I emphasized the geekness above.

So when Vox Day is arguing that JBP is a Gamma male preaching to other Gamma males, he’s actually making a Beta male gambit to maintain his standing as leader of Gamma males.  He can’t understand that a true Alpha male wouldn’t give a crap about JBP, they’d just go get laid.

And this all goes back to Vox Day being the con man in the scenario.  He doesn’t understand the needs of low status males, has absolutely zero interest in helping them improve their lives.  His entire criticism of JBP is predicated on maintaining his preferred world order, with Vox Day as an Alpha Male with a bunch of lower status males in their proper position as subordinate to, and in admiration of, Vox Day.

This is Vox Day’s con. He is attempting to protect the brand that is Vox Day.

I wish him good luck.

Success and Happiness in Life: Some Reading Suggestions

  • by Gitabushi

I consider myself a philosopher.  Meaning, somewhere along the line, I realized that I was making my way through life (interacting with others in the world) according to a paradigm, and if I was unhappy with the results, I needed to improve my paradigm.

So I’ve done that many times in my life.  And I’m pretty happy.

This sort of came up in a conversation this morning, and I was reminded of a book I received from my best friend’s Mom for Junior High graduation: The University of Hard Knocks.

University of Hard Knocks

I read the book, and thought the lessons were a little too obvious to write a book about. And yet, I found myself thinking back to it in my early 20s, and remembering its lessons more and more.  I think this is partially where I got the idea of swapping out paradigms. It taught me about the occasional need to change the way I think about things.

But there was another book that helped me to understand and improve how I think: The Depression Book.  I don’t care if your depression is diagnosed as chemical, you still need to read this book to help conquer your depression…because anti-depressants eventually stop working, but if you can use the respite they provide to reprogram how you think, you might be able to improve your brain chemistry by establishing a different internal dialogue.

But now I think it might be worthwhile for everyone to read it. Mostly because everyone gets depressed at times, and this book can help you to minimize both those moments, and the damage of those moments.  The book was really helpful to me in understanding how to change the way I think about things.

So now I’m thinking about other helpful books that are Must Reads for increasing your chance to have a successful and happy life.

I’ve heard great recommendations for Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I’ve never read it, but the things people say about it make me think I discovered many of the same lessons on my own from other sources.  Let’s add it to the Must Read list.

I’m going to put in a conditional recommendation for Charles Givens’ “Wealth Without Risk.”  I own it. I’ve never read entirely through it. I found a few ideas in it that I like…I guess the best thing that I can say about it is it definitely contributed to my understanding of how money works, and how we earn money through smart decisions.

I’m not sure how mandatory it is to having a good life, but I’d like to make a recommendation for James Q. Wilson’s Bureaucracy.  I mean, most people end up working in a bureaucracy, and most certainly end up at the mercy of one at some point.  It seems like it might be helpful to know what you are up against. Or what policies to push your politicians to vote for in light of how bureaucracies work.  Or don’t work. Or barely work.

I can’t really think of any other book that provided me useful knowledge I didn’t already pick up from school, life, job training, etc., but there might be some I’m not remembering.

What books do you recommend for a happy, successful life?

Plotting: A Suggestion

  • by Gitabushi

I recently “purchased” (it was free) and started reading an e-book on how to plot.

“The Plot Machine: Design Better Stories Faster,” by Dale Kutzera

For the most, it was worth what I paid for it.  Many of the points it made were obvious to anyone who has done any reading at all, much less writing.  Several other points were among the first, and most basic, techniques any writing book will mention.

Since it was free, I didn’t expect much from the book.  Even if free, there is still a time cost, and I invested that cost to get some additional insight into how to effectively plot a novel.

One point it made changed my viewpoint, and I think will have a deep and profound impact on my writing.

The book pointed out that while a novel is more complex that a short story, both should follow the Three Act format. In this format, the First Act is setting up all the pieces. The Third Act is resolving all the conflicts and returning all the pieces to their resting places.

The book says the Second Act: *that’s* what makes or breaks a story.

What makes a story good is what obstacles have been placed in the path of the protagonist, and how the protagonist resolves them. These obstacles make a memorable story. This is where most of the action occurs.  This is where the protagonist’s character is honed or revealed.

The book when on to explain that, in fact, it is the Second Act that defines your characters.  You want to put them through hell to make an interesting story, but they need a *reason* to go through the hell instead of just giving up.  They need a *reason* to be in the position to go through that hell.

As such, deciding on the conflict first can make it clear who your character should be. And deciding the conflict first makes it more obvious how to make the resolution more dramatic and effective.

Okay, maybe I’m reaching with this by embracing the book’s suggestion. Maybe it won’t work for you to write the conflict first. Maybe it won’t end up working for me to write the conflict first.

But too many of my stories have foundered when they reached the conflict stage.  I had a great beginning. I had a decent ending. I couldn’t get through the middle. Too often, the conflict didn’t match the motivations I established at the beginning. Or the method of overcoming obstacles didn’t match the character I established at the beginning.

You could say that this just because I write poorly, and I’d have a hard time arguing that. On the other hand, I think of a character and a starting point, and think I have a story idea.  Perhaps, instead, I should think of the conflict a character is going to go through, and think I have a story idea.

Looking at this from a different direction: I love twisty, complex plotting.  I have a “story idea” right now that I want to turn into a twisty, complex plot.  So I’ve come up with all my main characters, the universe, the starting motivations, and now I want to add complexity.  I can’t really get started on it. I can’t figure out how to put these characters into seemingly no-win situations where they have to dismantle the Destruction Engine piece by piece to avoid their destruction and win the story.

My plan was to start writing and add complexity.

I now think a better idea is to start with a complex, seemingly no-win situation and write backwards, figuring out how the protagonist got into this situation.

For example, I’ve been watching a few Chinese Spy/Suspense television serials.

In one, Protagonist 1 is drawn into the spy world to work for the Chinese Nationalists (who are resisting the Japanese occupation), and from there, gets drawn into being a Communist spy inside the Nationalist organization…because of the temporary partnership to resist the Chinese.  His older brother (Protagonist 2) is a collaborator working with the Japanese government…but is actually a Nationalist spy working to undermine the Japanese, and is Protagonist 1’s superior in the National spy organization. At one point, Protagonist 1 is given the order to assassinate his older brother, Protagonist 2, for being too effective as a collaborator. He didn’t know at that point that not only his older brother a Nationalist spy, but the order itself came *from* his older brother (who, having ordered it, knows how to avoid it, but it helps him gain additional credibility with the Japanese). When it is all over, however, Protagonist 1 learns that his older brother is actually his superior in the *Communist* spy ring that’s inside the Nationalist spy ring that’s resisting the Japanese.  He’s been acting according to his training and character, but he’s been moved around like a chess piece, based on his older brother knowing him, and being his superior two layers deep.

weizhuangzhe2

I don’t think you can build in that sort of complexity as you go.  I think you have to start with that incredible situation, and then work backwards, adding layers to the complexity as you move earlier in the story.

In another, the protagonist is just a normal Nationalist officer in what seems to be a National Guard/Reservist unit.. They are getting ready to go to the front line to fight the Japanese. His unit’s commander is out of action while recovering from surgery, and the 2nd-in-command is leading a cabal of the top few officers to surrender and collaborate with the Japanese.  The traitor has one week to do it, before the Commander recovers and returns to duty. A junior officer (not the protagonist) discovered this, and formed a group of officers and NCOs to resist (the Iron Fists). The protagonist joins, making 30 in all, and they are set to meet at 9pm on a certain date.

At 8:30pm on that day, the protagonist is getting ready to leave for the meeting when the 2nd-in-command traitor locks the HQ down. He then orders the protagonist to lead the arrest of the 30 cadre members who are mutinying. Meanwhile, the Iron Fist group, lacking two members, decides to start the meeting with the 28 who are present.

The protagonist arrives on the scene, and tries to make noise to alert the Iron Fists inside. It doesn’t work. With no other choice, he leads the charge. But the first thing he does is shoot out the light. With the lights out, he trips a few of the capturing force, throws a bench out the window to help the Iron Fists escape, etc. But it is all for naught, all 28 are captured.

The traitor officer knows two people didn’t arrive, and knows the protagonist did some weird stuff. Plus, there’s another officer who isn’t in his cabal. So he sets the 2nd officer to torture a confession out of the protagonist. The 2nd officer is, of course, the 30th Iron Fist (who was also locked up in the HQ building and couldn’t go to the meeting, and so was spared). He finds out that the protagonist was Iron Fist #29, and vows to help him.

But the issue facing them both is, “Who betrayed the Iron Fists?”  All 28 in captivity are executed within a day (to silence them), so Iron Fist #30 begins to suspect the protagonist, despite the protagonist being Iron First #29.

The Traitor officer has two military representatives in custody, one Nationalist and one Communist.  He finally decides (for a couple of reasons not worth explaining now) that *they* are the two missing Iron Fists, and so stops worrying about the protagonist and the other officer.  Except these two officers aren’t part of his cabal, so he doesn’t completely trust them.

To strengthen his position, he decides to get a hostage: the Commander’s mother. So he sends a team to escort her from her home (a day away) to his location.  He puts the protagonist in charge, sets the 2nd officer to watch him, sends one of his cabal officers along to watch them both, and sends along the two military representatives as hostages. They will go near a Japanese stronghold, and the cabal officer will give the Japanese the two military representative hostages to seal the deal that allows the traitor cabal to deliver the entire unit to the Japanese.

So along the way, the protagonist is trying to help the two military representatives escape without letting the other officers know he is doing it. At the same time, Iron Fist #30 officer is trying to help them escape, but not letting the other officers know he is doing it, and doesn’t see the protagonist doing anything to help, which deepens his suspicion that the protagonist betrayed the Iron Fists.

Everything that happens puts the protagonist in a no-win situation.  If he does anything to help get the word out, the cabal officer will kill him as a traitor. If he works too hard to follow his orders, the unit will be handed over the Japanese, and he betrays his fellow Iron Fists.  But when he helps the military representatives escape, he can only help by throwing some things through the window to them, and pre-positioning some escape aids, which they attribute to Iron Fist #30 who was actually able to make contact with them and tell them he was going to help them escape.

I hope that’s clear.  It’s pretty twisty to watch, and hard to explain. Basically, because the protagonist is trying to remain undercover, all his very risky attempts to help get attributed to other officer, so he is still considered a traitor by the people he supports, yet if he is any more overt, the cabal officer will kill him.

Again, I don’t think you could add in this complexity as you go.  The best way to write this (I think) is to start with a no-win situation: your protagonist is in a situation where if he acts overtly, he is killed; if he doesn’t act overtly, he betrays his principles.  What does he do? He tries to act *covertly*, right?  So how can we make those efforts not help? Add in another person who gets credit for it, *and* that person suspects him.  Okay, what kind of person would have the freedom to act *and* be in a position to matter in this sort of betrayal drama? A young officer who is the Commander’s favorite, highly principled and motivated.

Then  you just add in misunderstandings from there, working backward.

Well, time to see if it works.  I’ll report back in a later post, either way.

 

 

“Cultural Appropriation” in Fiction

Let me start by saying that I find the concept of “cultural appropriation” itself to be wrongheaded, foolish, and kind of absurd. It assigns some kind of collective ownership of the nebulous basket of language, tradition, customs, food, clothing, fashion, and all kinds of other ill-defined elements that supposedly belong to a given people.

Nevermind the fact that peoples and nations interbreed and change and that cultures develop and assimilate and adapt.

And who is supposed to arbitrate these transgressions? If one single Chinese person indicts me for enjoying their dim sum, am I guilty of creating a problematic situation?

Does it matter that another Chinese person rules that it’s ok for me to eat dim sum, but that I may not make it myself? Or that a third, more rational native doesn’t give a crap?

Does it change the calculus when the majority of a country or culture like having their culture appropriated (the real term is “appreciated”)? I can tell you from my time living in Japan and consuming Japanese media that the people over there are flattered and pleased when foreigners try on kimono, or dress up as a popular anime character, or take an interest in  Japanese language, lore, history, whatever.

It’s ridiculous to think cultures should be treated like private (group) property.

And so I was disappointed when I was listening to an otherwise quite interesting discussion of an old weird tale yesterday, and the speakers posed the question of whether a white man writing about a black protagonist was cultural appropriation.

Really?

Thankfully they were gracious enough to rule that this was not the case – after all, the white (racist) narrator was really who the story was about.

I’ve gotta say, I find it quite troubling and a bit confusing, how such big fans of speculative fiction could conceivably buy into the idea of cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to the fiction they read.

Scifi and Fantasy are full of stories about aliens and other non-human beings. But they’re not real, so I guess this is in-bounds. Well, women write male characters and men write female characters. Should this gender appropriation be pooh-poohed?

Is Captain Blood cultural appropriation, because it sees an Irish protagonist written by an Italian author? Or is this okay because they’re both white ethnicities? Do “White People” all get lumped together into one culture?

Is Othello problematic because its noble Moorish (often portrayed as African) hero was written by a white Christian?

Should books written by White People only feature white characters? If you think so, it sounds like you’re ready to nix an awful lot of cool SFF and other great literature. And why? Because a few emotionally unstable people have nothing worse in life to worry about than some white dude writing a story about a black guy?

51isW1RdvyL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_51oo82fc0kl-_aa300_Zorro

(Whoops – forget that last one – he’s one of those white hispanics!)

Are Japanese manga and anime highly problematic for featuring so many Caucasian characters?

And if you answer “yes” to all these questions, or even if your response is more nuanced or qualified, what’s the solution? Do we need a tribunal to determine which cases are acceptable and which are “problematic,” and then to rule on a remediation?

It’s such a silly piece of business. I’d be tempted to ignore it if I didn’t see the idea as such a threat to creativity and freedom of expression. Of course no one’s talking about outlawing cultural appropriation, but if it’s such a bad thing, I could imagine things moving in that direction in some quarters, someday. And really is there much practical difference between outlawing something and drubbing it out of polite society?

-Bushi

bushi

The All-Too-Real Split Between SF and F, a Rebuttal

  • by Gitabushi

…Here I come.
Walking down the street
I give the craziest takes to
Everyone one I meet!

PC is putting his SF&F thoughts on a new blog, for branding reasons.  I originally tried to leave this response over there, but my browser was choking on the wordpress log-in.  What the heck, yanno? Let’s have dueling posts on this topic.

as you wish

Here goes:

Okay, we’ve had this discussion before, but I’m going to disagree again, even if means retrenching the battle lines we’ve fought so many times.  I actually think you have some new points, but I have some new counterpoints, too.

I think David Brin has a point. Not as much of one as he thinks, but a point.

I think SF&F doesn’t and shouldn’t really matter to the reader. But I think it does and should matter to the writer.

You have to know what you’re writing, and why.

Sure, there are some space operas like Star Wars that can be re-written as fantasies, and probably vice versa, but they wouldn’t satisfy the audience.

Because when I think of all the fantasies and all the science fiction stories I’ve read, I have noted that science fiction is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and fantasy is about extraordinary people…who sometimes are just dealing with ordinary things, like revenge, and rejection from parents and/or being orphaned, or things like that.

Speculative Fiction is really about exploring what it means to be human. Science Fiction tends to be things like, how much can we distort Person and still be human. Fantasy tends to be things like, how much can we distort Reality/Environment and still remain human, and/or how much does power distort humanity versus merely amplifying the baser instincts.

Sure, there are exceptions. Frodo is really just an ordinary person who does great things, as Bilbo was, really. But every non-hobbit in that story was a singular example of something 10 standard deviations above the mean.

Star Wars was both good *and* clearly science fiction when it was just an average farm boy who helps destroy an enemy aircraft carrier with an atomic bomb capability. (Force isn’t magic, it’s *psionics*. #Duh). But it got worse, disappointed many of its audience, and became fantasy when it became a mundane estranged family relationship story. Not that “becoming fantasy” means “gets worse”, but it started as SF, and so got worse the farther it got away from SF and more into mysticism and fate and seeing the future and stuff.

Okay, that explains they difference.

But why does it *matter*?

Because if you are a writer, think of your story. Should it be SF or Fantasy? It depends on who the main character is, what you want him to do, how you want him to change. If you want him to be just an ordinary kid with some exceptional abilities that he can use under duress to save a bunch of people, then you should write a Heinlein juvie fiction SF&F story. If you wan to write about someone who seems normal, but is *really* the heir to some huge power, or huge wealth, or huge kingdom, and he’ll spend his time dealing with office politics, then you are probably better off writing a fantasy.

If you want to write about a humanoid race that thinks differently than human, but just as well, you’re probably going to write science fiction. If you want to write about a humanoid race that is pretty much fully human in intent, motivation, love hate, etc., just go ahead and write a fantasy.

If you want everyone to have the same tools and powers and opportunities, and just one person has the drive, insight, or persistence to benefit from it, you’ll probably use a SF setting. If you want someone to have access to special tools, powers, or opportunities that aren’t available for general use, then you’ll probably write a fantasy.

Yeah, Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Well, Arthur C. Clarke was wrong, and if he’d thought it through just a *little* bit more, he’d have realized it. And if he disagrees, he can come here and post his disagreement.

…okay, that was supposed to be for humorous effect.

The thing is, I think Orson Scott Card nailed it when he said that if you include magic, for it to be interesting, there must *always* be a price to using it. Or else, it’s just unlimited power and that’s boring.

But with technology, there is no price. The price was paid in the development, or in the working out of how to use it without destroying society.

Going back to Star Wars, the Force was fine when it was psionics and there was no price. It became magic when the price was having to struggle with the dark side, maybe cut yourself off from human affections, etc.

There is no price to learning to play guitar except that time it takes to work on muscle memory. But if you sell your soul to the devil to get good…

…that’s the difference between science fiction and fantasy. The reader just wants a good story. But if you want to write a good story, you need to know which you are writing, and stick to it.