So, what is the big deal? What type of mash up is this? Science Fiction and Fantasy share the same bookshelves in the bookstore. They sit side by side looking innocent and friendly. Until you realize that they rarely cross their strict lines of what is science fiction and what is fantasy and woe betide to you if you try to say they’re remotely the same. That’s a duel at dawn statement right there. There is science fiction and there is fantasy and they have their own little camps and publishing corners.
But there is a little secret, science fiction fantasy does exist. It sits there on the shelves quietly hiding what it truly is behind covers of pure fantasy written by authors you probably know. Or it is in the hand of those who play with miniatures and enjoy role playing. And occasionally, very occasionally it shows up on the silver screen out of Hollywood. It’s like this secret genre that is occasionally flirted with but never really talked about. The science fiction versus fantasy camps are so established. The fact that some agents will look at one but not the other. It makes it extremely difficult to cross lines and tell stories that blend these two genres with burying the fact they are a mash up.
You see, currently the science fiction fantasy swings two ways. It is either blatantly fantasy with hints of science fiction that aren’t purely stated until the second or third book. Or, it is blatantly science fiction with all fantasy elements being explained by science! (Of course, by science, what else?) Which is how the movies does it. There is very little in between.
The classic example of science fiction buried in a fantasy story is Anne McCaffery’s Pern. Ah, Pern. Time traveling dragons that flame spores that come from the heavens to eat a feudal society level planet. It wasn’t until book two or three that you found out, ‘oh, this isn’t a purely fantasy world, these are settlers from Earth!’ It took half a dozen books to explore ‘dragons in space’ and genetic engineering and artificial intelligence and talking dolphins. So what started as a pure fantasy world ended up really being a cleverly disguised science fiction story about dragons and colonization. (McCaffery had this thing about being able to tie all of her books together, some were cleverer tie-ins than others.)
Most of the time it is even more obscure than that and you have to read between the lines to know what is going on. Mercedes Lackey’s Free Bard books are this way. On the surface, they’re a pure fantasy story about bards who make magic through music and their adventures and misadventures. They encounter elves and other fantasy style races as they travel across the world of Alanda. Once again, the first book mostly ignores the other races in favor of setting up the bards who make magic through music plot. It isn’t until the second book that you learn if you read between the lines, that this is some sort of fantasy world that has been part of a war that started in space. And that the people on this world originated from space. Nothing is ever really done with this plot line in that series of books. It just sits there as forgotten background information. Everything else with elves and/or bards were either pure fantasy or straight up urban fantasy.
In parody though, anything goes, so if you want to read something that pokes fun at the whole genre, try Robert Asprin’s Myth Inc. series. Demons are dimensional travelers and the science fiction elements aren’t hidden at all, it just depends which dimension you’re in! (Having laser technology in a medieval dimension is considered a bad thing and punishable by law.)
However, if you want pure straight up ‘elves in space’, you need to look no further than Warhammer 40K. The miniature role playing take off expansion of Warhammer. It is a war game, not necessarily played for story. The races of the original Warhammer which was a pure fantasy universe are tossed 38,000 years in the future and given a science fiction spin. Jack Emmert sells it as both alien and familiar, the strangeness of space and war with the familiar actors of the fantasy setting players already enjoyed. They, of course, have created plenty of spin offs from the original war game including card games, board games, computer games and yes, role playing games. There are also some books and graphic novels.
Hollywood has done science fantasy. The biggest franchise of science fantasy would be Star Wars. In a galaxy far far away, the Jedi Knights wield powers akin to magic and duel with laser swords. It was revealed in Episode One that the power of the Jedi was in their blood, small creatures that lived in symbionts with all life forms and the more of these little creatures a person had, the more ‘in tune’ with the Force they would be. Hollywood has also dabbled in science fantasy horror. In Ultraviolet, vampirism is a disease transmitted through bodily fluids, including a single tear and those who are infected are sought out and exterminated. There were gravity changing devices, hair and clothes that changed color, guns that could fit into bracelets. It’s a dystopian future vaguely reminiscent of Aeon Flux. The other example is Priest, a dystopian future where humans live in huge protected cities and vampires have their own reservations and are fought by martial artist wielding priests. Priest wasn’t as obvious science fiction as Ultraviolet and held more of a western setting than a science fiction one.
Basically, there hasn’t been a lot of playing around with this genre. Urban Fantasy (fantasy creatures in the modern world) could be considered a bridge between them. Otherwise, science fiction and fantasy are still two boxers in a corner ready to duke it out with very little common ground. Which is really kind of sad, we can’t leave dragons in space to just Anne McCaffery.