Sunday, October 7, 2012

Particle AND Wave

A little complementarity on Niels Bohr's birthday...

The walls between science fiction and fantasy are breaking down. Back in the day, it was either Tolkien or Heinlein. Not only was fantasy non-technological, it was almost always pre-technological. Horses, not cars; swords, not guns. Even fantasy ostensibly set in the modern world would often wend its way to a secondary world - through a wardrobe, for instance - where technology simply wasn't.

Then came wainscoting (which I've mentioned before) where magic does exist in the here and now, but is carefully hidden away from ordinary, mortals. Obviously, the magic's hidden away in Harry Potter, but Rowling was far from the first to use the wainscot. Any pre-True Blood vampire story, for instance, has the undead hidden away. The Borrowers is classic wainscot. Percy Jackson, Neverwhere, Highlander. Tim Powers turned history into wainscot fantasy with masterpieces like The Stress of Her Regard and On Stranger Tides. Fantasy and science fiction edged closer and closer. And then came the '60s.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," said Arthur C. Clarke. And in the 60s, writers like Michael Moorcock and Jack Chalker took him at his word, creating futures whose inhabitants no longer understood the forces that gave them their magical powers. But there was one writer who followed that avenue while delineating the philosophical difference: Roger Zelazny.

He created worlds full of characters who were literally deii ex machina - people with godlike powers granted by technology; so godlike, in fact, that they assumed the identities of the Hindu, Egyptian (and even alien) pantheons. But even while he was doing this, Roger never lost site of the border:

"It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy – it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool."  (Lord of Light)

Science and magic, SF and fantasy, reason and the unknowable, particle and wave - complementarity. The next big step in fantasy is bridging the gap, writing science and magic in the same story at the same time.


  1. That's actually what I've been writing lately. A novel set in the future, with advances in technology, but the main characters discover they're immortals with strange visions and powers. I hope to see more cross-genre stories.