Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Difference between Science Fiction and Science Fantasy

What is the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars? According to the Henderson Institute of Knowing Knowledge, there are three general levels of science fiction:

Hard Science Fiction: Hard science fiction has science or technology in the center of the plot, and all of the key science or technology is explained and entirely possible given currently known scientific laws, theories and constraints. It involves no magical or supernatural elements. Examples: Star Trek. Battlestar Galactica. Babylon 5. Stargate. Firefly. Andromeda. V. X Files. Alien. Blade Runner. Matrix. Terminator. Jurassic Park. 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Soft Science Fiction: Soft science fiction is similar to hard science fiction as the used technology is plausible. The difference is that the technology is not in the center and the mechanism is not explained. Soft science often focuses on sociology, psychology, or anthropology. Examples: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Earth Final Conflict. 3rd rock from the Sun. Alf. Buck Rogers. Superman. Smallville. Lost in Space. Alien Nation. Quantum Leap. Flash Gordon. Logan's Run. Sliders. 5th Element. Back to the Future. Gattaca. Brazil. Planet of the Apes. Dune. Fahrenheit 451. Avatar.

Science Fantasy: Science fantasy is like hard or soft scifi but mixed with magical or supernatural elements. Examples: Star Wars. Farscape. Dr Who. Shadowrun. Futurama. The Jetsons. The six million dollar man. Buffy.
The three levels are often difficult to distinguish,  but I think they are useful as general categories.

As for the question Star Wars vs Star Trek, there can be no answer as they belong into different categories. Comparing hard science fiction (that aims to explain and follow science) to science fantasy (with all its unexplained magic powers) is not sound.

Many Star Wars fans were angry at George Lucas when he tried to explain the Force by introducing Midichlorians. Giving a hard science fiction explanation in science fantasy does not go well together. (Not to mention all other reasons why fans were angry with George.... Jar Jar anyone?)

Personally, I think it doesn't matter who would win (and we will never know). Just enjoy whichever science fiction/fantasy world you prefer!

Enjoy this great cross-over of hard/soft science fiction and fantasy:

Star Trek and Star Wars are not that different after all: Both are space sagas that follow the Hero's Journey schema anyway.

Star Trek Wars
Ugly Americans New EpisodesNick Swardson's Pretend TimeNight of Too Many Stars posted an article on how Isaak Asimov distinguished three types of science fiction stories:

"In 1953, Isaac Asimov published an article titled "Social Science Fiction" in Modern Science Fiction. In that article he stated that every science fiction plot ultimately falls into one of three categories: Gadget, Adventure, or Social.

  • Gadget: The focus of the story is the invention itself: How it comes to be invented, how it works, and / or what it is used for. The invention is the end result of the plot.
  • Adventure: The invention is used as a dramatic prop. It may be the solution to a problem, or it may be causing the problem itself, but the main focus is on how the invention affects the events of the plot.
  • Social: The focus of the story is on how the presence of the invention affects people's daily lives, whether for good or for ill. The chief distinction between this and the other two types is that the presence of the invention causes the plot rather than affecting it or being the goal.

To demonstrate what he meant by each, he used the example of three different late nineteenth century authors all being inspired to write new stories about the automobile, each going in one of three directions:
  • Writer X spends most of his time describing how the machine would run, explaining the workings of an internal-combustion engine, painting a word-picture of the struggles of the inventor, who after numerous failures, comes up with a successful model. The climax of the yarn is the drama of the machine, chugging its way along at the gigantic speed of twenty miles an hour, possibly beating a horse and carriage which have been challenged to a race. This is gadget science fiction. (Asimov, "Social Science Fiction")
  • Writer Y invents the automobile in a hurry, but now there is a gang of ruthless crooks intent on stealing this valuable invention. First they steal the inventor's beautiful daughter, whom they threaten with every dire eventuality but rape (in these adventure stories, girls exist to be rescued and have no other uses). The inventor's young assistant goes to the rescue. He can accomplish his purpose only by the use of the newly perfected automobile. He dashes into the desert at an unheard-of speed of twenty miles an hour to pick up the girl who otherwise would have died of thirst if he had relied on a horse, however rapid and sustained the horse's gallop. This is adventure science fiction. (ibid.)
  • Writer Z has the automobile already perfected. A society exists in which it is already a problem. Because of the automobile, a gigantic oil industry has grown up, highways have been paved across the nation, America has become a land of travelers, cities have spread into the suburbs—and what do we do about automobile accidents? Men, women, and children are being killed by automobiles faster than by artillery shells or airplane bombs. What can be done? What is the solution? This is social science fiction. (ibid.)

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1 comment:

  1. I don't get it. How can Star Trek not be science fantasy since it's filled with supernatural nonsense and time travel? Why do people ignore this since Star Trek is much more filled with "gods" faster than light travel, fake technology that destroys matter? Star Trek is more fantasy with some nonsensical "science" in it. What about the Q? Is he some godlike being who also belongs in the realms of science? No scientist or rational person with common sense would consider Star Trek science fiction at all.