Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction

By George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin | Go to book overview

Parallel Universes: Fantasy or Science Fiction?

Joseph D. Miller

The question is whether it is possible to distinguish between fantasy and science fiction. I am reminded of the analogy, attributable I believe, to Theodore Sturgeon, of the elf ascending vertically the side of a brickwall. In a science fiction story the knees of the elf would be bent, his center of gravity thrown forward, his stocking cap hanging down his neck, with his feet quite possibly equipped with some form of suction cups. In a fantasy, on the other hand, the elf would simply stride up the wall in a normal walking posture, with his stocking cap standing straight out from his brow. What is the difference between these scenarios? The typical answer is that the science fiction story must play by the implicit rules of the game; in this instance, gravitation. Fantasy, however, need not "tip its hat" to the Law of Universal Gravitation.

But what if, for some specified reason, in the local vicinity of the elf on the wall, the vector of gravitational force just happens to be perpendicular to the side of the wall rather than parallel to it? In this case the behavior of the elf in the fantasy would be in perfect accord with physical law. One might then say that the fantasy is actually science fiction since we have posited a "scientific" explanation for the behavior of the elf.

Of course, this is an entirely unacceptable justification for applying the label science fiction. But what if we posit a very small quantity of condensed matter or neutronium maintained in an incredibly tight magnetic field in the center of the wall? What if we continue from there to give a rationale for the creation and eventual presence of that neutronium in the wall? What if we somehow succeed in explaining away the gravitational tidal effects that should actually reduce the

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