Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction

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

The And in Fantasy and Science Fiction

George E. Slusser

A bureaucratic matter first brought to my attention the complex function of and in a phrase like "fantasy and science fiction." The case in point is this: I needed to find a term that would define (in the sense of circumscribe) the field of activity for a potential research center that would deal with "speculative" art in general. Without thinking, drawing perhaps on an instinctive sense of this field, I proposed "science fiction and fantasy." This drew immediate protest from colleagues who felt it should be "fantasy and science fiction." What they meant by this reversal of terms was, I realized, not only that fantasy was the broader category, but the primary one. Seeking an area of operation, I had instead a value judgment, where priority in order means primacy in the generic sense. Fantasy was there first, and the fact that it has been around longer gives it a measurable value. This may be common logic for genre theorists. What it did however is highlight the real question: What did I mean when I said "science fiction and fantasy"? Why did I, despite this logic of priority, so easily invert these terms?

To think about this is to focus not on the terms themselves, but on the and that connects them--on the function of conjunctions in the designation of groups of literary types. If such types do not stand alone, the question is: In what ways do they join? What sort of conjunction is possible? For those who defend the phrase "fantasy and science fiction," the conjunction is clearly one of comparison. Fantasy is "greater than" SF; SF is "lesser than" fantasy--the and allows us to measure the value of forms relative to each other. This and tends toward becoming an or. Indeed, in the taxonomic lists and diagrams that are the end result of much genre thinking, the and of classification, no longer stated but simply implied, has effectively

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