Sep 14, 2023Liked by Brent Hartinger

Ooh, way to push my intellectual buttons! I love this topic so much I did my doctoral study on it.

I think one important thing to consider is that fantasy is never purely escapist. It's always rooted in the real, because people only understand the different and fantastical when there's an agreed 'normal' baseline it's differing from.

Possibly one of the big draws of fantasy in recent years - because I agree with you that in general fantasy is a literature of the past and science fiction a literature of the future - is that authors have been using fantasy to reimagine and reframe the past, not just escape to a romanticised version.

Now we're seeing queer fantasy stories, fantasy stories about people of colour, fantasy stories that interrogate and challenge a lot of accepted norms about the genre, about society, and how we think about our past/s.

It's transformative. And the power of reimagining the past is that it lets us reconstruct our present as well, in a much more intuitive way than a future-oriented science fiction can do. In my opinion, anyway.

Science fiction will tell you the best way to change the future is to change the present, which is true. Fantasy lets you reshape and reinterpret the past to actually change that present.

Thanks for such a thought-provoking article!

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I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this, because I was mulling on the differences between the two genres myself. I like both genres, although if I had to choose, I would pick fantasy just for the magical elements. However, one thing I’ve been wondering about is why fantasy books and series seem to be much longer than sci fi ones. It’s pretty common for me to find a standalone, new release in sci fi somewhere between 300 and 400 pages long, but I’ve rarely found a fantasy new release of that size that’s not just the first in a trilogy or similar. Plus, if a book is going to be 600+ pages, it’s more often than not in the fantasy genre. This is all anecdotal, and it may be a recent trend, but I would be curious to know if you’ve noticed it or have any thoughts on why it might be happening.

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Hi Brent

I really enjoyed this article as it falls right in my wheelhouse having written about similar topics myself recently

Fantasy used to always be my go to read and mostly still is over science fiction but I’m changing that through some of the great writers here on Substack

However, from a movie and TV watching perspective it’s mostly been science fiction due to fantasy movies and TV shows being absolutely appalling, apart from LOTR, Game of Thrones and The Witcher. I sat through a lot of fantasy movies in the 80’s and not many of them were even vaguely good but at least they tried. Most modern ones don’t even do that

Science Fiction movies and books have always asked the big questions and sometimes they have grim answers. Writers like Philip K Dick predicted a lot of the technology we see today and a lot of the challenges and that was 50 years ago so there’s always been that dystopian side to it. Recent Sci-Fi shows like Silo are set in a bleak future but can also be uplifting. On the flip side, Star Trek : Strange New Worlds has dark episodes but recently had two that had animated and musical elements which were an absolute joy

Also science fiction covers so many different sub sections that it doesn’t have to follow a set path. Authors like Matt Haig write uplifting sci-fi and then you can have Stephen King writing horror sci- fi and so many others in between

Fantasy books, by their nature, are all for happy endings and, in times of strife, we all need that, but sometimes I just find that too neat and safe. Even if I do still read them religiously 😁

Anyway, apologies for the long post, could talk about this all day. Thanks again for the article 👍🏼

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I definitely agree that sci-fi fiction is taking much more of a ‘depressing’ turn right now. I think it’s climate change? A lot of sci-fi published in the last couple of years seems to be heavily based around what our planet will look like once we’ve finished everyone off. I guess it’s just a response to the time? Sci-fi fiction was a lot less depressing in the 70s/80s/90s because life was good (so I’ve heard, I’m too young) and there was more ‘possibility’ on humanity & technology. There still remains so much possibility on humanity & technology but it always seems to be packaged in a climate crisis way. I’d say that it why fantasy fiction is regaining popularity - because it’s hard to have climate change narrative from the news and a book you’ve chosen to read for enjoyment. But I also prefer sci-fi, science over magic. I just like to revisit the works of Octavia Butler, Ursula le Guin & Kurt Vonnegut. Sci-fi is hard to publish these days without it centring on climate change, but maybe it’ll change soon! Thank you for an interesting article

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I love the way your brain works.

This post reminds me of Magister Ludi (Hermann Hesse), the point of which is that no matter how different various concepts appear to us, everything everywhere is really all connected.

Interestingly, this is also how I see the best part of religion, which is—to me—akin to magic. To quote rabbi Irwin Kula: “It’s about love. And it’s about connection. And it is no more complicated than that.”

As a pantheist with agnostic leanings, I see an interesting parallel between the comparison of science fiction and fantasy, and the comparison of faith and religion. Faith is belief in something you can’t prove. Religion is a system for applying that faith. So faith and fantasy are on the side of imagination, and religion and science (while imagination is still engaged, to be sure) are more about systems and rules and process.

Hermann Hesse would see all these concepts as intrinsically connected. I think I agree with him.

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I like science fiction but I love fantasy. I want hope and happy endings or what’s the point?

Great stuff here, Brent. I’ve never thought much about it but there are distinct differences.

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