Okay, let’s get Arthur C. Clarke’s third law out of the way early on: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Age of Scorpio and A Quantum Mythology have been described as mixing science fiction with fantasy. In theory this is a blog about whether or not that’s the case, or – more to the point – does it really matter?
I like me a trope. To my mind the most science fiction image I can think of is someone doing an EVA exploration of an alien spaceship. I get that this excludes a lot of SF, but it’s just the kind of thing that I’m interested in. This is all Peter F. Hamilton’s fault. It’s also the reason that I’ve been heard to shout the words ‘aliens and spaceships’ in crowded restaurants whilst meeting with my agent and editor. I get excited by what I perceive as science fictiony things. This is why I’m such a fan of, and tend to write, space opera. It doesn’t mean that other subgenres are less valid, and funnily enough it’s not the kind of SF I grew up reading, it’s just a preference.
The Age of Scorpio trilogy is based in three different time periods. A third of it is set in the far future and is unashamedly space opera. The fantasy tag comes from the parts of the books set in Iron Age Britain and the modern day. In ancient Britain mortals wield blood-magics against Otherworldly invaders and the gods themselves. In the modern day secret cabals imbued with strange powers war against each other. So are they fantasy? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Once upon a time at FantasyCon, Jaine Fenn and I had lunch together with a third party. During lunch we were told that we were bad science fiction writers because our SF wasn’t ‘hard’ (another subgenre) enough. I like to think that the third party meant naughty rather than bad. Even if they did mean bad, then they just meant the SF bit, not as writers in general, as Jaine’s an awesome writer (and hopefully I know my way around Word by now). So to some all my work is fantasy because it’s not hard SF enough, to others all SF is just a subgenre of fantasy because of its speculative nature and on and on... These tend to be navel gazing issues for commentators on genre. Thankfully, however, in part due to tropes, we all sort of know what to expect when we hear words like fantasy or science fiction (Spaceships and aliens! Aliens and spaceships!). Or perhaps we don’t, and shouldn’t, and that’s part of the pleasure of the more speculative genres. (As an aside, I’ve since been described as writing hard SF. This makes me a little nervous because of the expectations involved.)
So in answer to the question is the Age of Scorpio trilogy a fantasy I refer you to back to Arthur C. Clarke’s third law. This isn’t a cop out. It’s not an excuse for sloppy story telling or deus ex machina, as the ‘magical’ technology still needs to be consistent with the story overall.
I’m at least as much a fantasy fan as I am a science fiction fan. It’s only in recent years that I realised that some SF fans don’t like fantasy and vice versa. A Quantum Mythology and Age of Scorpio certainly contain tropes more commonly found in fantasy. Communication is about the result, not the intent, so whether or not I feel the books are SF is kind of irrelevant. If people feel the series is merging science fiction and fantasy then more power to them.
I won’t be saying anything new when I point out that genres and subgenres exist largely for marketing purposes. They’re codified so we know where to find the books we’re looking for. Beyond that there’s also a comforting feeling of belonging, a kinship with your genre and your fellow fans, and the benefits of a shared interest. On the whole I’m of the opinion that genres aren’t a bad thing.
Here’s what I don’t think genres are: they’re not ghettoes, they’re not prisons, they’re not a set of laws carved into stone to be slavishly obeyed less you be tarred, feathered and run out of genre town on a rail. It’s not an excuse for a narrow mind, or a requirement to avoid the influences of all other genres. Nor are any of them ‘better’ than the other genres, or an excuse for snobbery. In fact, as much as I enjoy the comfort of my tropes, I’m not convinced it’s terribly important in the big scheme of things. So let’s take only the positive stuff from genre and perhaps be a bit more open minded to mashing things up!
So in answer to the question is the Age of Scorpio trilogy a fantasy? Sure, why not?
Perhaps I should write a fantasy novel, that way I could start shouting ‘magic and dragons’ in crowded central London restaurants. This sounds like a new and interesting way to publicly embarrass my agent and editor.
Gavin G. Smith lives in Leicester. With a degree in media production and an MA in Medieval history he is the worst person to watch a historical movie with. He may be the best person to write the next book you read if you like you SF cranked up to maximum.
Gavin’s latest novel The Beauty of Destruction is out now.