I Know Science Fiction and Fantasy Can be Daunting

“You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope.”

Hey lovely people. I want to talk to you about science fiction and fantasy. Science Fiction and Fantasy can be a daunting genre to get into. It is that wild genre that isn’t always based in reality. I mean what are you supposed to do with space battles, aliens, pirates, dragons. These are not relateable things. There is nothing to base it off of, in reality, all we have is a shared commonality of mythos between cultures.

For example, when talking about dragons, cultures around the world have a general idea of what a dragon is like. The details differ from region to region. But, generally, they are the same. Thanks to Tolkien we have have the shared commonality of Orcs. They have become pretty extensive in fantasy. Elves come from Germanic and Scandanavian lore. Their stories disseminated through the various cultures of northern Europe. Fantasy writing is essentially taking these cultural stories and mythos and making new tales with them.

Science Fiction usually has to deal with technology in some way. I say usually because it is a broad genre with many subclasses. But for the sake of discussion, I am going to say it has to do with technology, the future, and space in some way. All of us deal with technology daily. If you are reading this you are utilizing technology. It is a part of our lives. Science fiction is taking the technology that is constantly changing and developing and taking it one step further.

It is the “what if” genre.

What if cell phones run amok? – Stephen King’s The Cell.
What if androids went rogue? – Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
What if in the Metaverse Hiro Protagonist is a Warrior Prince? – Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson

So…How does a regular reader get into something like science fiction and fantasy?

The important thing to remember about science fiction and fantasy are that it is based in the same sort of themes that any other type of fiction relies on. The human condition. It is how we as people relate to something.

For example there are seven types of conflict in literature.  This holds true for fantasy and science fiction as well. Here are some examples and how they pertain specifically to fantasy and science fiction.

Person vs. Person

A person finds that they are in opposition to another character. Hello, Luke vs Vader. If you have seen Star Wars and have related to it, you have seen (Person vs Person) conflict in science fiction/fantasy.

Examples

  • Two competitors competing against each other.
  • a battle between two countries
  • two gangs fighting over territory

Star Wars Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

New York Times Bestseller • Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Aftermath [reveals] what happened after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. It turns out, there’s more than just the Empire for the good guys to worry about.”—The Hollywood Reporter

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

Person vs. Fate

A person vs Fate is so common now in fantasy literature is a trope. It is the classic hero’s tale. A person with a pre-ordained destiny that no matter the struggle will come to pass. A very important series for fantasy is the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series that will soon be made into a new show on HBO. This is a classic example of (person vs. fate).

Examples

  • A royal family member, denies their crown. 
  • There actually isn’t a lot of things fated in life.

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

Person vs. Nature

Person vs. Nature is a character against forces that are outside the limits of their control. Nature is the epitome of that. A force of nature. Lucifer’s Hammer is Man vs. Comet. Or, you could do The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein which shows the effects of long term living on the moon.

Examples

  • Man trying to stay ahead of a major flood.
  • Family trying to survive a hurricane.
  • Killer birds attacking a small village.

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven

The gigantic comet had slammed into Earth, forging earthquakes a thousand times too powerful to measure on the Richter scale, tidal waves thousands of feet high. Cities were turned into oceans; oceans turned into steam. It was the beginning of a new Ice Age and the end of civilization. But for the terrified men and women chance had saved, it was also the dawn of a new struggle for survival–a struggle more dangerous and challenging than any they had ever known. 

Person vs. Society

Lately, the dystopian genre has exploded. For good reason. Many believe we are living in a weird dystopia. Not long ago I wrote an article on the rise of the feminist dystopia, and why it is important and relatable. Again, I will mention it. It is a type of conflict. It pits a person against society and social norms. It is relatable. Although dystopia falls more under speculative fiction than science fiction, the lines of all these genres get a bit murky. There are many examples of this: Hunger Games, Wool, Anthem, and The Handmaids Tale.

My favorite book from this genre is Farenheit 451. The opening line is probably the greatest opening line ever written in literature, “It was a pleasure to burn.” Fight me.

Examples

  • Women fight for the right to vote
  • non-violent protesting
  • kids struggling in middle school

Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television ‘family’. But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people did not live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known.

Person vs. Unknown

Person vs. The Unknown is pretty popular in science fiction and fantasy. War of the Worlds, The Shining, The Stand, and pretty much any horror novel you can think of. The protagonist vs. something they don’t understand, Animal, vegetable or mineral. My two favorite books from this are Childhood’s End and World War Z. Childhood’s End is about an alien culture that has come down to the world and gotten rid of all conflict. No war, disease, and famine. It causes great ennui. World War Z is about zombies, and so much more. Both are relatable if you look at them through the scope of humanity. Without a struggle in life, do humans become soft and complacent? in World War Z it is as much about Zombies is it is about the sociological effects on different cultures throughout the world when faced with something like zombies. That part fascinated me. Forget the stupid movie. It is like comparing apples and a fax machine.

Examples

  • Ghost haunting a building
  • Outbreak of influenza
  • Someone goes missing on a deserted road

World War Z by Max Brooks

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

Note: Some of the numerical and factual material contained in this edition was previously published under the auspices of the United Nations Postwar Commission.

Person vs. Technology

Science Fiction finds a lot of it’s home in this genre, but not always. Classic example Asimov’s Foundation or 2001 Space Odyssey. Especially 2001. Man versus sentient computer. This has become almost a trope. What happens when we turn over the reigns to automation. The entire Terminator franchise is built around this literary concept.

Examples

  • A sentient computer
  • A world where data is king
  • Cameras that spy on your every move.

2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

On the Moon, an enigma is uncovered.

So great are the implications of this discovery that for the first time men are sent out deep into our solar system.

But long before their destination is reached, things begin to go horribly, inexplicably wrong…

One of the greatest-selling science fiction novels of our time, this classic book will grip you to the very end.

Person vs. Self

This is a classic example of a person against their darker nature or weaker nature. If you want a fantastic example of this to look no further than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry must battle with who he is inside, is he a Griffindor or is he a Slytherin? Although Harry Potter can easily fall within a few of these genres due to the changing nature of the tale. Harry grows and develops and the conflict changes from more of a (person vs self) to (person vs person).

Examples

  • A drug addict abstaining from drugs
  • Someone attempting mourning the death of a family member
  • A person afraid of snakes, petting one.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K Rowling

Harry Potter’s life is miserable. His parents are dead and he’s stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he’s a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

After a lifetime of bottling up his magical powers, Harry finally feels like a normal kid. But even within the Wizarding community, he is special. He is the boy who lived: the only person to have ever survived a killing curse inflicted by the evil Lord Voldemort, who launched a brutal takeover of the Wizarding world, only to vanish after failing to kill Harry.

Though Harry’s first year at Hogwarts is the best of his life, not everything is perfect. There is a dangerous secret object hidden within the castle walls, and Harry believes it’s his responsibility to prevent it from falling into evil hands. But doing so will bring him into contact with forces more terrifying than he ever could have imagined.

Full of sympathetic characters, wildly imaginative situations, and countless exciting details, the first installment in the series assembles an unforgettable magical world and sets the stage for many high-stakes adventures to come.

Science fiction and fantasy can be relatable. It all goes back to what humanity is. That can be true for speculative fiction in general, the great “what if.” There is no magic dictionary of terms to know, or crib sheet needed. So really, just dive right in. It is full of amazing worlds and so much to discover. If you have questions on anything I am always here. 

16 comments

  1. Wonderful article, Beth. Love the genre, scif or dragons. “Lucifer’s Hammer” reminds me of “Lord of the Flies” on a grander scale-the breakdown and rebuilding of society. Sci fi will always be my “Swiss Family Robinson” . I have always loved the adventure in just a different setting.

    1. Lucifer’s Hammer does not get the love it should. It is such a cool book. I remember one of the scenes with the SUV driving on the railroad lines above the flood.

  2. Absolutely wonderful article. People always ask me why I love reading fantasy and why not read more books that are about real life. I feel like fantasy is typically about the human condition in some way and it is about real life, just sometimes with other elements that aren’t real.

      1. Yup. Give it a chance. It isn’t for geeks or nerds or really any specific person. It can be for everyone, anyone. It can speak to masses, and teach lessons. I learned empathy from science fiction/fantasy. I learned about joy, love and pain. They can all be found in the genres. It expands minds.

      2. I know what you mean. I put off reading it forever because it was over 300 pages and I used to avoid longer books until I realized that I actually loved long fantasy books.

    1. lol awhile. Someone on Twitter asked for a glossary of terms on science fiction. Terms? That got me thinking of the parallels between science fiction and fantasy vs. regular fantasy and how they are based all in the same sort of writerly conflicts. The only difference is how far into the imagination it goes. It isn’t scary, jump right in.

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