I read both science fiction and fantasy and enjoy huge swaths of both genres in both fiction and film, but I’ve never really given a lot of thought to why I tend to prefer science fiction (all other things being equal, such as that any two given books to compare are well written). David Berreby at Big Think may have gotten close, however:
Game of Thrones: The Sadness of a World Without Science
The Game of Thrones universe is a world without science. It has technology and, no doubt, the continuous improvement that ingenuity breeds out of regular use (for example, the very bad young King’s new-model crossbow, much easier to load than standard-issue). It has geography and the sort of rule-of-thumb anthropology that practical people need (OK, so to get through this ceremony I need to eat what?). It has some lucky-accident discoveries, jealously guarded (looking at you, green napalm stuff). But among the warlocks and warriors and maesters, there is no system for accumulating, testing and sharing knowledge about the world. So that body of knowledge never changes. There are no new inventions, no new ideas. The past stretches back thousands of years (the Watch has had, what, 997 commanders?) like a mirror reflecting itself. And the future promises only more of the same.
To we who prefer the robots and spaceships, this world feels sad and suffocated. What is there to talk about, that hasn’t been said before? Which noble house has the throne, which dynast is truly nuts. Same things they talked about 500 years ago, with, now and then, a bit of dragon overflight to make this decade a little different from the preceding hundred and fifty.
There’s much more, which I encourage you to read. I don’t agree with everything Berreby says here, but he does have me thinking about why I generally prefer the sort of ideas that fuel SF over those that fuel fantasy. Just in a very general sense: as I said, I take a lot of satisfaction out of many works in both genres. Yet given the option to choose between two books or movies that I knew nothing else about except their genre, I’d probably choose the science fiction one.
What about you?
Do you prefer science fiction or fantasy? And why? What do you think are the fundamental differences between the genres, beyond the obvious?
Image above from Something Awful.
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