Friday, April 9, 2010


When teaching Literature to my High School students, I would always try to explain the difference between Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels. They never really got it, and it always surprised me---I don't know why I was surprised. So I'm going to reprise my efforts here---just for fun.

It goes like this: Science Fiction novels always adhere to some form of Laws of Physics, either real or imagined. That means characters cannot perform their duties or exploits without a set of laws to guide them. These laws are either really governed by physics or they are made up to seem so. Example would be the Teleporter in Star Trek. The Teleporter is a machine that breaks the body down into all the essential elements, transports these elements at lightning speed to a pre-set coordinate, and reassembles the body back to what it is. It's cool, it's made up(doesn't exist in our reality), and I wouldn't go in it for Captain Kirk's hair.

I like Star Trek. I watched all the episodes way back in the 70's when it was rehashed for TV. I always worried about the Teleporter, and wondered how it worked. But in many episodes this darn machine was always malfunctioning. Scottie: "Captn, I canna beam ye up! The anti-matter facilitator is reacting with the sub-fusiliar causing gamma rays influction....." Oh good Lord, That's bad, right? That anti-matter facilitator is ALWAYS acting up! Good God! Who made it? Mattel? Then Scottie would run around with a Canadian Tire wrench in his hands to fix the damn thing before it blows up the ship and leaves Jim stranded on that hostile planet. This is good stuff, and I forgot my point. Hang on, I'll read my opening paragraph.

Oh yes. Well, this whole thing about the Teleporter is contingent on laws of physics and working parts, even though it isn't real. In other words, this story is based on science- real or imagined. Star wars is good, also, although you tend to cringe at the dialogue. The first three episode of Star wars only. Oh! Alien with S. Weaver is absolutely great. There you have a combination of Sci-Fi and Horror. Didn't we all jump when that thing came out of John Hurt's chest? I never saw him the same since. It seems every Space movie made today has at the very least one scene stolen from Alien. I'm off track again.

OK. Fantasy. You see, when you go into a bookstore, you will see that they divided these sections---Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Other bookstores put them together. In Fantasy there are no set laws to confine the characters, yet there are usually set behaviours. Example are standing in your backyard, you sprout wings right out of your back, take to the air, and fly to Halifax to get some home-made fries from that old bus parked on Spring Garden Road in front of the old Library. Those fries are the best in the world, by the way. The grease they use is so old, and so used, it carries the best taste ever. On a hot summer's day, everybody hangs around the old Library with its stone fence and trodden lawn to sip pop, eat those fries, and taste their equally good hot dog smothered in relish and onions. Mmmmm. When you sit there, you can watch that scrubby statue of Winston Churchill where the pigeons like to stand on his head and shoulders. I often look at Churchill. He's quite determined looking in his statue stature. He looks as if he desperately wants to break free, and head for the bus to get some fries. Poor man.
I like Halifax a lot. It's not like a major city really. It's like a big bunch of people coming together to shop and hang out and eat famous delicious fries.

I think I digressed---again.

OK. Fantasy is...ahh...Peter Pan. You know, of course, that Peter Pan is an allegory. You know, Peter Pan the man who never grows up but embraces life in all its forms. Wendy the sensible, down-to-earth woman who likes to throw a wet blanket on everything. I like Tinkerbell, the mischievous, delightful sprite who reminds me of Puck in Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. (Hang on, I'm trying to stay on topic here)

To sum up, Fantasy is just that: flights of fancy where anything and everything is possible, and not dependent on certain scientific laws. There done. Usually here my students are giving me that blank look, and I know they are all thinking about those fries, and how nice they would be right now.

I'm really not a avid reader of any of these genres. I remember reading A STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert A. Heinlein way back when. I enjoyed it a lot. And of course, BRAVE NEW WORLD by A. Huxley. I remember my wife loved Zenna Henderson's ANYTHING BOX. And also the old novels by H.G. Wells, especially THE TIME MACHINE. But lately I have been reading Philip K. Dick novels. He's quite different, and quite delightful. I came to him after watching---and loving---BLADE RUNNER. That is an absolutely amazing, wonderful, and unusual movie. It has an aura of other worldly, and quiet resignation about it. Quite fascinating.

Anyway, I will revisit this topic in a future post.

Next: I have a bone to pick(My mother use to say that) with Heather Reisman. She's the CEO of Indigo/Chapters Books. She doesn't seem to be listening to me---just like my former students.

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