If few had faith in an inner world, there were thousands who believed in 1835 that there was a world of green mountains and blue lakes in the Moon…and of flying men! Richard Adams Locke’s science-fantasy, better known as The Moon Hoax, was presented in the New York Sun in such clever style that it seemed gospel truth—at least for a week or so. More recently, New Yorkers exhibited no less belief in Mr. Wells' invading Martians, as dispensed by radio by Mr. Welles. And the Flying Saucers? Space-ships, and little men from Venus…? Truly, science-fantasy has a potency which does not always depend on its plausibility; for its dreams very often come true. Science-fantasy which is—intentionally—fiction. Science-fantasy which is—or might well be—fact. In this new magazine we shall be concerned with it in all its forms: with its significant ideas, its surprising prophecies, its sheer fictions, its evolution as a fascinating literature. We shall present both facts and fancies. Hence—science- fantasy.
For the last story on the Solar System, one has been chosen which many people will call science fantasy rather than science fiction. It is obviously unlike any other story in this book, for it deals with a world which man, by his very nature as living matter composed of chemical bonds, will never be able to explore, and a life form the existence of which he never will be able to prove (or disprove). For the world is the Sun, and the life form a sort of energy-being beside which the Cones described in Frank Belknap Long’s story are simple and understandable constructions.
A few Fortean terms like ‘teleportation’ have become staple science-fantasy property, but in general his ideas have proved too mundane to serve as useful story gimmicks.
One of the unquestioned titans of fantasy fiction was A. Merritt. His mastery was evidenced most strongly in his tales which may be defined loosely as science-fantasies, stories which have some basis in scientific fact, but which would not qualify under any tight definition of science-fiction.
Such a critic would not hesitate to label such luminaries in the field as Sturgeon and Bradbury as ordinary commercial writers who happen to specialize in science fantasy and who, as such, are more interested in a continuous production of material of proved saleability than in the steady derivation from their work of new, unfamiliar, and possibly unpopular creative azimuths.
Science-fantasy, a classification sometimes used for science-fiction proper. But in this volume it designates science-fiction in which fantasy elements are vital—e g Lest Darkness Fall, in which hero Padway is struck by lightning and thus transferred to decadent Rome, where all his other actions are science-fictional; or those in which the author (like Ego Clarke in The City and The Stars ) depicts the accomplishments of a science so advanced that it merges with wish-fulfillment fantasy.
Among some modern science-fiction writers, stories of time-travel are looked upon with faint disdain, because they are not really ‘scientific’. The purists prefer to place such stories in the category of science-fantasy, reserved for fiction based on ideas impossible to realize through modern technology. That is, a story about a trip to Mars is merely an extension of current science, so long as it sticks to accepted knowledge and does not try to persuade us that Mars is a lovely planet of fertile gardens. But a story about a trip in time is fantasy, since nothing in modern scientific belief leads anyone to think that building a time machine is ever going to be possible. I grant this distinction for what it is worth—but I don’t think it’s worth very much. In the long run, even the most careful science-fiction story turns out to have been science-fantasy, when we compare prophecy with fact; we need only look at fiction written as recently as 1955 to see how different the reality of the early space age is from the predictions. Science fiction—even the best of it—does not give us literal blueprints. It deals, rather, in images, in ideas, in rearrangements of modern concepts. Its intention is to provoke thought, to dazzle the senses, and to divert the mind wearied with this moment of now.
In The Issue At Hand (p. 112) I noted that Avram Davidson, then editor of F&SF, once classified five of the stories in the August 1962 issue of his magazine as ‘science-fantasy,’ which I called ‘a term specially revived by his predecessor’ Robert P. Mills, ‘(independently of H.G. Wells, who meant something else by it) to cover the Aldiss “Hothouse” series.’
The whole point of the modern usage of the term ‘science fantasy’, it seems to me, is is to define a kind of hybrid in which plausibility is specifically invoked for most of the story, but may be cast aside in patches at the author’s whim and according to no visible system or principle.
Star Trek busts open the lead in this chapter. No surprise, really, since Star Trek pays a lot more attention to the science in its fiction, whereas Star Wars is better described as a science-fantasy story.
Science Fantasy magazine
We would like cites of any date from other authors.
Last modified 2021-09-11 00:48:41
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.