Something impossible before breakfast?

“While science fiction is the literature of the possible, no matter how extreme, fantasy is the literature of the impossible, which means it’s pretty extreme to start with.”

—Mike Ashley, in the intro to The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy

I must admit I hadn’t thought of it quite like that. But it’s similar what I said in an earlier post about spaceships vs. dragons. (Which would be a really interesting contest!) Except…

“The literature of the possible, no matter how extreme”. No, really? Star Trek, Babylon 5, Dr Who, Firefly? If we’re calling Klingons, Shadows, the Tardis and Reavers possible, then we might as well say that in some universe somewhere there are dragons, vampires and unicorns. I don’t think one is any more likely than the other; I do think Ashley is exaggerating in order to make a point.

Now I am a writer of fantasy, but I’ve also written a few SF stories. I read a lot of SF, and enjoy it. But my preference is for stories that lean more towards fantasy… stories that could (almost) be in either genre. Ursula Le Guin does this so well; she is also a wise and subtle writer, who peoples her many worlds with folk who have human dilemmas and to whom, often, the fact of space travel is entirely irrelevant.

Stories do not always fit entirely into one genre or the other. But neither are they interchangeable. Theoretically, I could have made Captain da Silva the skipper of a spaceship; he would then most likely be Mal Reynolds, and the stories would have been different because the milieu in which they were set was different. Places have always informed my writing, and voyages are important. While the novels, mostly, are based in the captain’s home port of Lisbon, the majority of the short stories concern what happened when the Isabella was in a certain place.

With fantasy, I can play with the legends of Earth, and part of the fun is coming up with a new twist on an old theme. With SF, a big part of the fun is world-building, and I tend to get really deep into minutiae when I do that. Which doesn’t exactly bog me down, but has a tendency to take over. When you’re spending more time drawing maps than writing the story, it’s time to come up for air.


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