Science Fiction, Fantasy and Genre

One thing that I really like about the explosion in the breadth and depth of fantasy literature is the torrent of interesting ideas. Take, for example, the explanation problem in modern fantasy – a story set in the current “real” world must explain why most people have no knowledge of or experience with magic.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know the most common solution: it’s hidden. In the Harry Potter stories, the Ministry of Magic goes to great lengths to keep magic a secret. In the Harry Dresden stories, while no explicit effort goes towards keeping magic secret, most people consciously and/or subconsciously don’t want to know about the supernatural.

Another solution that authors have used is The Big Reveal. Magic and the supernatural have always been around, and hidden, but now they’re not. In the Sookie Stackhouse novels, vampires held press conferences throughout the world, announcing their existence. This worked out better in some countries than in others. The Jane Yellowrock novels also use a Big Reveal. One of the interesting parts of stories with a Big Reveal is the evolution of the attitudes towards vampires, shapeshifters, and other supernatural entities by the public at large, individual characters, and the government.

I would also like to mention a special case of The Big Reveal found in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. In this series, magic has been dormant for hundreds of years, allowing the development of modern technology. Only magic doesn’t stay gone, and when it finally comes back, things get wild. In the stories, magic and tech are incompatible and mankind has learned to deal with whichever is in force at any given time – for example, houses have both electronic and magical lighting systems.

And then there are the authors who want to write a modern or “urban” fantasy story and don’t want either hidden magic or a reveal.

The most common form is a parallel timeline – a universe similar to our own, but where magic and magical creatures have always been public knowledge. The level of parallelism can vary significantly. The universe of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, contains much of the same history, and many of the same pop-culture elements. The first volume in the story begins shortly after vampires are granted rights as citizens with legal protections – though not quite the same protections as normal humans, since normal humans can’t mesmerize prison guards.

A less common form of “urban” fantasy is set in a completely different universe, with different geography, countries, societies, history, languages and cultures. The recognizable trappings of modern society such as cars, electric lights, printed books, modern houses/apartments/condos, and cities with concrete and asphalt are present, but none of the brands, artists, or names are recognizable. I’ve only run into a couple examples of this type, the best being a newish series The Others by one of my favorite fantasy authors – Anne Bishop.

Now somewhere out in the audience, there’s someone thinking “four distinct sub-genres.” My only comment about that is: hogwash.

I deliberately withheld one important detail about the Kate Daniels series. It’s set in the future. And they have technology that’s in advance of our own. Confusing, right? Is it even really fantasy? Or is it some kind of funky science fiction sub-genre? Honestly, I think it’s the wrong question.

The idea behind genres and sub-genres is to divide everything up into nice, neat categories. Then we can say that a given book is LGBT, alternate history, steampunk, for example. And dividing things up into these nice, neat categories is supposed to help us find the books that interest us, and avoid the ones that don’t.

Except that science fiction and fantasy writers don’t write stories so that they can fall into nice, neat categories. They write stories with fresh, new ideas. They write stories that push past the boundaries of what we’ve imagined so far, into realms that we had not yet previously imagined. That’s when writers are at their best – coloring outside the lines.

So, if we want to see great SF&F writing, do we really want to keep drawing new lines for authors to color inside of? I sure as heck don’t think so.

To be honest, I’m not even entirely sure that we need to separate science fiction and fantasy in the first place. Instead, I would just call it all speculative fiction, which has the advantage of having a recognizable acronym. Then we can talk about distinct story elements – the things that we used to call sub-genres. The difference being, that a work can have whatever DSEs are appropriate. The Kate Daniels series has a future setting, advanced technology, magic, vampires, and also shapeshifters. Not exactly a combination that fits well into a traditional sub-genre system.

Oh, and just to shake things up, how about a story with current setting, alien invasion, and vampires. Seriously. Out of the Dark by David Weber. Yeah, that Weber. Go look it up if you don’t believe me.

And quit trying to shoe-horn things into nice, neat categories. Life doesn’t work that way. Just ask the platypus.

Salt Lake Comic Con FanX 2015 – Heroes, Villains, and Anti-Heroes in Harry Potter: Who’s Who? Panel

I attended a panel titled Heroes, Villains, and Anti-Heroes in Harry Potter: Who’s Who?.

The panel was run by two college professors, a YA novelist, and 17-year-old Harry Potter enthusiast.

This panel was more of a discussion about villains and anti-villains in the Harry Potter world. Panelist Paul Draper, an anthropologist, started out by saying that Lockhart was his favorite villain. He said “Lockhart is a minor villain who is only looking out for himself, he is not a global villain.” He went on to say there are lots of minor villains.

He also gave an interesting blurb on the difference between a hero and villain.

A hero says “I have a good side and a bad side. I have to suppress my bad side and choose my good side.” A villain says “I only have a good side.”

It has been said that “everyone is a hero in their own story.” Voldemort saw himself as a hero. In his mind, everything he was doing was good.

There was some discussion that because horcruxes negatively influence people, were the Dursley’s such awful people because Harry “the Horcrux” Potter was living with them for so long? This question was quickly countered by the realization that Hermione and Ron spent all those years with Harry and they didn’t seem to be affected. Although things did seem to improve for the Dursley’s now that Harry was gone 10 months of the year. This question of whether Harry was a proper horcrux has been asked and answered.

There was quite a bit of discussion of how kids sorted into Slytherin are automatically hated at Hogwarts by all the rest of the students. They are viewed with fear and suspicion. When Malfoy is sorted into Slytherin he is immediately boo’d by the Weasley twins. The thing no one mentioned (which I suppose they forgot) was that Ron had just been teased by Draco for being poor. He likely mentioned this to his brothers. In my mind the twins were probably booing Draco the person, and not Slytherin the house. Maybe that begs the question of Why did Slytherin House not get disbanded? But of course, we have an answer to that question.

The panel could have benefited from an expert from Scifi.SE. Perhaps next year they’ll ask Slyterhincess (aka JKR) to be on the panel, in order to put these questions to rest.

Looking back, the panel spent only a minimal amount of time answering the panel topic. They named Lockhart and Malfoy as minor villains, Snape as an anti-villain, and Hermione and Ron as the heroes that enabled Harry to be the hero.


Salt Lake Comic Con FanX 2015 – Tom Felton Panel
Harry Potter Movie Marathon Highlights

Salt Lake Comic Con FanX 2015 – KIDCON and Disney Princesses

The Comic Con of yesteryear may have been for single men who loved comics and pop-culture, but the Salt Lake Comic Con goes out of its way to make sure families feel welcome at the convention. The number one rule of cos-play says “Salt Lake Comic Con is a family-friendly convention.” There is also a section of the convention floor titled KIDCON. This is an area with activities, games, and photo ops with Disney Princesses.

KIDCON corner, as seen through the laser obstacle course.
KIDCON corner, as seen through the laser obstacle course.
The bunny hop game.
The bunny hop game.
The laser line obstacle course with Princess Elsa in the background.
The laser line obstacle course with Queen Elsa in the background.
Hiccup and company.
HIccup and company.
Giant Big Hero Six at the entrance of Salt Lake Comic Con.
Giant Big Hero Six at the entrance of Salt Lake Comic Con.

The number of princess, both in cos-play and as features of booths, is staggering. There was a dedicated Princess Tea Party booth offering free tea parties with kids’ favorite princess. Many attendees came as their favorite princess. The children love it.

Last year after the regular Salt Lake Comic Con my three-year-old niece told my wife:

I know you met the real Elsa, I saw a picture of it.

She was referring to a picture of my wife posing with Queen Elsa her mother showed her on Facebook. You expect Elsa and Anna to be the most popular, because of the recent movie, but princess from all eras were present including: Belle, Snow White, Rapunzel, Aurora, Merida, and Ariel.

Princess Merida, Queen Elsa, Cinderella, and Belle (and others).
Princess Merida, Queen Elsa, Cinderella, and Belle (and others).
Elsa and Anna running a princess party booth.
Elsa and Anna running a princess party booth.
This stage coach was for promoting the new live-action Cinderella movie.
This stage coach was for promoting the new live-action Cinderella movie.
Cinderella and Rapunzel.
Cinderella and Rapunzel.
Princess Aurora, outside the Princess Tea Party booth.
Princess Aurora, outside the Princess Tea Party booth.

Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience (and the regular one) is a place the whole family can enjoy.

Featured Answer: How long was Bill Murray’s character supposed to be in a time loop in the film “Groundhog Day”?

February 2nd is Groundhog Day.

How long was Bill Murray’s character supposed to be in a time loop in the film “Groundhog Day”? was asked by aceinthehole and originally answered on October 20, 2011 by DVK. He cited several different statements from the director Harold Ramis. The question quickly drew thousands of views and the answer was accepted.

Roughly 4 months later (5 days after the question was circulated on Groundhog Day) a new answer was submitted. Screenwriter of “Groundhog Day” Danny Rubin submitted this answer.

Allow me to jump in here. Hi everyone. As mentioned above my original intent was that Phil would live for longer than a single lifetime. That was the point of the original script: to see how a person might change if he lived longer than one lifetime (it was always about a man who could not escape life). The studio felt that the loop shouldn’t last longer than two weeks. They were afraid the audience would freak out if it lasted any longer. Because my bookcase calendar (also mentioned above) was a specific record of passing time, Harold chose to remove it from the script, and in that way he could tell the studio it lasted two weeks or whatever and nobody could point to anything in the script that contradicted that. This explains why the length of Phil’s incarceration strikes so many as a mystery: it was designed to be a mystery. Still, the sensibility of the characters as they progressed I think required a guiding clock, and Harold provided that. His sense was that it lasted about ten years, and I think the movie reflects that sensibility.

Still, I think it’s fun the way people keep guessing and counting and arguing. My answer shouldn’t discourage that pursuit. Who ever said that I know what I’m talking about, anyhow?

This answer was accepted and became the 4th highest voted answer on the site (203 votes at the time of this article). The “Word of God” is a powerful thing.

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