Weird and Wonderful

December 18, 2010

Sometimes you get the best combinations from the most unlikely elements.

Like the platypus. This is an animal that looks like someone stitched together parts randomly selected from a taxidermist’s shop. I mean, it’s part beaver, duck, otter, mole, and probably a few others.  But look how cute it is!

I find this happens with writing too, especially when we’re talking about crossing/melding genres. Obviously, you hope that your finished product doesn’t look like Frankenstein’s monster, and it doesn’t always work, but sometimes the synthesis of different tropes turns into something unique and wonderful.

Science fiction and fantasy are an interesting case, because as much as they’re associated with each other, you rarely find them in combination together. Science fiction, after all, is essentially the fiction of what could be, but isn’t, while fantasy is what couldn’t be, but is. By which I mean, sci-fi could maybe possibly happen one day. Fantasy couldn’t.

Consequently, the two have different tropes, different universes that make it hard to meld them together into something as appealing as a platypus. Magic spaceships and astronaut wizards stretch the willing suspension of disbelief past its breaking point, right?

Well… I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, using sci-fi and fantasy elements in the same work gives you a lot of chances to make things too easy for your protagonist. Faster-than-light travel and a magic wand feels like stacking the deck, and that’s no fun. We want our heroes and heroines to use their resourcefulness… but not to have too many resources. And from a conventional perspective, my credulity would be stretched pretty thin by a unicorn wandering around on the moon. Unless it was an alien that looked like a unicorn. But if that’s the case, we’re squarely back into Science Fiction territory, aren’t we?

However, I have seen science fiction and fantasy that adapts merely the “flavouring” of its sister genre. If you’ve heard Chris Lester’s Metamor City, I hope you’ll agree that it’s essentially science fiction, but infused with fantastic undertones (which makes sense, as it’s a fantasy realm set in a distant future). What magic there is gets a logical, scientific treatment, which gives the reader the best of both worlds while avoiding the pitfalls described above. Heck, the magic system I used in my novel-in-progress is derived from a highly corrupted and simplified version of string theory.

Some genre mixings work better than others. If Romance were an element, it would have either 1 or 7 electrons in its valence shell- it would want to make molecules with just about anything. Fantasy-Romance, Historical-Romance, Thriller-Romance. Actually, Thriller is similar: Historical-Thriller, Horror-Thriller… though I’ve yet to see a Chick Lit-Thriller.

I think Spec Fic is different though, more choosy about what it will synthesize with. These genres are Spec Fic in the first place because they play by different rules, and unless the author has a very, very good reason those rules are set in stone. Science Fiction and Fantasy make strange bedfellows. 

But when it works, it’s wonderful. Would you expect a zebra in the snow with a narwhal tusk to look cool?







I like it.




  1. The job (writing genre fiction anyway) is finding something new. Unfortunately, there’s nothing really new to find. It’s all been done, right?

    NO WAY! (said Ted)

    I love your sentiment here. Our job, whether its really a job yet or just an aspiration, is to create new settings, new situations, new plots that entertain and, hopefully, even wow the audience. No, we’re not going to invent new archetypes — of course nothing is impossible — but we should explore mixing and matching these worlds.

    Some of the best sci-fi/fantasy fiction of the last two decades has straddled two or more otherwise disparate genres. I believe the new generation of writers (and man, I hope I’m one of them) will continue this trend into the teens and twenties, changing the face of genre fiction as we know.


    — david j.

  2. Hey, if mother nature can come up with something like the platypus, we shouldn’t shy away from hybridizing our stories to come up with the best of two or more worlds!

  3. Zebras ALWAYS look cool! 🙂

    Wonderful post, Arvik. Write on!

    • Almost as cool as Quaggas (which, unfortunately, have gone extinct…) 😦
      You keep writing as well, Nancy!

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