fantasy and science fiction


fantasy and science fiction
   Both fantasy and science fiction exploit the sense of wonder to be gained from setting stories in distant times and places. As genres of novel, the forms are descended (along with horror) from the gothic novel (such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). Many features of English-language fantasy, as with fairy tales, derive ultimately from medieval romances including Arthurian and Christian myths. Quests and grand good-versus-evil struggles are prominent in the works of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, both of whom became immensely popular in the late 1960s, seeding a profusion of ‘sword and sorcery’ novels. More recently, Angela Carter has blended psychoanalytic and feminist perspectives, for example, giving a dark retelling of fairy tales in The Bloody Chamber, while Mary Gentle also uses elements of science fiction. Where fantasy looks to the past for its Golden Ages, science fiction uses projections of current science and social issues, following a long tradition of utopian and dystopian fiction. Like H.G.Wells and Olaf Stapledon, John Wyndham placed his catastrophes and conflicts on a grand scale in time and space, and also touched on future human evolution. Arthur C.Clarke developed this latter theme, with near-mystic overtones, in the context of more favourable encounters with alien intelligence (Childhood’s End, 2001), while Doris Lessing used shifts between human and alien perspectives (Shikasta) to transcend more conventional political literature.
   Both Brian Aldiss and J.G.Ballard extended the use of catastrophe, with Ballard exploring landscape and psyche in a manner comparable to Conrad and Greene. Ian Watson is an obvious successor to Ballard, but draws also on linguistics and mythology in his stories of psychological transformation in a context of alien encounters which are indirect and cryptic. Drug culture also had its effect, particularly through the multilayered realities of Philip K.Dick, and in Michael Moorcock’s fragmented narratives of Jerry Cornelius.
   The comedy science fiction writing of Douglas Adams (the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy series) and Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (Red Dwarf) shows a fondness for scientific paradox and twists, traceable to the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem and the American Robert Sheckley. Following Adams’s lead, Terry Pratchett’s approach to fantasy imaginatively exploits cliché to produce the bizarre but internally consistent Discworld, powered by magic and peopled by caricatures whose failings are very human, whatever their actual species. Cyberpunk writers such as Jeff Noon draw on the IT concept of virtual reality, effectively advancing the tradition of alternative realities which can be found in Lem, Dick, H.P.Lovecraft and even Lewis Carroll.
   See also: science fiction
   Further reading
    Slusser, G.E. et al. (1983) Coordinates: Placing Sc i e n c e Fiction and Fantasy, Carbondale, I L: Southern Illinois University Press.
   DAVID BATEMAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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