There are few battles worse than sci-fi v fantasy. Well, perhaps Batman versus Superman…
The problem is that it’s prejudice that tells me I have to choose one or the other. Total bollocks of course, but I know that I like what I like, and I do have a preference, so one, at least to my mind, has to be better, right?
The novel that started this battle of the genres was All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. I thoroughly enjoying it’s frivolous brutality and middle finger to genre norms. It’s also built on science (fiction) versus magic, quite brilliantly balancing the inescapable drawbacks of both, when in the wrong hands. And it got me yearning for some hard sci-fi, so I revisited Children of Time and was once again enthralled by an alien species of spider that grow to a metre in size, and are smart (AND A SEQUEL IS OUT SOON!).
Now, I’m wondering why the yearn, when I’d enjoyed All the Birds in the Sky. Was I practising what I thought the novel was preaching—that sci-fi free of grounding is too often misused by lazy authors, so I retreated to the vestiges of hard sci-fi, with its trust in the Theory of Relativity? Well that’s not quite true, because sci-fi is increasingly diverse when it comes to sub-genres, and hard sci-fi is enjoying something of a resurgence, most obviously with The Expanse novels. So there’s plenty to dig into if that’s what I crave. Alternatively, was I rejecting magic’s downright made-up-ness, where clicks of the fingers replace thought, motive and action? But that’s difficult to digest too, because all the best magical systems are grounded in a kind of reality, like VE Schwab’s Darker Shades of Magic series, where magic is balance, blood, bones and elements. It’s unnoticeable from the first page, becoming the context rather than trying to fit into it. It’s magically done. Where it’s not, that’s bad fantasy, not bad magic. Technically.
No, the problem, I think, is the prejudice. The competition. One doesn’t have to be better than the other, only to be my jam when I need it to. All the Birds in the Sky is important in that regard, because it’s made me challenge what I like and why, and appreciate the pros from the pretenders. Now, giant spiders or a magical war in a state of heightened technological terror? It’s a sign that I’m spoilt that I can read both.