It had been a marvelous Tale, one that the fathers would find worthy to tell their children at night, one that the scribes would never weary of reading in their libraries, one that the bards would never tire of weaving into song. It had all the classic elements: a fallen ruler, a young unknown prince, a group of faithful comrades, a false lord who held the kingdom in his very grasp...
Sarazen always loved a good Tale.- "The Final Tale"
Sometime in late July, Dean Alfar let his adoring public know that he had already begun reading through the mountain of submissions for his Speculative Fiction Anthology. Surprisingly, he noted, the majority of the pieces so far were of a science-fictionesque approach; One would normally expect a large number of fantasy-genre entries from Filipino writers.
This was bad news for me. I personally find it easier to write redeemable science fiction, and I've always assumed that the genre is inaccessible enough around here for me to have a clearer shot at good reviews. But all things change, I suppose.
I wonder if there's some mental link between Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction. The phrase "Speculative Fiction" implies an experimentation with literary style, approach, and voice -- and the science fiction genre is more unexplored territory around here than anything else. We've seen elements of Filipino fantasy in artsy novels, urban legends, and video games; but so far, we've held Filipino science fiction to the realm of the comics creators. Sci-fi is still more of a novelty around here.
Whatever the case, I ended up spending the last two weeks hunting for a good fantasy story. The trouble with fantasy, you see, is that it doesn't seem to have much in the way of redeemable themes.
Science fiction has at least one redeemable theme, and it's a big one: Humanity in the face of change. Sci-fi, more often than not, compares human characteristics to the world around them and singles them out for their day in the sun. The rampant technologism that is a staple of science fiction stories only heightens the contrast and makes these qualities easier to pick out. As a result, you get James T. Kirk's high-stakes attitude in an exploratory space expedition. You get Lin Minmei's love song used to defeat two warring alien races. You get Darth Vader destroying the Emperor in order to save the life of his only son.
Isaac Asimov, I think, was the epitome of the science fiction writer in this way. The vast majority of his stories seem to deal with the humanity inherent in technological constructs, e.g. robots. His body of work, for that matter, shows us that science fiction doesn't even need human characters to showcase human qualities.
Fantasy, on the other hand, is oversaturated with human references. Part of the problem, I think, has to do with the fact that fantasy is akin to an open creative exercise: You can do anything you want with it. A world where an all-seeing power attempts to dominate the races of men, elves, dwarves and hobbits? Done. A realm where metal is scarce and the land has to be defiled in order to cast magic? Done. A setting with random Frenchmen, knights who say "Nih!" and the occasional killer rabbit? Also done.
Open fantasy, it appears, sets few boundaries on what authors can and can't write. The problem is that, if you're busy constructing a world from scratch, it's difficult to build insight and redeemability into the project.
Let's take The Lord of the Rings -- a powerful epic of heroism, duty, and the battle to keep one's soul against an overwhelming tide of corruption. It's a very good story, and one of the few redeemables in the Fantasy genre. Even then, however, it's easy to see that the setting had to be thoroughly established before any insights could be mixed in. For us to realize the heroism in Eowyn's battle with the Witch-King, we had to realize just who the Witch-King was and how powerful he could be. For us to realize the weight of the burden that Frodo carried, we had to understand exactly what the One Ring was, and why only he could carry it.
Science fiction has it a lot easier. For us to consider the definition of humanity, we just have to be shown a talking, thinking, feeling robot. That's it.
Looking at things from this view, it's perhaps more difficult to write a good fantasy story than it is to write a good science fiction story. It's technically easier to write for the fantasy genre, as fan-fiction advocates have probably found out. In the long run, however, I think that the technophiles simply have an easier time making their point.