Over at Charlie Stross’ blog, Cat Valente is writing up storm. This particular tempest is a great swirling discussion about the genre definitions of Science Fiction and Fantasy, but not in the old perennial argument about which authors used which tropes, and why this makes your favorite book really X instead of Y. No. None of that. This is the soup of philosophy, examination of the meat of the craft:
And to me, it’s all one. Not in a flippant way, but deep, primal, unifying. The herd-dog is an uplifted mind. The SuperLab has old, old bones. I do genuinely believe that stories save us. Over and over, narrative tells us how to get through and get beyond, how to be human and how to be inhuman, too, when it comes time to grow. We are, at our cores, narrative beings. And most especially, science fiction and fantasy save us. They tell us who we are, who we can be, who we want to be and who we don’t, what we could be and what we can reject if we are strong enough. It says all these things more boldly and yet more secretly than mimetic fiction, which does not often try to speak to the dreams and terrors of a species on the verge.
I like that. Mainly because it sums up neatly my own operational definitions:
Science Fiction is about the exterior world: culture, technology, society and what it means to be human and what those boundaries are and how they change us.
Fantasy is about the interior world: how individuals define themselves within the context of their culture and experiences and what it means to be human, the things we believe (true, false or otherwise) that shape how we define that state of being.
Both are valid for looking at the concerns of humanity across time and space (however you wish to define those two terms). I’m less concerned with defining the genres by the outer trappings, the tropes that have built up over the last century and a half. Those are incidental and interchangeable.
The purpose of literature — of art in general — is to explore what it means to be human. As such, and given my operational definitions, it’s possible for a novel, movie, short story or Video game (i.e. a narrative work) to be both science fiction and fantasy. It’s also possible to write a space opera that is a fantasy and a medieval sword and sorcery novel that is science fiction, as it is the method by which we seek to ask and answer these questions about our place in the universe that defines the work, not the stage decorations, the symbols and ephemera.