While it seems contrary, there really is a subgenre of science fiction where magic and science occupy the same plane. For about a decade, from roughly 1965-1975, there was a spate of books published by authors like Arthur Landis and Christopher Stasheff that blended the two into a harmonious whole. In a recent conversation, Christopher Stasheff revealed the reason: Lester del Rey had said not to do it. Turns out that author-fans then were as contrary as they are now, and there were promptly quite a few books written, including the Poul Anderson Three Hearts and Three Lions, which may have been the first of them. It makes me wonder if Heinlein’s Glory Road was inspired by this thrown gauntlet, as well. There are many old treasures if you haven’t read them, but they continue to this day, written by authors like Dave Freer (the Forlorn), Anne McCaffrey (Pern series), and Sarah Hoyt (Witchfinder). I’ll have a list of recommended titles up at my blog. Why am I breaking science fiction into subgenres? Well, I’m not, really. This started with the Hard SF discussion, rolled into Space Opera, and now I’m bordering on fantasy. Although I don’t plan to delve into that genre until I’ve at least covered Military SF. Science Fiction, as a genre, is like a tree. These are the branches on that tree. They may cross over one another, and be hard to pick out from a distance, but it will help a reader who likes one book to find others like it, by assigning books to branches. Each book like a leaf, rustling in the wind… Ok, enough of that metaphor. Let’s turn a new leaf and move on. Science Fantasy may be distinguished from other fantasy genres by the existence of scientific mindset at the same time as accepted magic. The magic may be explained, or not. Often in modern interpretations, like John Ringo’s Council Wars series (first book There Will be Dragons, free on Amazon) the magic is simply very, very advanced technology. I used Clarke’s Law in my young adult take on this, Vulcan’s Kittens. I wanted to introduce the concept to kids who never think about what’s in the little magic box they use for texting, and chatting, and gaming, and sometimes even making a phone call.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. —Arthur C. Clarke, “Profiles of The Future”, 1961 (Clarke’s third law)
This is the driving concept behind Freer’s The Forlorn, as well. The technology has been forgotten, but the power still remains. The other book I remember vividly with a similar concept is the third in a series, David Weber’s Heirs of Empire, where fallen technology is worshipped as magic, and a stranded lifeboat of tech-savvy people have to make their way through hostile religious furor. There are a lot of this style of science fantasy out there, which border on the Space Opera branch, wielding tech like a magic wand. McCaffrey’s dragons may have been born of advanced science in the beginning of the story, but the later books certainly feel more like fantasy, even though magic is not part of the tale. On a twig near it hang the other sorts of science fantasy books, where a modern man is pitched suddenly into a world that has magic. The Wizard Recompiled by Cook is one such example, where a computer programmer is forced to learn the connections between magic and his programming skills as he struggles to survive. The parents of the genre, Anderson, Stasheff, and Landis among others, usually wrote books like this. Arguably, John Carter of Mars is science fantasy. Certainly the science bits seem far-fetched to us now, but the mindset is the same, a man of science and technology dealing with a vastly different world than his own through mysterious forces. I’m sure there is more out there which is escaping my mind, or that I simply have not read yet. What are your favorites? I’ll add suggestions to my list.
List is now available! Click here…