Sunday, August 13, 2006

Got Magic?

Ah! Is that a hot button for you? It is for me.

How many of us have read, or been told, that if it's Science Fiction there cannot be magic? If there's magic, it must be Fantasy.

I'd like a straw poll. If you've believe that there's no place for magic in SF --or if you've heard it, and wondered Why not?-- please comment.

It's easy. Click the crayon symbol to the right of the author's signature. You can be Anonymous. You just have to recognize the distorted alphabet soup. Sometimes, you have to do that part again because maybe a Z is really a z, but how could you tell?

Back to Magic... nor not... as a topic.
My position is that I don't appreciate being told what I can and cannot write.

That said, I was grateful for Guidelines when I was starting out. It's good to know the ten greatest "turn-offs" that might cause an editor, an agent, or a contest judge to read no further (metaphorically speaking).

Yet the rebel in me wonders: If it is scientificially OK, even desirable, for aliens from other worlds to have religions and spiritual beliefs, why shouldn't they have magic?

Is there a difference --as far as a third party observer can tell-- between a miracle and magic?

As we get older and wiser, do we "grow out of" magic?

Do we assume that a technogically advanced civilization capable of interstellar travel will be too sophisticated for magic? Will they have explained it all away?

We know the difference between a conjurer's act and something that truly cannot be explained.... don't we? Still we are fascinated when the pea under the shell is not where our senses tell us it should be, or when the magician catches the bullet between his not-even-chipped teeth.

When you think of jobs with legs, the entertainment industry must be one of the most durable... not counting the illegal occupations and the hereditary positions... there's singing and otherwise making music; news-and-story-telling; conjuring, juggling and magic-doing.

There's also cooking, farming and fighting.

There must be a reason why we need magic in our lives, whether it is Swords and Sorcery; dangerous, bottled-up, bald genies (why are they always bald?), wands and winged dragons; portals to parallel worlds; or the possibility of amorous and lonely hunks --pretty much like us, perhaps with two penises, or pointy ears, or fangs, or silver-bullet-semen-- travelling through the icy blackness of space in search of love and understanding.

Why should an industry professional who is judging my alien romances become confused and upset if my non-human, interstellar starjet pilot can levitate through the sheer force of his personality and will?

Suppose he glares intently at the heroine and sweeps her off her feet, literally, without recourse to magnets, nano-power packs, or other scientifically possible explanations?

Disclaimer: I don't mean to say that any industry professional that I know HAS become confused and upset by such seductive delights (on the other hand, my alien djinn heroes haven't --yet-- performed inexplicable magic, either). I'm simply reflecting the warnings I've heard from How-To enthusiasts.

I might also be contemplating a little genre rule-breaking, some time in the future. Is there anything else that we've heard is "Off Limits" in science fiction romance?

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry


  1. When you mix SF and magic, it's sometimes called Science Fantasy. At least, that's what I've seen some reviewers tag my An Accidental Goddess with. That book has spaceships. It has sorcerers. Hell, it had sorcerers in spaceships. Why should anyone conclude the magicians can only live in castles and travel by horseback?

    The problem seems to be pigeon-holing, which is a direct result of large chain bookstores needing to know What Shelf Does This Book Go On. Romance? Fantasy? Science Fiction?

    Readers--I'm guessing--could care less. They want an engaging story and interesting characters.

    It also depends--and we've touched on this a bit here--on the author's world building. Yours--and you know I adore your writing--is skillful. That's how any mixing of genres should be done: with an attention to detail and a logical interweaving of all aspects.


  2. Science Fiction is fiction based on science. That means there should be a plausible definition. Fantasy doesn't have that requirement. I would classify some of the combination stories that include both elements as space fantasy, or some such thing.

    Wen Spencer has written both. Her Ukiah Oregon series (starting with Alien Taste) is pure science fiction. It also has a terrific alien and human romance. Even if Ukiah is gorgeous by design. Her Tinker series is clearly fantasy, even though there are strong science elements in it. The Ukiah books have some form of telepathy in them, but that has at least a quasi-scientific explanation.

    The trouble with mixing elements is that you're likely to confuse a reader, who isn't getting what he/she expects and is possibly going to get upset about it.

    It also makes it hard for people in bookstores to know exactly where to stock the book.

  3. Where to stock a book is a really interesting question.

    It seems to me that if the book is bought by a certain publisher's imprint (or by a publisher's certain imprint) all releases in that line will be on the Romance shelves of a bookstore.