Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rocannon's World: Science Fantasy?

It's a minor issue usually. A good book is a good book, genres being fundamentally equal. Still, Rocannon's World is a neat little dilemma. Yes, the setting is basically scifi, league of worlds and all that, but the Fiia and clayfolk are intentionally elvish and dwarvish and most of the action is... let's say 'feudal'. It's a mix, and its charm is precisely in that view of science from a fantasy standpoint, Arthur C. Clarke's famous line that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" but it also lacks the social commentary that is so central to most good scifi. It's more of a romantic-age adventure story, but the question of 'what makes it scifi' still nagged at me, until i remembered that scifi is the most speculative of speculative fiction.
If a story just has a couple of laserguns and spaceships thrown in, it's not primarily science fiction. It crosses that line when it shows some ways in which that science begins to affect the human condition, when it speculates on effects. That we see the effects of sufficiently advanced technology changing both the invaders and the invaded pushes the book past the line.
There: the dilemma has been surpassed, and the world (including old Odo incarnate) can rest easy again.

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