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Friday, January 09, 2009

Five Reasons Fantasy Is Better Than Science Fiction

It's been mentioned to me that I don't talk enough about fantasy around these parts. It's true, I don't. In fact, I don't talk about fantasy very much at all and I think that is a horrible disservice to you, my readers. So, I thought it would be nice to start off my fantasy binge posting with a lovely little list about the reasons why fantasy is better than science fiction (there will, of course, be a second list positing the opposite). Enjoy:
  1. Magic
    Probably the most important aspect of most fantasy stories, magic makes the fantasy world go round. Science fiction, unfortunately, lacks magic. There are no magic baking spells in SF, no glittering fireworks spells or spells to send the evil bad guy to the fiery depths of some imaginary hell. You can't shoot magic fireballs from your hand in an SF world either, and I think that's a travesty.
  2. Dragons and Other Creatures You Can Ride
    Let's face it. If you had the opportunity to ride on the back of a real dragon, would you? Unless you're afraid of flying or heights (or oddly afraid of fantastical critters), or simply crazy, you'd jump on this opportunity in a heartbeat. Throw in some pegasi (plural for pegasus), gryphons, unicorns, etc. and you end up with a laundry list of fantasy-based critters you can ride. Sounds good to me.
  3. The Bad Guys Always Lose (a.k.a. Happy Endings)
    And I mean always. You can probably cite a few good examples to the contrary, but fantasy stories almost exclusively end with the bad guy losing. This doesn't happen all the time in SF; sometimes you nail one bad guy, but the evil corporation still exists, or another bad guy springs up from the same mold, etc. At least in fantasy you know that there's a happy ending. Lots of cheering and good ale. All you get in an SF celebration is the dark realization that none of it really matters, because in a week some other goon will rise up and continue with the "company mission."
  4. Unique Languages
    True, there are a few SF stories with unique, invented languages, but fantasy rules on this front. And I do mean rules. Tolkien wasn't even the first one to do it, by the way, but he was the one person who made invented languages a cliche of the genre. But that's okay. I forgive him for that. I like Quenyan and Sindarin, or the dozens of other interesting languages that have sprung up over the last 50 or so years. They're interesting and I have the utmost respect for fantasy authors who can do it well, because I can't.
  5. Mythology
    I don't mean this in the traditional sense, although fantasy draws heavily from human mythology (obviously). By this, I mean that the fantasy genre has created its own mythology, largely due to Tolkien, of course. Science fiction, with rare exception, doesn't have this benefit. The hordes of fans obsessively devoted to a particular world tend to be fantasy enthusiasts, not science fiction enthusiasts (with exception primarily to the Heinlein crowd and the folks that thing Dune is real). They have a lot to be devoted to: fantasy authors have developed entire histories for their fictitious civilizations, which have captivated audiences worldwide. It's a beautiful thing.
And there you have it! If you disagree with my selections, leave a comment. Or, if you would like to amend my list and put one of your own on here, leave a comment.

Anywho!

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29 comments:

  1. *applause*

    Well said, sirrah! I totally agree. There's nothing I've read in sci-fi that even comes close to riding a dragon and emitting fireballs out of your hand.

    Yay for fantasy!

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  2. Well thank you! Glad you liked it.

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  3. I disagree with number three. In my opinion, Always Happy would be a reason that fantasy is worse than science fiction, if such a trend is true. It probably is, but those few "examples to the contrary" are why I survive. I suppose I like gloomy. Cheering and ale do nothing for me, if I'm certain that they will come. There are "some examples to the contrary" for me -- books I'll enjoy even if I know that the main characters must live (otherwise there would be no story) but generally these poor characters are propped up by superb prose, hilarious dialogue, strong voice, etc.

    So in conclusion, if you read George R. R. Martin, you'll probably make me so happy that I'll commit suicide. I'm no longer certain that you ever will read his series, which means I will no longer take it for granted that anyone who reviews fantasy must read A Song of Ice and Fire as prerequisite. I mean, I pretty much just told you that the books don't apply to your list of what-makes-fantasy-better. So I'm not helping my own case. I tried to explain things below, but considering that your opinion is the opposite of mine, I don't know whether what I describe has any chance of interesting you.

    So GRRM's "bad" guys probably will lose, but a lot of people are going to die along the way, and there are no guarantees that any one of the "good" guys will make it to the end. People have made lists of 3 to 5 characters who are "safe", according to fantasy's normal plotlines, but I personally think the series would improve exponentially in awesomeness if two of those "safe" people were characters were killed/ruined. They're orphans that have been given great responsibility and proven themselves to have natural leadership skills. I can't say they've had it easy, but their deaths wouldn't conflict with any of the atmosphere that GRRM has established. (My favorite character is actually on the list of characters-that-should-die, if we're following normal fantasy plotlines. I don't know whether to be worried or relieved.) And the people that I think right now are the "bad" guys might be my new best friends by the end of the next book. So the bittersweet conclusion to this series sounds like it will be less of a bad-guy-loses, some good-people-die-and-go-to-heaven thing and more of a guys-that-may-be-good-or-bad-depending -on-how-you-interpret-it-just-killed each other. But someone will replace everyone, because history repeats itself, and time is a giant wheel!

    I just got really off-topic.

    The point is, our tastes are really different. So yay for fantasy! -eats electric socket-

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  4. Carr: That particular point about fantasy being happier applies only in the sense that if you were living in a fantasy world, you'd want it to end happier. That's not to imply that all fantasy novels that are good end happy, just that happy endings tend to resonate more with folks.

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  5. Oh, okay. I guess I completely misunderstood.

    But in that case, I prefer sci-fi, since the fantasy worlds that I read are so depressing. And plumbling. I like plumbing. (:

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  6. Wow... you've picked everything that drives me crazy about fantasy. And I write the genre.

    My favorite thing about fantasy is the massive blank canvas. There's so much room for originality in the fantasy genre. Not even the laws of nature can stop you: it's complete and total freedom. Sci-fi can't even compete with that.

    I suppose that's why so much of the magical, happy-ending, elven riddled quest-fantasy bothers me so much. You could be doing so much more.

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  7. Also, to Carraka: Long live George R.R. Martin!

    ... You mean to say SMD hasn't read 'A Game of Thrones'? *eyes* I am deeply disappointed.

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  8. Well, I agree that you could be doing a lot more. I mostly made this list to sort of mention that things that make fantasy better than SF primarily because SF doesn't have them. No magic or dragons in SF, but the blank canvas thing still very much exists for SF, so that doesn't really make fantasy better than SF (necessarily, anyway).

    I generally don't like obviously cliched work in the sense that the work doesn't try to be something more. Good writing generally makes any cliche of little consequence. And no, I have not read "A Game of Thrones" yet...yeesh.

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  9. I think that all reasons you listed are effective in sci-fi too.

    1) Magic can be replaced with technology that grants some sort of fireworks although without mystical words and aliens do have special talents.

    2) Aliens can cover the strange creatures and sci-fi does have happy endings, so 3) has been covered. 4) and 5) can be explained with aliens again. So there, sci-fi can be as good as fantasy.

    I agree that it doesn't feel the very same, when sci-fi does incorporates these themes, but as a genre it has the whole universe to work with and come with grander things.

    It should be noted that I am a fantasy fan though and I do prefer fantasy better for the same reasons apart from 3)

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  10. Daydream: Fantasy isn't limited to one planet, or dimension, or anything, so you can't really state that SF's universe-ness can compete.

    Carr: I got him to read Stardust over Xmas, so there's hope for ASOIAF yet. I'm as committed to making him read it as you are.

    Interestingly, he asked me for a list of recommendations for good fantasy serieseseses, then when I proceeded to list GRRM and a bunch of other things I've already told him he must read, he complained and demanded other things. I think he has a thing for reading second-rate work (which is still awesome, since fantasy's first rate stuff is so deeply fantabulous).

    Shaun: your list just confirmed that you have no clue what fantasy is actually all about. Read GRRM, it'll help. :)

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  11. Imelda/Ellira/Lindsey, you are my only hope.

    Whenever I start suggesting, he threatens not to read the series.

    Even if you don't like it, at least read the first book, so you can understand that there is another type of fantasy out there -- and I think that would help when you review books and discuss your reading philosophies. I don't mean it'll change them, but you would be opening yourself to gaining further understanding of other perspectives. An overwhelming number of people do seem to think that GRRM is one of the greatest fantasy writers out there, however slow the story begins, or however depressing the story becomes. And by not reading him, you deprive yourself from understanding these people.

    elizaw: Let's not bring up anything about life and living. It concerns me. Perhaps I should be ashamed that I am concerned. But the worst series is the unfinished series.

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  12. Ellira: I am not saying that sci-fi genre competes with fantasy, but that it can use the universe scope to imitate the five reasons given in the post. It would be literary snobbism to start and spin theories why one genre is better than the other. Personally I view them as two sides of the same coin and hold fantasy dearer to me, because I can work more with it as a writer.

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  13. It occurs to me upon reading this post and the comments, that I'm writing a mixture of Fantasy and SF in my latest SF novel - Tyrmia.

    But then that's nothing new either, if you look at the Star Wars movies. They follow the Hero's Journey and have happy endings. The SW films have all kinds of Fantasy elements; magic/Force with lightening bolts, fantastic creatures that you can ride, happy endings (mostly).

    I know that true SF fans consider the SW stories to not be true SF, but most of Joe Public thinks they are, right or wrong.

    I wouldn't say one genre is better than another. I'd just say to each his/her own. I lean toward SF because I like technology as opposed to magic. But I due appreciate a good High Fantasy book now and then. In the end its more about the story than the set pieces anyway. Right?

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  14. daydream: I make a distinction between magic and technology. I don't have to buy magic, so in a fantasy world it's potentially "free" with minor consequences for its use. That depends on the world, though. And scifi doesn't have dragons :P.

    Ellira: Technically fantasy is almost predominately local in its creation. There are few, if any, fantasy stories that involve multiple worlds.

    Also, this isn't a "Five Things That Fantasy Is All About" list. It's a list of reasons why fantasy is better than SF. If you have good recommendations, then make them. Telling me I'm wrong is like saying God did it without any giant white man in a white robe with a white beard.

    Carr: Yes, because if all you guys keep doing is try to cram it down my throat, then I don't want to read it. You all know how much I hate it when people try to cram their religion down my throat, why would you do the same thing with a book? I'm not Christian for the very same reason.

    Ken: I'm generally hesitant to classify SW as science fiction these days primarily because it's very much a fantasy.
    And the public is rarely, if ever, right. They voted George W. Bush into office twice...

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  15. Daydream: I meant 'compete on that level', I just didn't finish my thought. :p Personally I don't think SF and fantasy NEED to compete--they're separate genres with different defining characteristics, and I don't see why so many people lump them together. Saying they both deal with speculative things is like saying Mystery and Romance both deal with the process of working out the ending (to the solving of the crime, and the beginning of a relationship, respectively). Really this list should be titled 'things fantasy has more often than science fiction', but I suppose it's Shaun's opinion ...

    Shaun: "Technically fantasy is almost predominately local in its creation. There are few, if any, fantasy stories that involve multiple worlds."

    Are ... you ... kidding me? I mean, really, if I didn't love you to pieces, I would accuse you of being brain dead, because that's the single most retarded statement I've ever heard from someone claiming to be a fan of the genre.

    On the front rows of my top two bookshelves, I have no fewer than 12 books which have multiple worlds/dimensions in them. There's only 24 books there, so that's 50% of them, and I don't even have a particular love for multiple-world stories, they just happen to have them. I know I read a wider variety of fantasy than you do (partially because I listen to people's recommendations), but still, how are you so ignorant about a genre you claim to love? I take it back: don't write more about fantasy until you've read more.

    Gah.

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  16. I tried leaving you alone for several months, and you didn't read it. I tried giving you some logical reasons, and you didn't read it. I tried showing my personal enthusiasm, hoping it would be infectious, and -- well, you get the point. I haven't tried cramming the book down your throat, mostly because I've never met you, and thus I can only imagine the pleasure that would be derived from stuffing something into your mouth and commanding you to chew. Yes, I tell you to read GRRM, and I tell you frequently, because it seems that if no one reminds you, you'll happily read your own pile-of-books and mire yourself in your own pile-of-excuses. All my approaches have not worked, so I'm stuck waiting until I turn eighteen so I can fly to California, or Canada, or England, or wherever you are in three years so I can try my new list of approaches. Will you do it for money? Here's my wallet! Will you do it for fame? I'll hand out free pamphlets on street corners! Will you do it for sex? I'll -- ahem, hi ... Imelda ...

    Okay, so I'm not that interested in having you read GRRM. But I read a good book, I want to share it with someone. There's no malicious intent. I honestly feel that reading GRRM would help you grow, as a reader, reviewer, and writer of fantasy fiction. The sub-genre in which GRRM writes is growing, and if you want to be a legitimate fantasy reviewer, you should at least read a similar book. (Though why read something similar when you can just read the best?)

    The point is, you can't compare reading a book to not converting to a religion. Yes, I know I make the religious comparison all the time when it comes to telling people how much I worship GRRM, but I (would hope) I make my decision on an informed basis. I've read his books, examined his political views, scrutinized his personality. I'm not trying to brainwash you. I'm not trying to make you believe in something you don't believe. I'm not trying to use your spiritual needs to push my own anti-liberalism agenda. I don't need you to follow a set of lifestyle rules or renew your commitment to me every week.

    But okay.

    If I can't cram the books down your throat, what is your suggestion? Should I try to persuade you gently (again)? Or write (another) book review? Or should I wait patiently (forever)? I see Imelda is trying her best, but I don't want her to be alone.

    From the way you talk, I assume that there was a point in time when I should have stopped bothering you, waited patiently, and in some indeterminate amount of time, my patience would have been rewarded. But I, in my most utter stupidity, failed to find that moment, and now I've crossed some invisible line. Do you know how I can return to that point? I fail to understand certain aspects of you, but I do want to understand those aspects -- because otherwise I wouldn't be here, reading your blog, listening to your music, and taking your reading recommendations.

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  17. "On the front rows of my top two bookshelves, I have no fewer than 12 books which have multiple worlds/dimensions in them. There's only 24 books there, so that's 50% of them."

    50% of about 1/1,000,000th of the entire published fantasy industry. Even Narnia is local, since the only place they go is Narnia, not multiple fantasy worlds. I've read enough to make that statement.

    And multiple dimensions are not the same as multiple-planets. Big difference.

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  18. Carr: You should have stopped at the point of recommendation. I was thinking of reading it soon, but now you've turned me off again. I don't like hype for books (even though I do hype books I like). I'm different from other people. I don't jump onto things just because people really like it. Didn't work for Harry Potter or Twilight.

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  19. Okay.

    I'll wait three years.

    So that's it. You get a solemn promise from me: I won't mention GRRM to you for three years.

    I'm kind of afraid that all my hard work will come to nothing if other people step up to take my place, but I can't control them. Neither do I want to.

    After all, at the end of three years, I can still get those plane tickets.

    I guess you're a ... hype-acrite! Ahahahahaaaa! Right, I just had to say that. Okay, is there anything else I want to say before I make myself shut up?

    Not really.

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  20. I'm sure you've heard this one before, but what about Anne McCaffery's dragons? They're more SF than fantasy, I think.

    And if you're looking for a great recent fantasy read, I recommend Acacia, by David Anthony Durham.

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  21. Greats posts (both this and the SF one). I'm like you; I can't quite decide which genre I like better.

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  22. Sheila: Thanks for the recommedations! I've been considering Acacia for a while, actually.

    Tia: Thanks! I like SF more, but fantasy is a close second. I can read either and enjoy it at the same rate, usually.

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  23. If it makes you feel any better about your decision to not read this Martin fellow Duke, I haven't read any of his books.. don't plan on reading any of his books, and find that I'm not missing a damn thing. If you want good fantasy -read Robin Hobb, Lois Bujold, Elizabeth Moon, Sean Russell, David Gemmell, Jim Butcher, Guy Gavriel Kay - and a bunch of others that I won't bog down your comment page with. No need to read GRRM when there's such a wealth of beautiful fantasy series to choose from.

    Meanwhile. I still think the sci-fi vs. fantasy question is ridiculous. They're both awesome.

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  24. Eh, I don't know who I'll be picking up next in the fantasy category and that's the honest truth!

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  25. Jen, GRRM is actually much better than Guy Gavriel Kay. The writing is simpler, but the stories are by far the more interesting. You can't say you're not missing out, when you don't know what you're missing out on. :p I read the first couple of chapters initially and abandoned it for faster paced books, but after Carr went on for so long, I tried it again and I'm totally converted.


    "50% of about 1/1,000,000th of the entire published fantasy industry. Even Narnia is local, since the only place they go is Narnia, not multiple fantasy worlds. I've read enough to make that statement."

    The figures are obviously representative, moron. Point is, if approximately 50% of the books I own have multiple worlds, then it's likely to be a similar figure for the fantasy genre at large, since my buying habits don't force me into owning a higher proportion of multiple-world fiction.

    Narnia is not local--I'm sure you remember that the wardrobe is a transition between our world and Narnia--that's two worlds right there, and initially they can hop between them (Lucy can, at least) just like you'd hop to a neighbouring planet.

    It's also perfectly conceivable (unless Lewis has something in there that I don't remember) that the earth in the Narnia series has other cupboards that lead to other world that aren't Narnia. Where does Aslan disappear to when he leaves for so long? Could be hopping to another world to dispense Christian morals on another set of children.


    "And multiple dimensions are not the same as multiple-planets. Big difference."

    How are multiple dimensions 'not the same' as multiple planets? They can contain different people, atmospheres, levels of intelligence, possibilities, and it's a pain in the butt travelling there. You're making things up to suit yourself. Obviously you can't say 'multiple planets are exactly the same as multiple dimensions', but as a device in a story, which is basically what we're talking about, they serve the same function. What is the difference between a story where a spaceship crashes on an isolated planet leaving the crew stuck there, and someone falling into another world and getting stuck there? Both are people ending up in unfamiliar environments. What's the difference between open trade through galaxies, and people crossing dimensions for tourism? They all present the same problems, just in a different manner (ie, one technological, and one fantastical--the spaceship crash folk will have to rebuild their ship to get home, the person fallen through to another world will have to build a portal or something). In the end, most of these stories are about humans, or people with human-like thoughts, and human nature doesn't distinguish between the reason for distance when it means the same thing--which could be that you're stuck there and it's going to be a pain to leave, or that it's a great opportunity to bring back trade from a new culture. Doesn't matter if that's five galaxies away, or five dimensions.

    "I was thinking of reading it soon,"

    Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. You just say these things to be perverse. :p

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  26. "Narnia is not local--I'm sure you remember that the wardrobe is a transition between our world and Narnia--that's two worlds right there, and initially they can hop between them (Lucy can, at least) just like you'd hop to a neighbouring planet."

    Narnia is local in the sense that the only fantasy world they go to in Narnia. Also, that's not multiple worlds, but multiple dimensions, which is entirely different.

    "It's also perfectly conceivable (unless Lewis has something in there that I don't remember) that the earth in the Narnia series has other cupboards that lead to other world that aren't Narnia. Where does Aslan disappear to when he leaves for so long? Could be hopping to another world to dispense Christian morals on another set of children."

    That's speculation based on absolutely no evidence. Aslan could also be a magic fish that wanders the universe spitting on planets to put life on them. There's no indication in the books that what you're saying is true, so we can't take it as truth.

    "What is the difference between a story where a spaceship crashes on an isolated planet leaving the crew stuck there, and someone falling into another world and getting stuck there?"

    They didn't have to go through a magic door to get there. The spaceship had to actually travel great distances to crashland on that planet. In fantasy, since they're dimensions, not worlds, all that has to be done is travel through a magic device or some fabrication of magic, whether intentional or not.

    Also, multiple dimensions means that each dimension is a recreation of the same planet, but different conditions. Another dimension is simply Earth, but with magic, or a slightly different geography. That, and there is absolutely no travel distance between these dimensions. You could call them different worlds if you wanted to, but because the stories generally stick on that single fantasy world, it's not a multiple world story anyway.
    Most fantasy, with exception to young adult, does not have travel between dimensions or worlds. Most stick with a single world, and usually only a single continent. Science fiction is not limited by that, usually. Characters in an SF story may see Jupiter from up close, or a completely different solar system, because they actually go there.

    "Doesn't matter if that's five galaxies away, or five dimensions."

    Those are entirely different units of measurement. Five galaxies away is trillions of lightyears, which would take any spaceship, even ones moving faster than light, millions of years to get there. Five dimensions could take someone with the capability little more than an hour, or maybe a day, or heck, maybe a week. Dimensions sit side by side on an imaginary plane; worlds are separated by vast distances.

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  27. On the happy ending front this doesn't apply at all to some subsets of the fantasy genre.

    Horror, in particular.

    Pet Semetary hardly has a happy ending.


    There's nothing I've read in sci-fi that even comes close to riding a dragon and emitting fireballs out of your hand.


    Then you should read John Ringo's postsingularity SF COUNCIL WARS series. In which advanced technology in the distant future has allowed human beings to genetically engineer dragons, elves, and other fantasy beings.

    Great fun for bother the fantasy and SF lover. If you can get past the right wing, conservative political rants that come with almost all Ringo novels (fortunately not as pervasive in this series as some of his other books).

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  28. Most fantasy, with exception to young adult, does not have travel between dimensions or worlds. Most stick with a single world, and usually only a single continent.


    Don't tell me you haven't read Jack L. Chalker's THE RIVER OF DANCING GODS and its sequels.

    Parallel universes in SF are probably one of my least favorite things. I HATE it when SF tv shows have to through in some episodes about an alternate universe (and they always seem to do it). It annoyed me to no end when they wasted one of the final episodes of STARGATE: ATLANTIS on an alternate universe storyline.

    That and time travel. I've never cared for time travel stories, even when done well.

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  29. "On the happy ending front this doesn't apply at all to some subsets of the fantasy genre."

    Oh, I know, but I'm dealing primarily with what the general populace sees as fantasy. The same with both lists. Obviously not all science ficiton stories involve spaceships, and not all fantasy involves happy endings, but a good chunk of them do and it's considered, at least to me, to be a rather commonplace thing.

    Also, I generally agree with you parallel universes, etc., although I really did love Crawford Kilian's parallel world's series. Forget the name, but it can't be hard to hunt down.

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