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Old October 9 2012, 06:56 PM   #14
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Re: Examples of Magic in sci-fi

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
What about L. Sprague de Camp's "Incompleat Enchanter" stories. Or is that more a case of applying scientific principles to magic?
Also an excellent choice where magic and science are more or less reconciled in the fictional universe.

It is correct that magic and science are more or less put together in comic books. However, even there it turns out in practice that there is much less magic than supposed science. This appears to be because science and magic just don't fit together tonally.

As to Clarke's Law, that must have been intended to justify seemingly impossible feats in SF by appealing to as yet unrevealed possibilities that will leave modern ideas of impossibility irrelevant. I don't think that this will be the case. The laws of thermodynamics, for one, are here to stay. Any paradigm shifts will incorporate them and their prosaic everyday consequences. Science is corrigible, not a delusion that might be dispelled.

Nor do I think many people really believe the other interpretation of Clarke's alleged law, where one is fundamentally the same as the other. If there was news about radar sighting some object making a powered landing, then we saw someone who claimed to be the Mahdi emerging, I don't think we would suddenly convert to Islam just because said personage did seemingly impossible things. We wouldn't believe in magic, we would believe in tech we didn't understand and a deception we could understand uncomfortably well. The only people who would attribute the creature's amazing feats to the supernatural would be those who already believe in the supernatural.

There are writers who really believed that ESP is indeed a natural phenomenon. There are also writers who thought ESP would serve as a scientific sounding explanation of something they wanted to put into their stories. In both cases they wrote something that was stylistically the opposite of fantasy. And there are readers who stopped accepting ESP as scientifically plausible after they learned better.

Claiming the first wrote fantasy ignores authorial intent. Claiming the second is fantasy ignores style. And claiming the same works suddenly turned from SF into fantasy because someone's mind changed is astoundingly trivial. Equating SF and fantasy is grossly philistine. Also, the plausibility standard either applies to all literature and drama or it's just a malicious double standard. Lastly, the arbiters of plausibility frequently fail to correctly assess plausibility.

SF is something fantastic that is still somehow supposed to be natural. Fantasy is something fantastic that is supposed to be supernatural. The reason that getting the difference right is that by definition real plausibility is better style in SF, whereas it is completely irrelevant to fantasy.
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