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Old October 10 2012, 01:36 AM   #38
Christopher
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Re: Examples of Magic in sci-fi

Conscious Circuits wrote: View Post
Well, I never saw the future in The Time Machine as being grounded in much actual science. The thrust seemed more towards making the class division allegory itself than in ensuring that it was actually scientifically plausible.
That's beside the point. Science fiction is not just about facts and figures and technology. It's about the process of extrapolation and conjecture about possible futures, or about the consequences of progress or discovery. What makes something science fiction as opposed to another genre is as much about the mindset behind it as the trappings it contains or the accuracy of its science.


The date, circa 800,000 A.D., was (as far as I know) a totally made up number, which makes the tale lean towards the fantasy column.
Actually you're wrong there. Remember, this was written before the concept of nuclear fusion existed, so people at the time didn't really know what the source of the Sun's heat was. Some thought it was just from gravitational contraction, the Sun's gases heated by the pressure increase as their own weight compressed them. Such a process, it was estimated, would not be able to last for more than a few million years. So given the scientific knowledge of the time, it was a reasonable conjecture.

More fundamentally, accuracy is not the core distinction between fantasy and SF. Not all SF is hard SF. SF is fiction that extrapolates possible consequences of hypothetical discoveries, innovations, or changes, regardless of whether they're rigorously plausible or more fanciful. What you're talking about is soft science fiction, not fantasy. Fantasy is something where the extraordinary events are explicitly the result of supernatural or mythical phenomena. Wells's SF was certainly softer and more allegorical than his contemporary Jules Verne's, but he still presented his ideas as scientific rather than magical, so yes, his work was science fiction.


On the other hand, I can certainly agree that this book provides an early, if not prototypical, example of the trope in science fiction of concocting an alien civilization by exaggerating and transposing certain features of our own civilization, evidently by comparison and contrast in order to say something about ourselves. But didn't Tolkien do this, too, after a fashion?
The difference is that Tolkien was postulating an imaginary past, while Wells was offering a conjectural extrapolation into the future. Science fiction, like science, is about making deductions and extrapolations from observed knowledge. Positing a future society that's an outgrowth of a current trend extrapolated to its extreme is a fundamentally science-fictional trope, one of the most basic ones in the genre.
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