by Alan Tucker
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke
We love them! Those stories that don’t fit neatly into one particular box or label. The exploding popularity of comic books in literature, movies, and television shows is a prime example of this. Superhero stories are most often a generous mixture of science fiction and fantasy. Characters like Iron Man and Batman excite our imaginations because they feel ever so close to real possibilities — the science and mystical elements are just beyond our reach, which makes them so tantilizing.
But comic books don’t have a corner on the market for twisting the conventions of genre. One of my favorite genre-mashing authors is Jack L. Chalker. Best known for his Well Worlds series, he also penned over forty other novels and short stories, and nearly all blur the boundaries of what people considered “science fiction” and “fantasy.” My personal favorite is his Soul Rider series, which starts out reading like a classic fantasy story, with swords and sorcery, but morphs into science fiction as we learn more about the world and the “magic” encountered there.
The lines also become fuzzy once science fiction becomes science fact. Things like satellites, space travel, microwave ovens, and cell phones were once the domain of fantastic stories. Now, they are common and even ever-present in our world. Science fiction staples like artificial intelligence, human cloning, and virtual reality are within our grasp or just a few years away. Even faster-than-light travel, once shunned by hard core science fiction devotees as “fantasy” has recently been revisited as something that may not violate natural law as we currently understand it.
All this begs the question: What is science and what is fantasy?
As Arthur Clarke stated in the quote at the top of this post, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Bring someone from the middle ages into our present day world and they would undoubtedly claim we live in a magical place. Are phenomenon deemed “paranormal” by today’s science just waiting for someone to crack the code to bring them into the mainstream? Our current notions of time and space may seem set in stone, but there are scientists and mathematicians who work every day to poke holes in the current theories of reality. Much of the observable behavior of the universe is still awaiting explanation.
In this light, what if we take a look back at the stories told from medieval times, or those of the Greeks, Romans, or Egyptians. Are there kernels of truth to be found in our ancient myths and fables that could only be explained at the time by magic? What about concepts like Heaven and Hell? So many religions contain references to similar places, it seems folly to dismiss them out of hand. Could they exist as parallel universes? Maybe angels and demons are extra-dimensional beings who do occasionally pierce the veil between worlds and pay us a visit to inspire the tales we see in our religious and fictional texts.
What are your most cherished genre-bending stories? What lines do you like seeing blurred to the point of non-recognition? Let me know in the comment section!