The danger of fantasy in scifi

A few days ago I watched part 1 of a Korean scifi-fantasy series on Netflix.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I pay too much attention to details, being a writer, but there were too many things that made me turn away from that series in the first half hour. In hindsight I’m surprised I managed to watch it for that long.

Sisyphys. Korean series on Netflix
Sisyphus. The series.

It’s probably a good series (or ‘show’ as I think Americans would call it), but …

Note: spoilers ahead…

  • A nerd who tears apart the cockpit of an airplane to save it from crashing
  • He calculates the crash will happen in 2.5 minutes
  • In those 2.5 minutes he’s on the phone for 5 minutes, talking to the board of directors of his company.

What? (That is when I stopped watching by the way.)

Maybe this is what the Korean or even the Asian audience expects from a nerd, but this makes no sense. Fantasy, yes. Scifi, yes. But unless there is mention of a time-distorting loophole the plane flies through, someone wouldn’t spend 5 minutes talking on the phone while his own life and the lives of many others will end in half that time.

That is something I call the danger of fantasy. People sometimes think that anything goes, which is definitely not true. Not packed into one box, anyway. And certainly not “just like that”.

I think that good fantasy and scifi still leave enough ‘handles’ to grab. Things you can relate to from your own life.

For example, in a fantasy story someone can have wings and fly off, but wings don’t just grow on someone’s back. Unless there’s an explanation in the story where this is detailed; that wings do grow out of people’s back all of a sudden.

Person with wings
Person with wings. Source: Wallpaperflare.

I try to keep my fantasy stories (Naked Crow) at a point where they might actually happen. Can you see someone like Josy or Jeremy being on a plane and ripping a cockpit apart to keep it flying? Cockpits of planes are very complex things, and the dashboards can’t be ‘screwed apart’ with a gadget anyone carries around. At least, that’s my understanding of cockpits. Do tell me if I’m wrong.

Maybe I’m taking this too far, but it struck me – again. I saw part of another Korean film on Netflix which had the same effect on me, and that was a serious scifi. Good story, but the way it was laid out and done just didn’t sit well with me.

3 thoughts on “The danger of fantasy in scifi”

  1. A good fantasy writer will take the time to establish the rules and laws their world uses, be it magic, vampires, shifters, whatever. Might not be done quickly (good writers weave it all into their characters and actions), but early enough to prevent the breaking of the “suspension of disbelief” necessary for any fiction. Once the rules/laws are established, and followed, your imagination lives within the framework, and all is well.

    Science Fiction has to live within the laws of our universe as we know them (depending on how “hard” the science is in the story), or variations on those laws explained within what we believe them to be at the time. Biggest issue with older SciFi is that we have a different understanding of our universe today, and the lack of that understanding causes a bit of a disconnect when reading. Some authors (Asimov, Heinlein and a few others) were able to work around the possibility of that occurrence by a good understanding of the universe, others not so much.

  2. A key point, which Naked Crow is very good at doing, is that the science (etc) of the story, whether real, fictional or fantastical, should be fully self-consistent. Failures in this respect, even if the reader doesn’t notice them consciously, will cause uncertainty and reduce engagement / enjoyment. Or lead to throwing away the book in disgust!

  3. My fantasy fiction generally follows all the same rules as reality. It may extend the rules, like there is hyperdrive or magic, but the rules are still there. Stuff like magic and hyperdrive just “is.” The author may make up rules in his head about it but I am uninterested in them.

    It is just a plot device. If you get into explanations the story becomes about the technology and not the people. Bad literature.

    “Star Wars” 4-6 is probably the greatest sci-fi/fantasy epic of my life. Nobody explained what hyperdrive was all about and it wasn’t necessary. In fact, it would have detracted. All that mattered was that hyperdrive was consistent from one jump to the next. Star Wars went WAY downhill with midi-chlorians. The Force lost all its spirituality.

    The other great pure fantasy epic of my life is “The Lord of the Rings.” Imagine Gandolf explaining the technical features of magic, exposition just so the reader knows how it all works. It would ruin the story.

    Magic and high tech just happen. Keep it consistent but don’t bore me with the rules. The exposition about it ruins my willing suspension of disbelief. It takes away the mystery and wonder.

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