Category Archives: J. R. R. Tolkien

Do I Write Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I once asked a friend of mine who reads a great deal of Science Fiction and Fantasy what he saw as the essential difference between the two genres. He thought for a moment and said that Science Fiction “could happen” while Fantasy “could not.”

I think I know what he meant. In Science Fiction, the writer is cognizant of the physical laws operative within the story. If an SF writer were to describe space travel, Newton’s Laws of motion and gravity would be obeyed. Even here one enters a grey area: some writers would insist on using the speed of light as a fixed limitation while others would imagine a way around it.

In my high school years, I grew up on this genre and my love of science, in large measure, grew out of that reading. Several friends had urged me to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I resisted for a long time. When I did read it, it was as if a new world had opened up for me. It recaptured for me what I had experienced as a child on first reading The Chronicles of Narnia. There was a sense of nobility, beauty, and “rightness” about those imagined worlds that I had missed in my Science Fiction reading, which instead, seemed sterile in comparison.

The longer I thought about it, it came to me that I was encountering an unspoken presupposition that was embedded in most SF literature, that of a materialistic universe where all that mattered was atoms and molecules; chemistry and physics. In addition, I found that the more modern SF also grew more cynical, growing increasingly hostile to the very things that I loved in Fantasy. As a consequence, I read very few modern SF stories (although I do try them once in a while) and spend much more time reading Fantasy.

So how has this impacted my writing? I think, in The Halcyon Cycle, I write Science Fiction that reads like Fantasy. I spend a good deal of time thinking about the physics and chemistry behind my imagined world (I think some of my readers would argue too much, in fact), but I also have many of the elements of a Fantasy story (swords, nobility, right and wrong which transcends worlds and physical laws for example).

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A Review of Robert Jordan’s THE EYE OF THE WORLD, Book #1 of THE WHEEL OF TIME Series

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is my favorite fantasy series. In The Eye of the World I particularly appreciate the wholesomeness and goodness of The Two Rivers society. The principal characters are unique, yet show a strength when faced with great adversity. They are clearly on the side of what is good and oppose evil. It’s a world in which I want to spend my time.

The plot is fast-moving and the characters grow as they face adversity. This story keeps bringing me back to read it again and again. I see something new each time I read it.

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On Steven Erikson’s Preface to GARDENS OF THE MOON

gardens-of-the-moon-coverI’ve just started reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon (Steven Erikson is the pseudonym of Steve Rune Lundin). My edition has a preface by Erikson telling a little bit about how the story came about.

As an author, its always interesting and instructive to read other people’s descriptions of how their stories took shape. One quote in particular caught my eye and got me thinking. Erikson was explaining why his book took a long time to get published and he mentioned how “Gardens marked a departure from the usual tropes of the genre [fantasy]”, and he went on to say that his work followed in the footsteps of Glen Cook …

“I could certainly strive for the same tone of dispirited, wry cynicism, the same ambivalence and a similar sense of atmosphere [in Cook’s books]. Maybe I was aware of the swing away from Good versus Evil, but that just seemed a by-product of growing up—the real world’s not like that, why persist in making Fantasy worlds so fundamentally disconnected with reality?”

Now I haven’t read Glen Cook’s books and I must say reading a story with a “tone of dispirited, wry cynicism” is not a comment on a book’s back cover that would move me to rush to acquire it. But is Erikson right? Is the sense of a battle between Good and Evil that’s so central to The Lord of the Rings “fundamentally disconnected with reality” as Erikson states?

I don’t think he is right. First of all, the nature of reality is not a settled question, otherwise we would all agree on it’s exact nature. Now what I believe Mr. Erikson is saying that in his understanding of the nature of reality, Good versus Evil is a view that he discarded as he grew older.

As a theist and a Christ-follower my convictions about the reality of a cosmic battle between Good and Evil have only grown stronger as I have grown older. I live with great hope. It’s not that I don’t see the pain and suffering around me (indeed Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings had a great deal of loss, pain, and suffering) but I believe we are somewhere in the middle of our story, and so we feel like the defenders in the last desperate hours of the siege of Minas Tirith or Frodo and Sam felt as they set out on the last impossible attempt to the Cracks of Doom. But its not the end of the story. There is an ending coming where Good triumphs over evil. Those are my convictions about reality which give me great optimism. Given my view of the nature of reality it seems to me it makes good sense to write stories that have exactly those story lines.

Steven Erikson’s book has already given me much to think about. I expect to have more to contemplate as I progress through the story.

I’d be grateful if you checked out my books at Amazon.