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The difference between fantasy and science fiction

I recently came across this quote from Daryl Gregory on the difference between fantasy and science fiction:

Readers will read something as science fiction if the characters are engaged in the process of science. In fantasy there’s no fiddling with the rules. You pull a sword out of a stone, and that makes you King of England. There’s no, ‘But what if I put a sword into the stone?’ In a science fiction novel, everybody would be trying to figure out how to make more kings by inserting more sharp objects into rocks! A fantasy novel is almost distinguished by not asking those fundamental questions about what is going on. A science fiction novel, no matter what the rules, is always asking those questions.

Part of me likes this, but part of me disagrees completely — Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels, for example, ask those questions and have their characters engaged in what fundamentally is science, albeit focused on magic. And yet the books are clearly fantasy.

Reading goals for 2015

I recently came across a post about reading goals that got me itching to go and do likewise. I’ve had numeric goals in the past — read X books this year — but I’ve realized I’m less interested in the total number of books read and more interested in the types of books I read. (It’s also a grudging acknowledgement that this mortal life is finite and there’s no way I’ll be able to read all the books I want to. Such a sad thought. But there are massive libraries in heaven, right? I’m banking on that.)

Here, then, are my reading goals for 2015:

  • Read more books I wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in. Basically, expand my horizons, both in fiction and nonfiction.
  • Read more science fiction and fantasy classics. I did read the Foundation books in 2012–2013, but most of the time I tend to read newer stuff. (I guess I did also read The Stars My Destination earlier this year. I didn’t like it at all.)
  • Read more literary classics. Specifically, I want to read at least War and Peace and Dante’s Divine Comedy, and hopefully the Dostoevsky novels I haven’t yet read. Yes, I know, this isn’t the first time I’ve made a goal to read War and Peace. But this is the first year I’m going to actually do it, so help me. (I’ve read enough 1000-page epic fantasy novels by now that I can handle the length just fine.)
  • Read more nonfiction. Specifically, more history and biography. I’ve been reading more nonfiction this past year (Rubicon, Lies My Teacher Told Me, Food Rules, Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn, Stuff Matters, etc.) and it’s been quite enjoyable. Right now I’m reading and loving Edmund Morris’s Rise of Roosevelt, the first of a three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and Blake Harris’s Console Wars, a history of Nintendo and Sega in the 1990s.

Any of you have reading goals or happen to be reading something particularly interesting?

When the aliens finally came

Five very short stories, based off a writing prompt my friend Jonathon Penny posted yesterday. (Things got a little out of control. Apparently I like writing about aliens.)

Story 1

When the aliens finally came, just a week before the rogue planet—the one we didn’t see coming till two weeks before that, when it was too late to do much of anything except arrange the deck chairs and say a few prayers—when they came, we thought maybe they could save us. Just maybe. But we were wrong. They came, not to save us, but to be saved. And the thing slithering through space after them—well, let’s just say we were grateful the planet got us before it did.

Story 2

When the aliens finally came, our xenolinguists were stumped. The aliens didn’t talk, at least on any frequency that we could see. They didn’t chitter. They didn’t make signs with their heads or the appendages we arbitrarily called hands. They didn’t seem to grok the equations the mathematicians showed them. They didn’t reverse the magnetic fields around themselves like the swimmers do down in the outer core. (Most people still think of the swimmers as aliens, by the way, and I suppose they are in one sense, but you could make a strong argument that they’re more native to the planet than we are.) Then we figured it out. It took us longer, you see, because they lived on the outside of their ship, and our suits didn’t pick up smells from the vacuum, and long story short, Milner—the one from New Canada—somehow noticed the constantly shifting scents, and one thing led to another. Heaven knows what the aliens thought we’d been saying to them all that time. Anyway, it wasn’t long before they were hugging the astronauts like long-lost relatives, and next thing we knew they’d taken a chunk of Brooklyn—a big one, too—right up into their ship. Haven’t seen them since.

Story 3

When the aliens finally came, they arrived not in large ships, but in a hail of small cocoons that fell scattershot across the East Coast. At sunrise the next morning they wriggled out, small like a grain of rice, and burrowed down, gnawing at the dirt and rock, growing bigger and bigger. We didn’t notice any of this, mind you, until buildings and subways started collapsing and sinkholes began showing up everywhere. Terrorists, we thought. By the time we realized what had happened, it was too late.

Story 4

When the aliens finally came, sir, no, I wasn’t at my post. I was…hiding. Yes, sir, I understand. No, not at all, sir. They appeared to be shapeshifters, sir. Knots of tentacles, shiny, all over the place. Real tall one second, short and stumpy the next. Sometimes they were in two or three or ten places at the same time. Weirdest thing I ever saw, sir. No, she’s doing fine, sir, thank you for asking. They say what I saw was, uh, fluctuating cross-sections of higher-dimensional beings. No, sir, I don’t think I understand it, and if I may say so, I don’t think I want to. Thank you, sir.

Story 5

When the aliens finally came, ribbons of light all a-dancing in the sky, they put the northern lights to shame. Some fools on the news said something so beautiful couldn’t be evil. Me and my folks, we bundled up quick and got out of the city, went down south into the jungles, to get as far away from other people as we could get. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with that idea. We’ve been holed up here for a month now, listening to the explosions up north. Lost my oldest to a snake bite. Lost my second oldest to a spider bite. My wife’s been down with the trembles for five days. I don’t know what those aliens can do, but it’s looking like it can’t be much worse than this jungle.