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I have been cautioned against blending:

  • Traditional fantasy elements

Such as magic systems and exotic, less plausible creatures (on a scientific level - magic tends to explain away these beasts)

  • Traditional sci-fi elements

Such as advanced technology and civilizations amidst the stars.

I have taken it upon myself to harmonize the two in my current worldbuilding project. I know I cannot be the first. I love the creativity found in both, and it is going well so far. I have been exploring the potential for humanity with both tools at their disposal. (Magic and science, essentially)

Why do people advise to stick to one or the other? I encountered this on a video specifically dealing with magic systems, but he did not elaborate.

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closed as too broad by Renan, Mołot, Don Qualm, Cadence, Gryphon Feb 6 at 2:46

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the simplest answer is that it's almost impossible to maintain internal consistency. As an author (or worse, someone running a tabletop RPG) having both traditional magic AND advanced technology available to use in combination makes it almost impossible to come up with challenges for your characters to overcome that don't have obvious solutions of trivial difficulty. Star Wars has this problem a lot, for example. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Feb 5 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ Take a look at Shadowrun. The world has some very interesting ideas on how to combine tech with magic. $\endgroup$ – bytepusher Feb 5 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ @user99563 Short story: "The Witches Of Karres" Started as a short, turned into a space opera by other authors ("saved by it's humour"). All is possible. You could also post this question here: writing.stackexchange.com/questions It's somewhat off topic here. Please take the tour: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/tour and read up in our help centre about how we work: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/help Best of luck. $\endgroup$ – Don Qualm Feb 5 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ Star Wars is the classical example of sci fi magic a.k.a. lightsabers and the force. $\endgroup$ – Renan Feb 5 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ I will say this question is doing very well on Writing.SE (where the OP put it after suggestions here) and it's a good fit there. It never was quite the right fit here, so my vote is to keep it closed, and support it at Writing. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Feb 6 at 23:21
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The main reason they don't usually blend well is that science fiction deals with science. If you want to blend in fantasy, you have to explain the fantasy elements in terms of science. Otherwise, it is fantasy with space ships.

There are several good stories that do a good job combining the two (see the comments to the OP). They do it by creating a story that is fun or compelling enough that the reader is willing to not look behind the curtain.

So, it can be done. Examples are: Star Wars, Dune, Witches of Karras, Christopher Stasheff's Warlock series, and E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series.

In any of the stories that I read, either the combination of the two elements is a major story point or it is ignored like the origin of Harlan Ellison's jelly beans ("Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman).

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The direct answer to your question (in my opinion) is summed up in the famous quote from Arthur C Clarke - Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

What it comes down to in the end is that the difference between science fiction and fantasy is the nature of the audience; science fiction fans actually want you to explain what's happening to at least some degree, but they'll settle for plausibility where their suspension of disbelief is required.

Fantasy readers on the other hand like you to push the boundaries of the credible, and tell a good rollicking tale that doesn't let science get in the way of a good plot device.

In other words; the difference is largely in the degree of how much of your 'magic' system you're willing to explain.

In science fiction, we talk about FTL drives that are warp drives, the existence of hyperdimensional space (hyperspace) and teleporters.

In fantasy, we talk about portals, pixie dust and flue powder.

Both achieve the same effect in terms of story and plot, but only one tries to explain why it exists in the universe being described without resorting to hand-waving.

There is another quote from a hard science fiction writer (at least, hard classical physics writher) named Larry Niven, who once said in the foreword of one of his books (I forget which; I read it 40 years ago now) that time travel should always be considered fantasy by definition, because science does not allow it.

While from a hard scifi perspective this is true and conforms to the description I give above, there have been many books written in scifi form that deal with time travel, and attempt to give plausible explanations for it scientifically. Again I would say that the difference is the willingness of the author to provide that plausibility in a scientific context, and the readiness of the reader to accept it.

As such, I actually see this as a spectrum ranging from hard science fiction through to medieval swords and magic. Every science fiction story will contain at least some fantasy, and vice versa. Where you want to place your story in this specific continuum is really up to you.

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Plenty of books combine the two.

There are two main routes.

  1. Science and magic is incompatible. Science either causes magic to fail or magic causes science to fail. In the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher (urban fantasy genre), magic causes technology to fail and the more complex the tech, the more magic causes it to break. The main character, Harry is a wizard and drives a 1950 VW Beetle which breaks down often. He doesn't own a computer because even walking past one has a high chance of causing it to break.

  2. Science and magic are compatible. Magic makes science stronger and science makes magic stronger. The Shadowrun series has both magic and tech and often combines them allowing for magic bullets and tech shamans, magic using computer AIs and cyborg elves street samurai.

You can set the rules on how you want to combine them.

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Because its hard. Science its a process, where you test, hypothesis and develop. You develop a technology based on theories and laws. Magic is usually a lot more spontaneous. You say a word and fire appears in your hands. But what happens when you apply the same science to magic?

The consequences of combining both systems is far to broad and wide ranging to predict, because the application of magic would fundamentally change the timeline of any planet. For example, if teleportation magic was common, why would we need planes, trains, cars, spaceships? They would be replaced. This then makes Sci-fi hard, because you want an advance technology which would of originally required components created during the development of missing planes, trains, cars and spaceships.

The simply way to solve this problem, is to make one more prominent and limit the depth they influence each other. In Sci-fi you limit the availability of magic. In Magic you limit the influence or capabilities of science to properly study it or use it.

For example, the Force in Star wars if fairly rare and doesn't have ground breaking significance when compared to the technology available. If for example, everyone had the force would there have been much use in having blasters? when everyone could potentially block or dodge the shots before they happen? Would pilots need super advance navigation systems or targeting systems when they could potentially use the force to guide them? Would Jedi's even exist if everyone had the force?

In Magic however, you often see it forced into a medieval era. This is because pushing technology further introduced a ton of new implications in the development of technology and society. For example in harry potter, if everyone was a wizard, would they developed planes? Do we need trains or cars when you have brooms? What makes a broom float? How does magic stop electricity? If magic interferes with electricity, then you could measure the interference. Does that mean magnets don't work either? What about the electrical signals in the body. Where does the energy to perform such feats come from? Why do you need house elves when magic can be used to enchant tools to do the work anyway.

Its perfectly reasonable to use both, as long as you are not trying to dive too deeply into it.

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Of course you can blend both types of elements. But as a genre, you can't have it both ways.

Basic premise of Sci-Fi is: "There is no supernatural. There is only unknown." It is expected that in the course of sci-fi work at least some scientific explanation would be provided for all events that appear to be supernatural. Most popular Star Wars had took firmly to this route with introduction of Midi-chlorians. So, Star Wars is a sci-fi, whether we like that or not. In Star Trek universe, there are many phenomena that are way above starship crew's level of understanding, but still there is an unwavering expectation that anything, given enough time and effort, can be understood and reproduced by an average person.

Fantasy, on the other hand, always leaves the door open for miracles and magic, which cannot be sufficiently reconciled with science. The magic system can be "soft" or "hard", but this doesn't change the genre.

So I would say focus on individual attributes and elements that you want to combine and try to make your world logical - that should be enough.

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  • $\begingroup$ Star Wars is an excellent example of a work that is both Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Jedi mind control? Vader's powers? Yoda? I mean, come on. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Feb 6 at 0:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyn those are all elements, and within the original trilogy, they are indeed, magical. However, moving forward (or backward?) to episode I, the underlying idea has become that all those effects are scientifically explainable, measurable and maybe even reproducible. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Feb 6 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ If that makes you happy, then, sure. :-) At the end of the day though, it's still magic. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Feb 6 at 1:24
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A lot of wonderful books combine both science-fiction and fantasy.

And why not?

If magic can exist in books set in the modern age or in the past, why not in books set in an otherwise realistic future?

Why can't mythical creatures go to space?

What reason is there to ban ghosts and purveyors of the supernatural from a world of great technology?

One of the most common crossovers involves time travel. Time travel can be either science-fiction or fantasy, depending on how it's used and what other elements are present. If you're Wesley Chu (Time Salvager), it's 100% science-fiction. If you're Deborah Harkness (A Discovery of Witches), it's absolutely fantasy.

Why do people advise against blending the two?

My guess is because most readers who enjoy one genre eschew the other. Or at least that's the belief. I love both and so do a lot of readers. But if you write both together, you run the risk of turning off a subset of potential readers. Of course, you also have a lot to gain from crossover readers.

Write what you love. With luck, the audience will follow.

Examples: Dune (series), Ender's Game (series), The Bone Season (series), The Golden Compass (series), A Wrinkle in Time, Star Wars (movie series).

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  • $\begingroup$ "Why do people advise against blending the two?" aside from reader demographics, there is also the fact that it can some authors don't really understand either or both, so the work ends up a mess. Although, I agree - when it works, it works well. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Feb 7 at 10:12
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What is the fantasy equivalent of hard science fiction?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_science_fiction

The heart of the "hard SF" designation is the relationship of the science content and attitude to the rest of the narrative, and (for some readers, at least) the "hardness" or rigor of the science itself. One requirement for hard SF is procedural or intentional: a story should try to be accurate, logical, credible and rigorous in its use of current scientific and technical knowledge about which technology, phenomena, scenarios and situations that are practically and/or theoretically possible.

Hard science fiction could be real and that is part of the appeal. It is supposed to extrapolate from what is known and explore what the consequences or effects of those extrapolations might be.

Fantasy is under no such compunction; it makes stuff up right and left for the sake of a good story; soft science fiction could be considered fantasy also by these standards. As has been pointed out Star Wars is a fine soft sci fi / fantasy world.

Hard science fiction with fantasy elements - I struggle to think of an example. That blending would be a real trick I think.

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