Is Dune is a work of science fiction or a work of fantasy?

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Is Dune is a work of science fiction or a work of fantasy?

Postby Worm » 08 Aug 2008 10:50

I was stumbling around online looking for some interesting and fresh Dune discussion topics when I happened to come across this at sparknotes.com . It started of with:

Dune has been referred to as “science fiction’s supreme masterpiece,” yet science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said only J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, could match it.


And their answer to the question of whether it is F or SF followes:

Herbert originally published Dune as a serial story in the well-known science fiction magazine Analog in the early 1960s. Serial science fiction was part of a long tradition dating back to the early work of Clarke and Isaac Asimov in the 1930s and 1940s. Dune, however, represented a shift in the science-fiction genre away from concept-based writing to a form that paid more attention to plot and character. In the process, Dune co-opted a process formerly found in fantasy fiction known as world-building. World-building is the foundation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and it also plays a central role in Dune. Like Tolkien’s novels, Dune presents its reader with a bewildering number of imaginary people, places, things, and ideas. Herbert creates a world set 8,000 years in the future. The effect of world-building, however, is to move the story from a familiar future scenario to a more and more unrecognizable one. The progression moves the novel from the somewhat familiar sphere of speculative science fiction into a more unrecognizable world of fantasy.

Dune was one of the first major works of science fiction to blur the lines between science fiction and fantasy—two genres that are now so similar that they almost always share the same shelves at bookstores. The fantasy and science-fiction genres were combined perhaps most successfully in the Star Wars films, which placed fantasy tales in science fiction-influenced settings. Whereas Star Wars used the combination primarily for spectacle and entertainment, Herbert used Dune’s combination of fantasy and science fiction to address serious ecological, religious, and political issues.


I never once considered Dune a work of Fantasy. Fantasy has always been to me at least, events and characters that could not be validified by science; such as magic spells, flying carpets, wizards, unicorns and such. I don't get that kind of impression by FH's Dune novels.

I mean we have been discussion the relation of worms and sandtrout as if they had a real basis in science, not magic. Does anyone feel that Dune contains elements of Fantasy in it? If so, what part, and why is it Fantasy to you?
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Postby GamePlayer » 08 Aug 2008 10:57

It's only useful for categorization. So much science fiction and fantasy are just chronological flip sides of each other. A lot are also combinations of both. A very strong argument could be made equating sandworms to dragons.

I consider Dune sci-fi, but I'm not sure that counts for much. Dune is the crown jewel of sci-fi; Lord of the Rings is the king for fantasy. But really, whether you're power source is elvish magic or some exotic matter engine, neither thing really exists. So does it really matter as long as both achieve the same thing?

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Postby Omphalos » 08 Aug 2008 11:10

I am in the process of adding a theme and genre browser to my book review page. Part of that will be categorizing every book that I review into genres such as fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc. Dune I have categorized as science fantasy, because its got strong elements of both. There is plenty of SF, but it also is the story of a young boy who is royalty, whose father is murdered, who then goes into the wilderness, grows, gains some super powers, then comes back and claims the crown for his own. Pretty strong fantasy motifs if you ask me.

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Postby Worm » 08 Aug 2008 11:12

Omphalos wrote: There is plenty of SF, but it also is the story of a young boy who is royalty, whose father is murdered, who then goes into the wilderness, grows, gains some super powers, then comes back and claims the crown for his own. Pretty strong fantasy motifs if you ask me.


Isn't that like 80% of the Disney movie themes?

:wink:
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Postby Omphalos » 08 Aug 2008 11:20

Worm wrote:
Omphalos wrote: There is plenty of SF, but it also is the story of a young boy who is royalty, whose father is murdered, who then goes into the wilderness, grows, gains some super powers, then comes back and claims the crown for his own. Pretty strong fantasy motifs if you ask me.


Isn't that like 80% of the Disney movie themes?

:wink:


Exactly. Fantasy.

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Postby A Thing of Eternity » 08 Aug 2008 12:09

I personally don't think Dune is anything but straight up SF, and here's why.

Both SF and Fantasy usually involve some aspects of pure fantasy (fantasy as a word, not as a genre) but what separates them is delivery. Many, many impossible things happen in Dune, but they are explained as science in the book, not magic. Not one thing that happens in the entire series is actually attributed to personal magic, or magic from a higher power - every single thing is explained as science; even the really out there prescience.

Whether everything that happens in a book is technically possible is irrelevant to it's classification as SF or F - it's all in the style. While there may be some "Fantasy motifs" in the book, I don't think that there is any Fantasy delivery in Dune. No Magic = No Fantasy.
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Postby Mandy » 08 Aug 2008 13:20

What"s not magical about the spice.. besides it being possibly giant worm sperm? :)

The terminology is different than in typical fantasy, but it's still a story with magical elements. I don't care what it's called, cause I like fantasy and science fiction. Some people (Worm) think fantasy is a bad word, lol

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Postby A Thing of Eternity » 08 Aug 2008 13:37

Mandy wrote:What"s not magical about the spice.. besides it being possibly giant worm sperm? :)

The terminology is different than in typical fantasy, but it's still a story with magical elements. I don't care what it's called, cause I like fantasy and science fiction. Some people (Worm) think fantasy is a bad word, lol


It's explained as nothing more than a drug that extends life and expands awareness, not as having magical properties. The "magic" comes from the human mind once its awareness has been expanded, and is it written again as having scientific explanations.
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Postby Worm » 08 Aug 2008 16:02

Mandy wrote:What"s not magical about the spice.. besides it being possibly giant worm sperm? :)

The terminology is different than in typical fantasy, but it's still a story with magical elements. I don't care what it's called, cause I like fantasy and science fiction. Some people (Worm) think fantasy is a bad word, lol


I do not! :? I consider it more of a word like "liver". I avoid that nasty cow's liver... but I do enjoy chicken livers in small amounts. Draw your own anology... :P
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Postby Mandy » 08 Aug 2008 19:38

Liver is good for you!

The main fantasy element in Dune, IMO, is the ability to see the future or possible futures. That the spice enables some people to do this is magic, explained as science.

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Postby A Thing of Eternity » 08 Aug 2008 19:55

Mandy wrote:Liver is good for you!

The main fantasy element in Dune, IMO, is the ability to see the future or possible futures. That the spice enables some people to do this is magic, explained as science.


Fair enough. I have been known to call (on occasion) anything but ultra hard SF a SF/F blend, so I guess I can't get upitty when someone calls Dune that.
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Postby SandChigger » 08 Aug 2008 21:27

Hmmm.

Prescience, Other Memory, Leto II's "superpowers" and Teg's superspeed—there are plenty of fantastical elements in the stories, but everything is tied (more or less) to some physical explanation, whether it be abilities derived from spice use or acquired by intensive training or through genetic inheritance [either accidental or bred-for] or through the interaction of these factors. So the originals are science fiction in my book.

Compare Paul's genetics and spice-based prescience or Teg's superspeed with Norma's magic soostone-focused, torture-born near omnipotence. (Teg's powers were awakened by the torture of the T-probe, of course, so nothing original there about Norma.) Is there ever any real(istic/plausible) scientific basis offered for Norma's powers? (Or UKH Duncan's, either, for that matter?) The exploding-head bimbomb Sorceresses of Rossack, the telekinesis silliness, disappearing BG—these elements all place the new books firmly in the fantasy genre. (And bad fantasy at that.)

A lot of bad scifi (books, shows, and movies) becomes or comes across as fantasy because of ignorant or lazy writers and producers and equally or more ignorant and lazy readers and viewers. I still think you can make a more or less clear distinction, though. ;)
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Postby A Thing of Eternity » 09 Aug 2008 09:32

SandChigger wrote:Prescience, Other Memory, Leto II's "superpowers" and Teg's superspeed—there are plenty of fantastical elements in the stories, but everything is tied (more or less) to some physical explanation, whether it be abilities derived from spice use or acquired by intensive training or through genetic inheritance [either accidental or bred-for] or through the interaction of these factors. So the originals are science fiction in my book.


That's how I feel about it, I don't think that something being outside current science places it into Fantasy, or we'd have to call every SF novel featuring FTL, forcefeilds, anti/artificial gravity, etc, Science Fiction / Fantasy blend. Seems a bit rediculous to me, as long as nothing is left unexplained as supernatural / magical, I don't think it falls under Fantasy.
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Postby Mandy » 09 Aug 2008 11:40

I just don't think it's that different from the explanations for magic in some fantasy novels. It's the style that makes it more sci fi than fantasy. It doesn't bother me if someone wants to call it fantasy, or soft sci fi, or whatever. People get hung up on labels, and then refuse to read something with that particular label.. or the opposite - only read books with that label.

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Postby A Thing of Eternity » 09 Aug 2008 12:53

Mandy wrote:I just don't think it's that different from the explanations for magic in some fantasy novels. It's the style that makes it more sci fi than fantasy. It doesn't bother me if someone wants to call it fantasy, or soft sci fi, or whatever. People get hung up on labels, and then refuse to read something with that particular label.. or the opposite - only read books with that label.


The lines do get pretty blurry. I read both so I don't really care, but I do find some of the labels useful in describing things to people.

I haven't really found any F myself which explained the magic as science, do you have anything in particular in mind?
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Postby Spicelon » 09 Aug 2008 13:11

I thought Steven King's Dark Tower books were a good example of
something "in between" genres so to speak. I suppose the term dujour these
days to describe either SciFi or Fantasy is "speculative fiction", but that's
really a pretty open ended term. But I agree in that most situations it's just
easier to use the generic preconceptions when describing one or the other. If
there's a hint of science/technology/outer space - then it's SciFi. If it's
Tolkienesque Dungeons & Dragons stuff, it's Fantasy. One thing I DO like is
that more and more books are now blurring the lines. Sometimes, though, a
book might clearly fall in one or the other group, but in reality it's best
described as something else. Terry Pratchett, for instance, I would describe
more as a satirist than a Fantasy writer. Just my 2%.
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Postby Mandy » 09 Aug 2008 15:11

Thing, have you read Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville? It's classified as fantasy (I think) but the magic in the book has a scientific basis and the main character is a scientist. It's been awhile since I read it, so the details are murky. It was one of the weirdest books I've ever read, but it was good. The story was great, but sometimes Miéville was a bit wordy.. not in the dumb repetitive way of P&tB though.

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Postby A Thing of Eternity » 09 Aug 2008 15:18

Mandy wrote:Thing, have you read Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville? It's classified as fantasy (I think) but the magic in the book has a scientific basis and the main character is a scientist. It's been awhile since I read it, so the details are murky. It was one of the weirdest books I've ever read, but it was good. The story was great, but sometimes Miéville was a bit wordy.. not in the dumb repetitive way of P&tB though.


Nope, never heard of it. Wouldn't that make it an SF book disguised as F? :wink:
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Postby Mandy » 09 Aug 2008 15:27

lol.. can't believe you've never heard of it. It won all the big awards that Kevin was nominated for :)

I don't know if it was SF disguised as F or just a really clever blend of the two. The setting is industrial, so it doesn't have the typical feudal society of a fantasy, but the creatures are fantastic and some of them are typical of fantasy.

I just thought of another fantasy element of Dune, which we've all discussed before and that is "telepathy". There really is no scientific explanation for it.. but I don't think that it's a big deal, it helped move the story along.

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Postby A Thing of Eternity » 09 Aug 2008 15:59

Mandy wrote:lol.. can't believe you've never heard of it. It won all the big awards that Kevin was nominated for :)

I don't know if it was SF disguised as F or just a really clever blend of the two. The setting is industrial, so it doesn't have the typical feudal society of a fantasy, but the creatures are fantastic and some of them are typical of fantasy.

I just thought of another fantasy element of Dune, which we've all discussed before and that is "telepathy". There really is no scientific explanation for it.. but I don't think that it's a big deal, it helped move the story along.


One can always use quantum mechanics as a blanket explanation for things that don't make sense in SF like TP... :D

I agree though, Dune is certainly full of more fantastic elements than much SF. :)
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Postby Omphalos » 09 Aug 2008 16:06

Perdido Street Station is considered the seminal work in a relatively new sub-genre called The New Weird. It blends fantasy, horror and SF motifs into a stew that I am not particularly fond of. It is to its sub-genre what Neuromancer was to cyberpunk. Its also considered a great-grand baby of the work of H.P. Lovecraft and his cronies, which was called Weird Fiction but is not called Old Weird.

There is a difference between Science Fantasy and New Weird. I think that New Weird is a bit more avant-garde and relies on fantasy motifs a bit more than science fantasy.

There are a bunch of New Weird authors out there already. Sometimes I put Ian McDonald there. Charles Stross too sometimes. Tananarive Due, Jeff and Anne VanDermeer, and a lot of others. You find a lot of this stuff in the F&SF magazine these days, which is one of the reasons I canceled my subscription to it.

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Postby Spicelon » 09 Aug 2008 16:14

Omphalos wrote:There are a bunch of New Weird authors out there already. Sometimes I put Ian McDonald there. Charles Stross too sometimes. Tananarive Due, Jeff and Anne VanDermeer, and a lot of others. You find a lot of this stuff in the F&SF magazine these days, which is one of the reasons I canceled my subscription to it.


Would you put Neil Gaiman there?
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Postby Omphalos » 09 Aug 2008 17:24

Spicelon wrote:
Omphalos wrote:There are a bunch of New Weird authors out there already. Sometimes I put Ian McDonald there. Charles Stross too sometimes. Tananarive Due, Jeff and Anne VanDermeer, and a lot of others. You find a lot of this stuff in the F&SF magazine these days, which is one of the reasons I canceled my subscription to it.


Would you put Neil Gaiman there?


I think he fits in there. He uses some classic SF motifs, such as mythology and the superman myth, in a more traditional feeling way to me though, even though his work feels more fantasy that SF on the whole. I think he and Matt Ruff are better categorized on their own, and Gaiman certainly is much, much more famous than the other New Weird authors. But yes, I think that he probably would fit decently enough into that pigeon hole.

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Postby Anathema » 09 Aug 2008 18:01

I'm not a fantasy fan at all, but because I have trouble accepting Other Memory and prescience as plausible in the real world I don't think that Dune is entirely SF. It always seemed to me that Frank Herbert made up several things because it would make for an interesting universe (and he succeeded), not because of scientific plausibility.

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Postby Mandy » 09 Aug 2008 18:30

Wikipedia actually has a really decent article on the subject http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_fantasy

There is therefore nothing intrinsic about the effects described in a given story that will tell you whether it is science fiction or fantasy. The classification of an effect as "fantastic" or "science fictional" is a matter of convention. Hyperspace, time machines and scientists are conventions of science fiction; flying carpets, magical amulets and wizards are tropes of fantasy. This is an accident of the historical development of the genre. In some cases they have overlapped: teleportation by matter-transmitter-beam is science fiction, teleportation by incantation is fantasy. A hand-held cloaking device that confers invisibility is science fiction; a hand-held Ring of Power that confers invisibility is fantasy. Mind-to-mind communication can be "psionics", or it can be an ancient elvish art. What matters is not the effect itself (generally scientifically impossible, though not always believed to be so by the authors) but the wider universe it is intended to evoke. If it is one of space travel and proton-pistols, it gets classified as "science fiction", and the appropriate terms (cloaking device, matter-transmitter) are used; if it is one of castles, sailing ships and swords, it gets classified as "fantasy", and we instead speak of magic rings and travel by enchantment. In short, science fiction uses technology to explain impossible phenomena while fantasy employs magic.


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