Friday, August 25, 2006

Telepathy: SF or Fantasy?

Okay, so the title is a bit of a red herring. "Isn't it possible that telepathy is both, or neither?" I can hear you ask. Sure, I answer--that's the precarious nature of my initial question, anyway--but in which basic setting does it more appropriately fall? Blasters go in the SF column; enchanted forests are on the Fantasy side of the board. Both SF and Fantasy have many well-established memes, and people have very specific ideas of what things are SF and what are Fantasy.

But where does telepathy go? Is it a magical reaching out? Or is it an extension of the mind, evolving past its physical boundaries?

Where does telepathy fall for you, and why?


Kelly McCullough said...

Like so many things, it depends on the context. If the setting is modern or futuristic and there is no other overt magic, it's going to be seen as SF since it's been part of the genre for decades. If it's past, in a fantasy world, or appears with other magical elements it's probably going to read as fantasy.

Mari Adkins said...

appears with other magical elements it's probably going to read as fantasy

Precisely why my fiction falls under "paranormal romance". :gag:

Eleanor said...

It used to be clearly SF, but all attempts to show its existance have failed; and SF people don't take it as seriously as they used to. I guess you could call it a failing trope. So I lean toward fantasy -- unless you have a technological explanation. I use radios plus brain-machine interfaces in one story.

Anonymous said...

Sean, I'd say the difference is really in how you get from our world, where telepathy doesn't work (and there's been a huge cash prize sitting out there for years for anyone who can prove differently) to the world in which telepathy works. If you have no explanation, or your piece is simply set in another world where it does work, you're talking fantasy. If the reason is something like the technology Eleanor used or a process of evolution (i.e., an explanation that fits our sense of science) you're talking science fiction.

Or you could do what Steve Brust (maybe) did and combine the two. While the Dragaerans have clearly been engineered by the Jenoine to have psychic abilities, the humans of that world are practicing an ancient working witchcraft and haven't--at least as far as they believe--had their genes sliced and diced.

Of course, as Kelly points out, that only influences the way the story will be read or marketed. The setting, language and other tropes will have much more to do with how people classify it for themselves.