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Should I drop the sci-fi angle of my sci-fi/fantasy marketing description? (1 Viewer)

Digital Dive Labs

Senior Member
To preface this a bit, my novel deals with a space-faring civilization of fantasy races and I'm not planning on changing any of that. Rather, I'm asking about what sorts of ribbons I should put on the package when approaching agents/crowdfunding. That's still a long, long way off (still gotta finish the thing first, after all), but from the very start I always felt certain that my proverbial elevator pitch was going to go something along the lines of "it's high fantasy blended with science fiction!" Except lately I've been feeling that 'sci-fi' never accurately described it, and that the whole thing falls neatly into the high fantasy genre.

The setting is saturated with futuristic technology, which is why I initially felt like it was a genre blend. There's artificial intelligence, FTL travel, cybernetic prostheses, asteroid cities, and on and on and on. It has the aesthetic of a typical sci-fi flick in spades. Only, none of it is even tangentially relevant to any plot points or themes I'm pursuing, and I don't go out of my way to explain or draw attention to it any more than Lord of the Rings bothers to explain its windmills and trebuchets.

I've looked for works from other authors who, like me, are tired of fantasy societies being perpetually stuck in the age of the bow and arrow. Admittedly I've only found a few, and of them only Brandon Sanderson's work was impactful enough for me to bother remembering. However, what little I've been able to dig up on his marketing strategy for Mistborn and The Stormlight Archives is that 'fantasy' is a suitable enough description for him. Outside of a foreword here and a brief literary foray into quantum entanglement there, he doesn't really get into it as far as I can find.

Personally, I'm okay with just calling it fantasy, but I worry that people may be surprised and put off when they open it up and find that the prologue (for now) is a ground assault on an asteroid-based virology lab.
 

Steve_Rivers

Senior Member
Why not science fantasy? That's what most futuristic fantasy stories that use non-realistic scifi tend to go by. Star Trek is pure science fiction, because it is at least mostly based on theoretical real-world science. Star Wars is science-fantasy because there is no science, even theoretical, that was put into thinking up any of it. But because it is without doubt an advanced, futuristic society, science still gets labelled with it - Science fantasy.

...and I don't go out of my way to explain or draw attention to it any more than Lord of the Rings bothers to explain its windmills and trebuchets.

That won't track well as an excuse, especially with an agent. Your genre is definitely not just fantasy. Fantasy on its own as a word conjours up the idea of a standard fantasy world, with the potential for things like elves, dwaves, dragons, etc. Someone's take can then be different to that notion (like Game of Thrones has only Dragons, and has a more physical based world of realism to it) but it is still fantasy.

You go out of your way to explain it has all the core science concepts like FLT cyberlimbs, asteroid cities, and AI... It doesn't matter if you don't explain them. George Lucas never once explained the lightsaber, didn't stop Star Wars being science fantasy.

You have to bite the bullet and embrace the fact your story has advanced science in it, especially if you end up sending it to an agent. If you call it fantasy in a query letter and then the agent reads all of this sci-fi stuff in it, they will feel you've either not got a handle on understanding your own work, or worse, stupid, or worse than that - conning them. And that will hinder, not help you. Both readers and agents want total honesty.
 
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Digital Dive Labs

Senior Member
Why not science fantasy? That's what most futuristic fantasy stories that use non-realistic scifi tend to go by. Star Trek is pure science fiction, because it is at least mostly based on theoretical real-world science. Star Wars is science-fantasy because there is no science, even theoretical, that was put into thinking up any of it. But because it is without doubt an advanced, futuristic society, science still gets labelled with it - Science fantasy.

Between the two of them, 'science fiction' actually would be the more appropriate descriptor. I cheat physics when necessary, but what I meant by "I don't explain it" wasn't that there is no explanation, just that those explanations rarely merit inclusion in third-person limited. Both our societies, real and fictional, have evolved to the point where it would be more out of place to explain a computer than to simply accept it. We understand it, they understand it, no point in weirdly drawing attention to it.

You have to bite the bullet and embrace the fact your story has advanced science in it, especially if you end up sending it to an agent. If you call it fantasy in a query letter and then the agent reads all of this sci-fi stuff in it, they will feel you've either not got a handle on understanding your own work, or worse, stupid, or worse than that - conning them. And that will hinder, not help you. Both readers and agents want total honesty.

As far as honesty goes, I have no desire to hide what I'm going for - this whole thing started because I wasn't happy with how static fantasy is, after all. But it's that exact desire to be honest which made me reconsider. I've been referring to it under a category of interest which I'm not actually writing for. I'm coming to terms with the fact that I never wanted "fantasy meets sci-fi" half as much as "fantasy so true to itself that it can endure beyond kings and castles."

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm dismissing your advice - quite the opposite. I know I'd get laughed into the trash bin for saying "this is fantasy by the numbers, now give me money and an editor."

What about spec-fic? Or some sort of ~punk suffix?
Visually, yes! I lean hard on cyberpunk as a visual inspiration. But the genre itself I'm leaning away from, actually. Its themes of counter culture, anti-establishment, and dystopia aren't what I aim for.

Speculative fantasy, maybe? I am kind of out here in no man's land, thinking about what people did after they defeated the dread lord and discovered germ theory.
 
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bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Speculative fantasy, maybe? I am kind of out here in no man's land, thinking about what people did after they defeated the dread lord and discovered germ theory.
Make a new genre. Blow the market wide open. I kind of like the idea of a kitchen-sink drama set in some make believe otherplace, kind of like what that TV show The Orville tried to be.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
What @Steve_Rivers said, and to point:
Star Wars is science-fantasy because there is no science, even theoretical, that was put into thinking up any of it.
(swords are swords, etc.)

But can you say more about...
my novel deals with a space-faring civilization of fantasy races
What makes the races "fantasy"? What are the fantastic elements?

I think your concern quite legit. We can't ignore the labels. Not completely. They signal service to expectations.

But so, far, @Steve_Rivers nails it.
 

Digital Dive Labs

Senior Member
What makes the races "fantasy"? What are the fantastic elements?
On the surface, you have the usual suspects: orcs, elves, humans, dragons, elemental and conceptual beings hailing from their own respective realms. Spirits, familiars, and magical manifestations of numerous variety. There's a hard magic system filled with some things you'd expect in fantasy, plus my own riffs which play off of society's advancement. A little under the surface, the more baked in elements are pure fantasy as well. There are Ages, which are broken up by swift, violent Apocalypses. People born in different Ages have fundamentally different souls.

At the very heart of the work, it's nakedly fantasy. I could strip away the tech, leap back thousands of years in its history, and there wouldn't be anything else that it could be called. But if I tried to strip out all the fantastic elements, it would be left with virtually nothing. The ecosystems themselves would collapse because every species has its own magical quirk that it's evolved to survive.

I have thought about starting out "safe" with an early period of history, to establish my universe and build an audience. It's interesting enough that I could, but, again, it goes against the entire point, and it would be every bit as disingenuous as trying to trick people into reading what I really want it to be.
 
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