The Similarities and Differences Among Science Fiction and Fantasy Works
With the introduction of pulp genre magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories in the 1920s, modern Science Fiction and Fantasy stories were lumped together, with no attempt to define or separate each genre. Although many critics have since tried to define each genre, no consensus has been reached, and Science Fiction and Fantasy are often referred to as one field. This is true in the popular sphere as well. Orson Scott Card (who is a Science Fiction and Fantasy writer himself) notes in his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, “in most bookstores, fantasy and science fiction are lumped together in the same group of shelves, alphabetized by author with no attempt to separate one from the other.” However, one can make a possible distinction by examining the specific ways that Science Fiction and Fantasy writers use general ideas and techniques shared by both genres. By exploring the general similarities between Wells’s The Time Machine and Tolkien’s The Hobbit— two works that helped to define the modern Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, respectively— these specific differences can be identified.
The first general similarity between the two genres is in their views of science and technology. Both genres tend to take a negative view toward science and technology. In fact, much of Fantasy literature is, by its very nature, anti-technology. Fantasy authors like Tolkien often stage their tales in a rustic environment that hearkens back to a preindustrialized past and is generally derived from a nostalgic blend of human history and mythology. In some Fantasy, however, the feelings against industrial progress are more pronounced. Take this passage from The Hobbit, in which Tolkien is discussing the goblins, one of many evil races in the book: “It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once.” By associating this evil race with troublesome machines—a clear sign of industry—Tolkien is implying that technological progress itself is evil. It is particularly telling that Tolkien wrote this story as humanity was gearing up for World War II, during which a number of killing machines were invented. As Michael Wood notes about Tolkien’s works in New Society:
The enemy is science, or rather the complacency of science, the self-satisfaction of people who think they can explain everything, who have no time for myths, for forms of truth which will not fit within a narrow rationalism.
Unlike The Hobbit, the anti-technology view in The Time Machine is not apparent at first. In the beginning of the novel, the time traveler is hopeful about science and technology as he displays the model of his time machine to his assembled guests—who use scientific arguments to discuss the prospect of time travel. Says the medical man, one of the time traveler’s guests, “if Time is really only a fourth dimension of Space, why is it, and why has it always been regarded as something different? And why cannot we move in Time as we move about in the other dimensions of Space?” Later, when the time traveler has returned from his journey into the future, he explains to his guests what he had hoped to find there. “I had always anticipated that the people of the year Eight Hundred and Two Thousand odd would be incredibly in front of us in knowledge, art, everything.” But as the time traveler soon sees, human society has evolved from upper and lower classes into two separate species, both of which have regressed physically and mentally to the point where they have lost their humanity. The time traveler, a man from the nineteenth century, possesses more knowledge than these distant descendants, a fact that taints his view of the inevitable future.
In his history of Science Fiction, Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss discusses the sense of despair inherent in The Time Machine: “Its sceptical view of the present, and its pessimistic view of the future of mankind—and of life on Earth—challenged most of the cosy ideas of...
(The entire section is 1711 words.)