Comic-Con: Carla Speed McNeil on the Difference Between Fantasy and Sci-Fi

By Eric Wolff | July 24, 2010 12:41 pm

300.comic.con.logo.052708 Carla Speed McNeil writes the Finder graphic novels, a work that in many ways blends science fiction and fantasy. With a hybrid work, she’s had to confront some of the definitional questions of the genres:

• Superhero comics are not SciFi. They’re stories of emotion and character embroidered with these scientific ideas.

• Fantasy and Sci-fi are both speculative fiction, but approached from different angles. Where Sci-fi builds on physics and chemistry and the laws of nature, fantasy, when done well, draws from the “softer sciences” (McNeil’s phrase) like sociology and anthropology. When I think about the fantasy novels I’ve read, at least the good ones, I think she’s spot on. Also, by this rule, superhero stories like Spider-Man and Superman are works of fantasy, not works of science fiction.

• I asked her thoughts on the question of breaking the rules that I raised in yesterday’s post. She pretty much admitted that one of the big problems is that a lot of sci-fi and fantasy writers simply don’t know the rules of science well enough to know when they’re breaking the rules. But she also agreed with Zack Stentz, in that she said she obeys “the rule of cool”: If it’s cool, you can break the rule. The art of the writing is making the rule-breaking not off-putting or boring.

A quick note for McNeil fans, she recently signed with Dark Horse Comics after years of self-publishing. She said the relationship is great so far, but still new. It’ll be interesting to see how or if the books change.


Comments (2)

  1. Hmmm, I really wish I was out there, I would love to get her to elaborate on Superman as a work of fantasy not SciFi. As a general rule, I would put most works featuring extra terrestrials in the SciFi category, but tonally Superman is clearly distinct from most of the members of that group, even though it would technically fall there.

  2. My understanding of what she said is that it’s all about the origins of the story. Super hero stories are more often about politics, or sociology, but they have sciencey stuff thrown in, like the bits about being from space. Where as hard SciFi imagines a world if current science continues on its current trajectory, or a world in which certain rules can be broken.


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