Showing posts with label Literary Criticism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Literary Criticism. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Best in Fantasy Fiction -- A Reading from "The Shadow War of the Night Dragons"

Many of the best works of Science Fiction and Fantasy are meant to be read aloud.  Ursula Le Guin describes the power of prose meant to be written aloud in her description of Tolkien's narrative prose in The Lord of the Rings in her essay "Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings."  The essay was published in the book Meditations on Middle-Earth: New Writing on the Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien, and like the book she is describing, the essay is a joy to read.  She describes such works as follows:

The narrative prose of such novelists is like poetry in that it wants the living voice to speak it, to find its full beauty and power, its subtle music, its rhythmic vitality.
It's a wonderful description, and it captures Tolkien's work perfectly.  There are places in The Lord of the Rings where my "silent reader mind" recoils from the page, but when the passages are given voice they come to life.

Some fiction was just meant to be read aloud...and that includes John Scalzi's Hugo Nominated masterwork The Shadow War of the Night Dragons Book One: The Dead City.  Like most works of sublime Fantasy, Scalzi's true genius is revealed by the voice of the reader -- in this case Mark of  As Mark reads the pages, the reader is given the pleasure of seeing how masterfully Scalzi combined Shakespeare's opening of Hamlet with one of the most endearing story openings of all time -- second only to Once Upon a Time in its familiarity to readers -- and wraps them in a stylistic bow of genius.

I dare you to watch this video and not be moved to tears.

Do you see what I mean?  What is striking about listening to this, as opposed to merely reading it as I have done before, is that it has affected the way that I read Patrick Rothfuss and Iain Banks.  Thanks to John Scalzi, the Culture Novels will never be the same again as they are surely sequels to Shadow War.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What's the Difference Between Sword 'n' Sorcery and Planetary Romance

A couple of weeks ago, Cinerati featured a post discussing some of the peaks and valleys in quality that fans of Planetary Romance have suffered through/enjoyed over the past few years. In response to the post, our good friend -- and sinister barrister -- Tulkinghorn asked, "what is the difference between Planetary Romance and Sword and Sorcery fiction?"

He received a brief response in the comments from a non-Cinerati member fan of Planetary Romance named Venusian that summarized the difference as, "there is no magic in planetary romance, and it's usually 'off planet.'" This definition is useful, as far as it goes, but it doesn't go deep enough to truly differentiate the two sub-genre from each other. It's also only half true. Add to this lack of specificity the particular -- and perculiar -- skepticism of a person like Tulkinghorn and it makes for a perfect topic for a longer post.

So...what is the difference between Planetary Romance and Sword and Sorcery fiction?

To begin, we must start by acknowledging that both of these sub-genre of fiction lie within the scope of Heroic Fantasy -- and sometimes Heroic Science Fiction -- which is itself a sub-genre of Fantasy literature.

[One could use this as an opportunity to advance the argument that in "speculative fiction" it is Fantasy that is the primary genre and all other classifications are sub-genre of Fantasy, but that is a discussion for another post. Let it merely be stated that I dislike the term "speculative fiction" as it seems to a) have an anti-fantasy bias, b) exhibit "embarrassment" with association with Fantasy, c)has a pro-Science Fiction bias (SF is the abbreviation for both), and is guilty of a litany of other sins including the theft of candy apples from small children at county fairs.]

Heroic Fantasy can be simply defined for the purposes of this discussion, it deserves a thorough examination itself, as narratives in which a heroic figure struggles against antagonists within an imagined setting which contains "impossible" or "improbable" elements. These elements can be magic, monsters, imagined science, or gobbledygook. Most of the fiction in modern Fantasy, epic or otherwise, is some form of Heroic Fantasy though some stories contain "mundane" protagonists or "anti-heroes." To be truly Heroic Fantasy, the protagonist must be larger than life; and this is even more true in the sub-genres of Planetary Romance and Sword and Sorcery.

To really discuss the differences between Planetary Romance and Sword and Sorcery, it is helpful to see how prior science fiction critics have defined the subject.

According to David Pringle (in John Clute and John Grant's Encyclopedia of Fantasy) Planetary Romance stories,

are stories of adventure set almost entirely on the surface of some alien world, with an emphasis on swordplay (or similar), monsters, telepathy or other under-explained "magic," and near-human alien civilizations which often resemble those of Earth's pre-technological past...The hero is usually from Earth, but the means of his or her "translation" to the far planet is often supernatural rather than technological, involving flying carpets, astral projection, angel-power and kindred devices. Spaceships are sometimes mentioned, but the complete lack of interest shown in the mechanics of space travel is one of the principal features distinguishing PR from space opera...; super-scientific spacecraft and other mighty machines are central to space opera, but rarely feature in planetary romance.

The same volume includes a definition of Sword and Sorcery written by John Clute, David Langford, and Roz Kaveney which claims,
In 1961 Michael Moorcock requested a term to describe the fantasy subgenre featuring muscular Heroes in violent conflict with a variety of Villains, chiefly Wizards, Witches, evil Spirits, and other creatures whose powers are -- unlike the hero's -- supernatural in origin. Fritz Leiber suggested "Sword and Sorcery", and this term stuck.

I think these two definitions are extremely useful and one might argue that the Pringle and Clute definitions provide us with sufficient data to provide us with a clear understanding of these two genre, but I am not quite satisfied with Clute's definition of Sword and Sorcery. Certainly, the Pringle definition of Planetary Romance gives us a strong sense of the kind of story one might expect if one were to call it Planetary Romance. It also provides ammunition against Venusian's claim that Planetary Romance doesn't feature magic. This is important because one of the things that makes Planetary Romance so special is that way that it walks the tightrope between Fantasy and Science Fiction. It is a wonderful crossover genre.

Some brief examples of the "magic" featured in tales of Planetary Romance include the telepathic language of the Martians of Barsoom, the psychic hounds of Leigh Brackett's Skaith novels, and the "Force" in the Star Wars films. The Star Wars films being a wonderful filmic example of Planetary Romance. Planetary Romance tales feature magic, but it is not a necessary condition for the tale and is often merely a means to an ends. What is fairly universal is the inclusion of fallen empires, dying worlds, and the ruins of once great civilizations.

The obsession with fallen empires, dying worlds, and ruins of once great civilizations is one shared with the Sword and Sorcery genre. The dying planet of Barsoom shares a great deal with Robert E. Howard's presentation of Hyperborea. Though one should note that the empires of Sword and Sorcery are dead empires for the reader, they are usually living (though dying) empires for the characters within the tale. In Planetary Romance, the fallen civilizations are often artifacts from a "more noble" time. In Sword and Sorcery, civilization itself must fall as it corrupts the natural man with its decadence. This is one distinction between the genre, the 19th century moral clarity of Planetary Romance is often in direct opposition to the 20th century pessimism (almost nihilism) of Sword and Sorcery fiction.

But it is more than a pessimistic world view that separates the two genres. Sword and Sorcery tales contain within them elements of the Weird Horror tale. When Michael Moorcock, a master of Sword and Sorcery whose Elric character perfectly embodies the Sword and Sorcery obsessions with cultural decadence and Weird Supernatural Horror, describes Conan's relation to his world (and to prior Heroic Fantasy characters) he writes, "If the form of Howard's stories was borrowed at third and fourth hand from Scott and Fenimore Cooper, the supernatural element from Poe and others, the barbarian hero of the Conan stories owed a great deal to Tarzan and other Burroughs primatives. Given to impulsive violent action, sudden rough affection and bouts of melancholy...Conan mistrusted civilization. He was forever at odds both with the respectable world and the occult world; forever detecting plots to seduce him." [emphasis mine]

In Heroic Fantasy magic can be a tool that is neutral in its use. The "Force" has both a light side and a dark side, the telepathy of Martians isn't in itself corrupting. In Sword and Sorcery tales magic is by its nature a corrupting force. Conan fears and opposes magic, even the anti-Conan Elric eschews its use whenever possible and the use of magic rituals often comes with a great cost.

Notice the use of the word "fear" when describing Conan's reaction to magic and the supernatural. Howard's invincible barbarian is sometimes as deathly afraid as the most frail Lovecraftian protagonist when it comes to things that lurk in the spaces between. Though the supernatural beast, "neither a hound nor a baboon," that attacks him in The Phoenix and the Sword "rouse[s] in the Cimmerian a frenzied fury akin to madness," a creature similar to Tsathaggua leaves him "frozen with nauseated horror." What is this creature that so frightens Conan, the man beyond fear? It is an "amorphous bulk...Its unstable outlines somewhat suggested an octopus, but its malformed tentacles were too short for its size, and its substance was a quaking, jelly-like stuff which made him physically sick to look at... among this loathsome gelid mass reared up a frog-like head." The creature is either Shoggoth or Tsathaggua (the fact that the creature's summoner is named Tsotha hints at the second), but it is certainly beyond the abilities of our champion to defeat this "blasphemy agains the eternal laws of nature." This is the kind of creature one would not expect to find in the Planetary Romance fiction of Brackett or Burroughs, but that is perfectly at home in the "dreams" of Lovecraftian horror. Horrific creatures abound in the Conan fiction, and in Sword and Sorcery generally. Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories have the "Gods of Lankhmar," Michael Moorcock's Elric tales feature all kinds of Weird Horror from the gods of chaos to much smaller beings.

Planetary Romance is a hopeful fantasy where heroes strive valiantly and where the hero chooses good over evil -- even at personal expense. Sword and Sorcery is a dark and nihilistic genre with a dark view of human nature where the hero often chooses self-interest over the Good. It is his firm command of this single feature distinguishing Sword and Sorcery from other Heroic Fantasy (that of the incorporation of the Weird Horror tale into Heroic Fantasy) that makes Michael Moorcock's anti-Conan stories about the tragic albino Elric so ingenious. Moorcock simultaneously deconstructs the character of Conan while writing a story that embodies the conventions -- even while it expands them -- of the Sword and Sorcery tale.

The first words readers of Howard's Conan read as a description of the archetypal character are, "Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet."

The first words readers read as a description of Michael Moorcock's Elric are, "His name was Elric of Melnibone king of ruins, lord of a scattered race that had once ruled the ancient world. Elric, sorcerer and swordsman, slayer of kin, despoiler of his homeland, white-faced albino, last of his line."

Both quotes are from the first published stories of the respective character, and both stories take place toward the end of the character's life. It is exquisite the way that Moorcock inverts almost every aspect of the Conan character in the creation of his anti-hero. He inverts every aspect save one, both men are prone to gigantic melancholies. One might think due to the fact that Moorcock's Elric tales are a deconstruction of the Conan character, or possibly an adult version of an adolescent character, that Moorcock would use the deconstruction as an opportunity to attack the genre itself. Moorcock doesn't. He uses it as an opportunity to refine the genre and expand it. By removing the aspects of the genre that are adolescent wish fulfillment and focusing on the central concepts of Sword and Sorcery, Moorcock allows us to see the literary merit of the conventions of the genre free from the constraints of whimsy. The young reader, seeing the power of Conan, might miss the criticisms of society and the dark presentation of human nature. The reader of Elric's stories cannot avoid them for their terror and their beauty. In writing fiction that is a negative image of the original, possibly to criticize the original, Moorcock created a lens that allows readers to more greatly appreciate what Robert E. Howard has done with his Conan tales -- something that the Lin Carter and L Sprague deCamp pastiches missed -- the demonstration of how fiery human nature reacts when faced with supernatural horror. Conan often fights against the darkness, but he often flees as well.

John Carter would never flee from the giant white ape of Barsoom. He might feel some twinge of fear before he grapples with the beast and defeats it. When translucent skinned invaders from Jupiter attack, horrifying visage and all, it is John Carter who flies of to their home world to defeat them -- fearless in the face of the unnatural or the evil. Luke, when captured by Vader in Return of the Jedi, doesn't succumb to despair. Instead he sees "the good" in his father and fights to redeem a lost father. In Planetary Romance Evil can be defeated. In Sword and Sorcery some Evil is best left in the pit where you found it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Cinerati Reboot

In late December of 2003, I read an article at National Review Online (Kurosawa Kills Bill) discussing the relative lack of merit of the films Kill Bill vol. 1 and The Last Samurai. After reading the article, I realized that many film critics, including most conservative film critics, and I were having very different experiences when we watched movies in the theater.

It took me almost three months to draft a response that I thought was appropriate, and on March 16th 2004, the Cinerati blog had its first post published on the internet. The post was a direct response to Thomas Hibbs NRO piece, a defense of the films mentioned, an attack on filmic cultural selectivity, and my first foray back into criticism after leaving a roughly monthly shared film review column in the Sparks Daily Tribune titled Celluloid Say-So when I left for graduate school in 2000.

At the time, I had intended Cinerati to be a film discussion blog where friends of mine and I would share our thoughts on film and on the state of film criticism. It quickly became something else. The community of posters I had always desired quickly dwindled down to me, with an occasional post by another Cinerati member. And what was originally intended to be a site which focused primarily on films, ended up a site with far more commentary about games, comics, and more games. In short, Cinerati quickly grew away from its name and its purpose. This, combined with the fact that posting has been slow of late and some new encounters with film reviews, inspired me to reboot the site.

Gone will be mentions of roleplaying games, video games, comic books, etc. Those will be reserved for the Geekerati blog. From now on, this site will be devoted to discussion of movies and television. In particular, this site will engage with other critics of film and television. There are enough "review" sites on the internet, in fact there is a glut. Too much time is being spent evaluating the "narratives" of film and not enough is spent evaluating the "art" of films. What is needed is a site that examines what is being said about film and television and examines whether what is being said is meaningful.

Over the next few days, there will be a series of columns discussing the direction of the site, the types of columns that will be written, and examining what the proper roles of criticism are when it comes to film and television. Additionally, there will be discussions of the particular terminology, or turns of a phrase, that I will use from time to time.

In fact, my very next post will be a brief post highlighting what I mean when I say or write filmic cultural selectivity.

But first, let's have a look at that first post:

In the Shadow of Kurosawa

By Christian Johnson (now Christian Lindke)

I can still remember the first time I saw Rocky Horror Picture Show. There I was, a “virgin” watching rolls of toilet paper flying and getting wet from squirting water when I realized that I was sitting surrounded by an audience that didn’t “get it.” Here they were talking, mocking, and interacting with a film that was hilarious on its own merits. Somewhere in all the chaos I managed to watch a parody of some of my favorite classic Hollywood horror films. I had a similar, though drier, experience when I watched John Waters' Cecil B. Demented in a theater full of people who didn’t know who William Castle was.

I experienced the same frustration when I read Thomas Hibbs’ recent article regarding Quentin Tarantino’s most recent film Kill Bill vol. 1 and the Tom Cruise blockbuster The Last Samurai (Kurosawa Kills Bill). In particular, I took issue with his claim that “despite their critical acclaim and their purported desire to be faithful to Japanese sources, these films are but vulgar distortions of Japanese film culture, especially the work of Akira Kurosawa.” I was surprised by my reaction because I have more respect for Professor Hibbs than I do for most of the celebrated “cinerati” who, like me, enjoyed these two films. You see, I think that the Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture is on to something with regards to America’s elites having a disturbing affection for nihilism, the subject of his book Shows About Nothing. So my reaction did not originate from a disagreement about the merits of these films with regard to virtue or an expression of human excellence. To be fair, I don’t know what his opinions are regarding The Last Samurai as a film about virtue, but I have a fair idea regarding Kill Bill. My frustration stemmed from his accusation that these films were “distortions” of a genre “especially” the work of Akira Kurosawa.

This led me to ask two questions. First, are these films a “distortion of Japanese film culture?” Second, are these films “especially” referencing the work of Akira Kurosawa? I refuse to address any other of the statements made in Hibbs’ article because they provide a wonderful introduction to the works of an inspirational filmmaker -- he provides a valuable list of Kurosawa must sees, though he surprisingly leaves out High and Low. I also think that Hibbs was remiss in not mentioning Chushingura by Hiroshi Inagaki as another wonderful film about feudal Japan.

Kill Bill is exactly what it purports to be, a celebration of Japan’s b-movies in the Chambara genre (and to some extent the Wuxia and Kung Fu films of Hong Kong). While Akira Kurosawa’s films (among them Sanjuro, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Ran) are great films about Samurai culture, they do not stand alone as the only films from Japan about the feudal era nor are they in the b-list of this genre. Tarantino’s film is closer in tone to the Lone Wolf and Cub and Zatoichi films, but he adds the bloodiness of the films of Kinji Fukasaku whose recent film Battle Royale (based on the book of the same name) is a brutal combination of Lord of the Flies and the Survivor television show. One need only watch a few Sonny Chiba (who stars in Kill Bill and is referenced in True Romance) films to understand that Japan, like America, has an appetite for graphic violence. You cannot claim that a film is a vulgar distortion of a culture based on a case study, a more random sample is needed. I think that if Professor Hibbs takes a random sample of Japanese cinema post 1970, he will find more Hanzo the Blade than Throne of Blood.

Typical of Tarantino, any celebration requires examples of a genre’s influence on Western film. So we have a perverted “Charlie's Angels,” called the DiVAs, based on the Five Deadly Venoms by the Shaw Brothers. We have the exaggerated camera use similar to Sergio Leone used in the fight scene between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu (the snow covered ground of which directly references the final fight in Chushingura). Tarantino gives us the Tokyo of Black Rain and Godzilla visually reminiscent of the Los Angeles of Blade Runner. We hear the theme song to The Green Hornet, and Ironsides, and Uma Thurman dressed like Bruce Lee in Game of Death. Through his director’s eye the audience sees the way Western movies, largely b-movies, have influenced Japanese b-movies, which have in turn influenced Western b-movies. We are presented with a dialogue, not a distortion, between two arguably vulgar cultural representations of the action genre.

The Last Samurai is more difficult to defend from Professor Hibbs’ criticism. While the film is infinitely less vulgar than Kill Bill, Edward Zwick appears to be imitating rather than celebrating what he thinks a film about feudal Japan should look like. The palette is reminiscent of Ran as is the tragic nature of its Japanese protagonist. The Last Samurai isn’t a film about feudal Japan, rather it is a film about how an American reacts and views feudal Japan. The framing device makes it apparent that we are watching the memories of an American Civil War veteran struggling to understand Japanese culture. The director has the difficult task of combining genre and cultural messages. How do you balance the need to show both Western and Eastern concepts of military virtue? How do you do this through the eyes of a character who has forgotten Classical virtue and is a product of Machiavellian prudential virtue?

The conflicts for Cruise’s character prevent the director from fully utilizing the Japanese cultural setting and so he abbreviates it. There are moments in the film when Cruise’s character is given advice from the Book of Five Rings a classic samurai text. The advice given him to him regarding sword fighting mirror advice from the 2nd chapter of the Hagakure (published in 1716 at a time when Japan’s Samurai class had experienced 100 years of relative peace), “There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.” The Last Samurai converts the advice into a physical representation during one particular duel between Cruise and a number of ruffians. The camera’s eye captures a perfect combination of single-minded concentration and void.

In the end though, these arguments regarding the merits of Kill Bill and The Last Samurai as examples of Western art encountering Japanese art may be unconvincing to the viewer who might believe that these films represent how we have come to “prefer sorrow over pain, suffering over peace.” To that viewer I can only offer the following.

My first example is one of hope. It is the moment in The Last Samurai when Katsumoto tells Nathan Algren that one could do worse than to spend one’s life looking for the perfect blossom. In this moment, we are told that the pursuit of beauty is a better profession than the pursuit of war.

The second example is one of caution, for it shows that man’s love of pain and suffering over peace isn’t a new one. It is a quote from the 10th chapter of the Hagakure, “If you cut a face lengthwise, urinate on it, and trample on it with straw sandals, it is said that the skin will come off. This was heard by the priest Gyojaku when he was in Kyoto. It is information to be treasured.”

If the first moment is merely a pretentious effort to seem profound, maybe we truly have abandoned the pursuit of a summum bonum. I dread a world in which it is “not the natural sweetness of living but the terrors of death [that] make us cling to life.”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

Janice Harayda, over at One-Minute Book Reviews posted (and linked) some comments Michael Crichton made three decades ago with regard to the state of science-fiction and fantasy literature. To quote:

“As a category, the borders of science fiction have always been poorly defined, and they are getting worse. The old distinction between science fiction and fantasy – that science fiction went from the known to the probable, and fantasy dealt with the impossible – is now wholly ignored. The new writing is heavily and unabashedly fantastical.

“The breakdown is also seen in the authors themselves, who now cross the border, back and forth, with impunity. At one time this was dangerous and heretical; the only person who could consistently get away with it was Ray Bradbury. Science fiction addicts politely looked the other way when he did books such as Dandelion Wine and the screenplay for John Huston’s Moby Dick. It was assumed he needed the money.”

Michael Crichton “Slaughterhouse Five” in The Critic As Artist: Essays on Books 1920–1970 With Some Preliminary Ruminations by H.L. Mencken (Liveright, 1972), edited by Gilbert A. Harrison

It's interesting to me that Crichton, thirty-five years ago, is making a complaint that still is voiced in the speculative fiction community to this day. Before commenting about whether his assertion that there exists a distinction between fantasy and science fiction is prima facie true, I think it is important to examine the definition of each he offers.

According to Michael Crichton useful definitions for fantasy and science fiction are:

SCIENCE FICTION -- fictional narratives about what is known or probable according to our current understanding of physics, history, etc.

FANTASY -- fictional narratives dealing with the impossible.

It seems to me that these definitions are simultaneously too narrow and too broad. His definition of science fiction, as presented in the quote above and my (possibly ill-conceived) restructuring of it, might lead itself to include a great deal of literary fiction I might not consider to be science fiction. This is even true if I add the word "speculative" prior to the word fiction, which may make for a more robust definition. I can imagine a whole array of speculative fiction about the known that might not be science fiction, though I think to do so I have to ignore an underlying a priori "common sense" understanding of science fiction. Examples of such stories might include Ludlum spy novels or Kathy Reich's forensic anthropology murder mysteries.

Similarly, the definition is too narrow because it leaves no room for the truly speculative story, the story which gets us to question our current understanding of science and inspires younger readers to question and refine that understanding later in life. An Example of this would include the Foundation Series. Think about it. Have we developed faster than light travel, psionics, "Psychohistory," or "PSYCHOLOGY?" Those of you who are familiar with the stories will know that "PSYCHOLOGY" is very different from modern Psychology. All of those things are not only not possible, but most are likely to be improbable.

One could make similar complaints regarding the Crichton definition of fantasy, which includes an underlying assumption that you and he agree regarding what is impossible. Having read Travels, I wonder at how narrow "the possible" is in Crichton's mind.

All of this leads me to what I think is the problem with rigid distinctions, as opposed to "marketing" distinctions, when it comes to defining boundaries for literary genres which deal with the imagined or "speculated." I won't be so bold as to offer definitions that I think distinguish the two, but I will say that I believe that science fiction is a sub-genre of fantasy. This largely stems from my belief that both deal, at some level, with the imagined. Thus the "weird tale" and "horror" story, among others, also fall into sub-genre of fantasy. Needless to say, my understanding of fantasy is extraordinarily broad, possibly too broad. But I don't think so. I think that the fantastic is where the human mind creates some of the most interesting stories. I also think that the science in some science fiction is so far beyond our current ken that it is analogous to magic. Hmm...isn't that Clarke's third law?

My opinion in this regard is heavily shaped by what I read and enjoy. Looking at the origins of science fiction, one finds it's publishing history inexorably merged with the publishing history of fantasy. I have a great love of the pulps and this leaves me wondering where various characters/stories I enjoy would be placed. Is John Carter of Mars a science fiction or fantasy character? What about Carson Napier who has similar adventures, but with a more scientific origin? What about the world of the "Moon Maid" which was in origin an allegory discussing the world under Bolshevik rule? Where does Starship Troopers fall? (Giant Bugs? Wouldn't the exoskeleton's collape?) John Scalzi's Old Man's War? (Sadly not on the shelf of my local B&N, likely one reason why I shop at the Mystery and Imagination bookstore.) HP Lovecraft's stories of "alien terror?"

Stories that blur the distinction between fantasy and science fiction are as old as the genre themselves, smartly Crichton notes this, so is it useful to have a distinction?

I think there is, but I don't know exactly where to place that distinction except to say that science fiction stories attempt a scientific (even if it is an imaginarily scientific) description of the fantastic things they describe. But where does that leave the Harold Shea stories? D'oh.

What are your thoughts on the subject?