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Datepalm

Is Fantasy Without Magic Still Fantasy?

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Admittedly, Abercrombies world has plenty of magic, but I don't remember it being more than tangential to the story in Best Served Cold, and from the reviews at least the same seems to be the case for The Heroes. If pinned to the wall, i'd probably say The City and the City is Sci-fi, in the soft SF "what if?" sense. The Folding Knife is a secondary world without magic, at all. IIRC, magic is pretty sparse in a couple of Guy Gavriel Kay books as well, and i'm sure theres more examples that are eluding me right now. 

I think its a pretty common sentiment that fireball throwing wizards and magic swords are dodgy cliches and not everyones cup of tea anyway. So what do we have now? Just adventure stories? (With, Important Human Themes, and all that.) I guess i'm wondering, since its apparently possible to do without - what function does magic serve in Fantasy lit? Do you like it? Would you even miss it if it went away? 

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Admittedly, Abercrombies world has plenty of magic, but I don't remember it being more than tangential to the story in Best Served Cold, and from the reviews at least the same seems to be the case for The Heroes. If pinned to the wall, i'd probably say The City and the City is Sci-fi, in the soft SF "what if?" sense. The Folding Knife is a secondary world without magic, at all. IIRC, magic is pretty sparse in a couple of Guy Gavriel Kay books as well, and i'm sure theres more examples that are eluding me right now.

I think its a pretty common sentiment that fireball throwing wizards and magic swords are dodgy cliches and not everyones cup of tea anyway. So what do we have now? Just adventure stories? (With, Important Human Themes, and all that.) I guess i'm wondering, since its apparently possible to do without - what function does magic serve in Fantasy lit? Do you like it? Would you even miss it if it went away?

For me the definition of the Fantasy genre is that it tells a story which isn't possible in our actual world (and there are lot of reasons for this -> other worlds, magic, magical creatures, historical differences etc.) and that these differences to the actual world cannot be explained through technological advancement (which distinguishes Fantasy from Science Fiction). Personally I don't need magic in Fantasy literature, if there's a good use for it in the story, ok, but I don't like books where you have magic, just because every Fantasy book needs to have magic.

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If pinned to the wall, i'd probably say The City and the City is Sci-fi, in the soft SF "what if?" sense.

I think the vogue label is 'weird fiction', but yeah.

I think if there are any magical elements, then it's fantasy. If a story was set in, say, a fictional pseudo-medieval world with no magical elements... then yes it gets a bit hazy. Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh is the only example I can think of off the top of my head.

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yes it is still fantasy, though I do take a broad definition of fantasy. No it's not traditional epic fantasy or sword and sorcery, though a magic-less secondary-world fiction could be very similar to epic fantasy. Of course magic-less secondary world fantasy can be very similar to science fiction depending on how it is packaged.

Another series that comes to mind is the Stone-Dance of the Chameleon series by Ricardo Pinto. It's a secondary-world with a sort of evolved human species with lots of other creative sorts. But it's not really science fiction - definately a fantasy vibe about it.

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Another example of fantasy without magic would be the Trial of Blood and Steel series by Joel Shepherd, the first book of which is Sasha.

And perhaps Mary Gentle's Ash.

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I classify Best Served Cold as fantasy because, as you say, the world has magic even if it's not found in that particular book. In general I like Rhaegar's definition. If it just has armor and swords then I think you've made a setting choice but not necessarily a genre one. Still working out my semantics in my head, hopefully that will hold up.

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I would say Ash is science fiction, since the divergence from our world is ultimately explained in pseudoscientific terms. Best Served Cold is definitely fantasy, IMHO, since it is set in a magical world. The City and the City, I am not sure. Probably science fiction, with social sciences taking place of hard science. As for books like The Folding Knife, Lions of Al-Rassan, Swordspoint etc. I think they probabbly should be considered a new, as yet unnamed, subgenre.

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I think magic is a must for a story to be termed Fantasy. If there is no magic, it's not Fantasy. There are plenty of other more suitable appelations available for stories of that kind: Alternate History, Adventure, New Weird, Steampunk, Urban Paranormal, etc. That being said, I don't think the Fantasy tag by definition requires a lot magic. It can be a background force, a side element or a bygone relic of an ancient age. The fact it exists is sufficient.

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Isn't there a little bit of magic in Best Served Cold?

I remember Shenkt having crazy, superhuman fighting abilities, or am I mistaken?

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I consider any book with a full secondary world to be fantasy. So The Lions of Al-Rassan and The Folding Knife would thus fall into fantasy. The fact they have no magic doesn't matter since magic only comprises one element of a secondary world. Such a world can have magic, but it doesn't need to. The two cities in The City and the City are secondary world, but the setting is in this world. Plus, it has other elements that make it science fiction and mystery.

I'm not sure if non-magical fantasy books would be a sub-category or not. Like kcf, I have a rather broad definition of fantasy as well as one for science fiction. Things get even murkier with novels like Retribution Falls or The Book of the New Sun.

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I consider any book that uses deliberately crafted deviations from reality to be speculative in nature. The City and the City has no actual magic, but at the same time the novel is constructed in the same way that more traditional fantasy novels are and uses the same techniques to get its point across. It's impossible to separate the unreal elements from the story and themes, hence it's genre to me. That's why, also, any book in a secondary world setting would inherently be genre as well as any book that features magic as an important part of the story.

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I consider any book with a full secondary world to be fantasy.

Plenty of SF has secondary worlds, though. As well as tertiary, quaternary, quinary... Ender takes out plenty of the bug aliens' worlds, as do the Roughnecks.

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Why would The City and The City belong to the genre at all? If it were by any other author, probably none of us would have even read it. I dislike the label, but if books were sorted on the basis of what's in them alone under the (poorly named) existing categories I'd suspect that it would be in the "literary fiction" category.

IMO, the book isn't constructed like a typical fantasy novel: it's constructed like a typical novel.

Agree about Abercrombie - the world is magical. And I agree with Rhaegar. But The City and The City strikes me as wholly possible within our world.

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There are always going to be some books that are impossible to put definitively in one pigeonhole or another, and I don't think it's too useful to be quibbling over the exact difference here, as if there was one dividing line that separates Fantasy from SF. Take Jack Vance's Dying Earth books, for example. Set in a far-future Earth, technically that makes em SF... except for the fact that they're full of wizards and spells and swords and magick...

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Magic is generally not important when I classify something as fantasy. If something is set in another world and that world is not explain in science fiction terms I would see it as fantasy.

I think I'd call The City & The City alternate history actually.

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Why would The City and The City belong to the genre at all? If it were by any other author, probably none of us would have even read it. I dislike the label, but if books were sorted on the basis of what's in them alone under the (poorly named) existing categories I'd suspect that it would be in the "literary fiction" category.

IMO, the book isn't constructed like a typical fantasy novel: it's constructed like a typical novel.

Agree about Abercrombie - the world is magical. And I agree with Rhaegar. But The City and The City strikes me as wholly possible within our world.

So could Revelation Space, someday, or just about any other science fiction book. It's just incredibly improbable, and it's most certainly not something that we have right now. It's bending what we have/know to show us something, a key element of speculative fiction.

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IMO, the book isn't constructed like a typical fantasy novel: it's constructed like a typical novel

Its got a whole lot of genre expectations working for it though. I'd think someone coming into it who's never read an SFF book in their lives would have a very different experience. 

tC&tC feels like a fantasy (or "New Weird", or whatever) novel to me. Its setting in some vauge Balkan location is pretty superflous. Meiville could have gone Parkers route in The Folding Knife and set it in a vaugely Balkanish secondary world instead, constructing just as much of it as is necessary to get his points across. (Personally, I like that its on earth, but I like geography in and of itself.) 

I find something dissatisfying about tossing magic out of fantasy. As a variation on a theme, sure, the occassional Folding Knife or Lions of al-Rassan works fine, (I really like both) but theres something bland to me about a 'fantasy' world that lacks it completely. Its just...you couldn't be bothered to do the actual historical research or something? To me, the point of a fantasy world is using that structure of the world to further whatever your theme is, and having one or two suspesion of disbelief cards. (say, Really long winters, even if they don't make sense economically.) If your world is just someplace in our world that just never actually quite happened...

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I don't mind either approach. It's can be fun constructing a new society (it gets worse when it's obviously lazy, eg. "Mongols crossed-with-belgians")

My division: Line (COH joke, sorry) would be drawn if it's a secondary world: made-up country set in our world? SF, alternate history, or just plain literary conceit (depending on how it is approached) if it's a world that is explicitly not our own it's fantasy.

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