Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hard Science Fantasy

Art by Bruce Pennington

Genre titles are really imprecise things, so let me explain what I mean: A setting that looks like fantasy, but is in fact sort of post-technological science fiction. What would make it "hard" as opposed to the usual science fantasy is that it wouldn't resort to what are essentially fantasy concepts like extradimensional entities or psionic powers to do it. The fantastic would come from at least moderately more possible sources like near Clarketech ("any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") nanotechnology, cybernetics, and bio-engineering.

I haven't really seen this out there in gaming. True, Numenera presents a world utterly drenched in nanotech that can be tapped like magic by the masses, ignorant of it's nature. But Numenera still has psychic powers and extradimensional monsters, though. What I'm envisioning is more like Karl Shroeder's Ventus (where the "spirits" animating the natural world are AI controlled nanotech) or the Arabian Nights-flavored Sirr of Hannu Rajaniemi's The Fractal Prince where spirits in ancient tombs are digital mind emulations and the jinn are made of "wildcode" malicious nanotech.

Beyond nanotech, monsters would be genetically engineered creations of the past or descendants thereof. Or perhaps genuine aliens. Gods would be post-human biologic or AI entities--or often some combination of both. Or figments of human imagination. Or leftover bombs.

Why a more "rigorous" science fiction masquerading as fantasy world than the usual Dying Earths or what not? No real reason other than it seems to me starting with far future science fiction and figuring out how it would be rationalized by a more primitive mindset might yield a fresher take on the standard fantasy tropes.

16 comments:

Tim Shorts said...

I need to get a reading list going for this coming year. I haven't read any of the books you mentioned.

Joshua Dyal said...

You can probably actually work extradimensional entities in, if you use brane cosmology and other iterations of derived super-string theories.

At least it gives you something else besides explaining everything as nanotech or AI.

Trey said...

Very true. That's another option.

Sean Robson said...

The only game I can think of that comes close to this would be The Morrow Project, though, to my recollection there weren't all that many fantastical 'Clarketech' elements in the default setting. This would have been pretty easy to add in, though.

Ben L. said...

Subsurface Anomalous Environment has some of this. Gods are orbiting AI's. Spells are programs they download into our brains, etc.

Trey said...

@Ben L. - It has the AIs, definitely, but ASE is far from "hard" in most ways. More gonzo--and very cool.

Pat said...

Hard Science? SUPER-SCIENCE!

I think Gene Wolfe does the best job with what you're talking about, especially the Book of the Long Sun.

Trey said...

Agreed. really, Long Sun does that more than Urth of New Sun.

jbeltman said...

ASE: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from gonzo.

richard said...

Jbeltman beat me to it. I would put Tartary forward by saying that everything in it is explicable through Clarketech but actually space itself is ambiguous in that one. Are the alien branes actually aliens? actually extradimensional? Or just ancestor-tech?
TBH the players haven't asked. They're just having fun getting burned by the toys.

Trey said...

It's true, you can call anything Clarketech, what I would mean (like the Orion's Arm definition I linked) is that it still couldn't do anything that seems outright prohibited by the laws of physics as we know them, so like wormwholes would be in, but psychic powers out.

garrisonjames said...

Interesting direction to go explore. Looks promising...

Canageek said...

This sounds very, very soft science to me, to be honest. Hard SF should all be possible based on extrapolation of current technology.

Trey said...

Right. That's why I said this was "hard science fantasy." That last word is there for a reason.

Zakaria shalih said...

many of So-called Pseudosciences in General are good(if not perfect) of "Any Sufficiently advanced Science and Technology are indistinguishable from gonzo"

Trey said...

Very true!