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Why is fantasy more "standardized" then science fiction?:

 1 nrjxll, Mon, 19th Mar '12 6:20:36 PM Relationship Status: Not war
I considered posting this in Trope Talk, but I figured the responses here might be more illuminating, especially since there seem to be so many fantasy writers here compared to everything else.

Anyway, this is basically a question I've been wondering about for a while. Why is fantasy so much more prone to "standardization" then science fiction? It seems rather hard to deny that this is the case. The Standard Fantasy Setting can be more accurately called truly standard for the genre in a way that the Standard Sci Fi Setting can't - that's more like the Standard Space Opera Setting, and even there it seems like I can think of more space opera that exists largely outside the "setting" when compared to fantasy. And the subgenres that do exist outside of it - say, urban fantasy - have become pretty standardized themselves. There doesn't seem to be anything like as many (sub)Genre-Busting fantasy works as there are in science fiction, where we even have whole tropes for works built around breaking out of sub-genres.

It's definitely not an inherent weakness of the genre - if anything, fantasy should allow for even more variety in stories and settings then science fiction, since even the softest sci-fi maintains enough of a pretense to "realism" that it can't allow things that fantasy can. But this doesn't seem to be the case.

I'm not writing this as anti-fantasy, or even anti-standardized fantasy. I'm genuinely curious.

 2 Mr AHR, Mon, 19th Mar '12 6:22:18 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I think it's because science fiction encompasses an actual subject of, well, science. There is more to work with. Fantasy is firmly about a specific type of make-believe. Most other fiction things are taken up by other things, like steam punk, cyber punk, stuff like that.
Shadowed Philosopher
Huh. I'm really not sure. The only fantasy work I have any inklings of an idea about is fairly nonstandard Urban Fantasy; I've never been tempted to write anything in the Standard Fantasy Setting, partly because I believe that it's been done so many times that new entries would have to be outstanding to be at all visible.
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
 4 JHM, Mon, 19th Mar '12 6:30:13 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
Well, it depends on what you're looking at. On the more "literary" or "artsy" end of fantasyŚthe kind of stuff that ends up in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, for example, or the theme-based book series LeviathanŚthe rules are far less obvious or set in stone, though one can easily make jokes about the stereotypical writing style of such works, just as one can for a lot of published "literary" or "experimental" short (and long) fiction. High and urban fantasy in their classical senses, however... yes. They have a bigger market, ergo more of a formula for success, so there's a bit more of an obvious "following the leader" character to certain writers.

Science-fiction has a different set of expectations attached to it now, especially after all the madness that happened in the genre in the late '60s, which really didn't happen to the same degree in fantasy: Where science-fiction had any number of luminaries and ushers into, alternately, "respectability" or "the cutting edge, " fantasy... hasn't had them, at least not on the scale of a Bradbury or an Asimov. (And no, I'm not forgetting that Bradbury wrote basically every kind of sf; rather, I am saying that in one corner of it, he became a god rather than a hero.)

[down] Another good point, though perhaps not universally true.

edited 19th Mar '12 6:36:28 PM by JHM

 5 Parable, Mon, 19th Mar '12 6:32:44 PM from California Relationship Status: Too sexy for my shirt
Many Faces
Science Fiction is also more heavily used for social commentary then Fantasy is. So what they emphasize with characters and setting can often vastly differ depending on what point the author is trying to make.
Schrodinger's Goth: While inside the box, it is impossible to determine whether the Goth wishes she was never born, or wishes she was dead.
Because Fantasy can afford to be "standardized"/static.

Pixies and unicorn stories don't need to get updated because they don't exsist.

Science Fiction on the other hand has some basis in Real Science, and humans have a tendency to make Science Fiction into Science Fact.

First Example that comes to mind is the old Fictional Comic Detective: Dick Tracy. His "Sci-Fi" crime fighting gadget was an unbelievable (for its time) wrist mounted radio (and 2 way tv?) watch.

Today, we'd complaim about the lack of features on such a "sci-fi" gimik.
 
Element of love
They aren't that different if you think about it.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. C. S. Lewis
patience, young padawan
I always thought it had to do with how much Tolkien's works seem to overshadow fantasy.
Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.
 9 Mr AHR, Mon, 19th Mar '12 7:10:19 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
That's really only high fantasy though.
 10 Crystal Glacia, Mon, 19th Mar '12 7:11:33 PM from Cedarpointland
patience, young padawan
Ah.

[[/stops before a derail]]

edited 19th Mar '12 7:11:48 PM by CrystalGlacia

Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.
 11 JHM, Mon, 19th Mar '12 7:20:31 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up] It does overshadow other sub-genres too, but to a far lesser extent. But that goes back to my first argument...
 12 Night, Mon, 19th Mar '12 7:41:06 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
That's really only high fantasy though.

I'd find this a much more convincing argument if Tolkien's works were in themselves really high fantasy. Though we have wizards and the like, magic is very thin on the ground and frequently, if you squint, might not be magic at all. (The One Ring and its relatives are really the only unequivocal examples.) There are similar examples for most other distingushing markers (the movies, for example, brought the Elves back for Helm's Deep because that was more high fantasy than what happened).

Tolkien brought us the races and some of their proclivities but there's a lot in the standard setting that doesn't appear to descend from him at all.

edited 19th Mar '12 7:44:26 PM by Night

"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 13 Parable, Mon, 19th Mar '12 7:48:36 PM from California Relationship Status: Too sexy for my shirt
Many Faces
I think D&D did more to establish typical fantasy settings. I recall the Dragonlance series was actually inspired by the game.
Schrodinger's Goth: While inside the box, it is impossible to determine whether the Goth wishes she was never born, or wishes she was dead.
Shadowed Philosopher
The One Ring and its relatives are really the only unequivocal examples.

What, 'naur an edraith ammen' doesn't count?
Shinigan (Naruto fanfic)
 15 Night, Mon, 19th Mar '12 8:19:38 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
I admit it's been about three years, so I could have missed stuff. (Like that, I'm drawing a total blank on that.)

Even so, it was played way down.
"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 16 nrjxll, Mon, 19th Mar '12 8:50:04 PM Relationship Status: Not war
My view is that Tolkien established the classic races and parts of the stock plot, and D&D established everything else.

But I agree with the poster who said this was kind of a derail.

 17 feotakahari, Mon, 19th Mar '12 9:18:27 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
I've heard it argued not that fantasy is unusually uncreative, but that sci-fi is unusually creative. Fantasy has its cliches just like romance, or detective fiction, or even (gasp!) artsy-fartsy slice-of-life. Sci-fi is the genre where you're most likely to be commended for doing something nobody else has done before.
That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 18 Night, Mon, 19th Mar '12 11:59:19 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
That actually makes a good deal of sense.
"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 19 The Badinator, Mon, 19th Mar '12 11:59:43 PM from THE FUUUUUTUUUUUURE
[up][up][up]You're partially right. One of the reasons for this is that Tolkien codified almost all of the archetypes used in your run-of-the-mill fantasy novel, and while there are many popular works of science fiction, there is really no *one* that you can point to as *the* archetypical example of the genre.

The other part is that the archetypes Tolkien established were all based in old Nordic and Germanic myth, so concepts like Elves and Dwarves and Dragons all existed within the cultural conscience on some level before Tolkien ever put pen to paper. Science fiction doesn't really have any similarly recognizable analog, so you see more variety in the details, even if a lot of space sci-fi shares certain common elements (FTL, proud warrior race aliens, abusive/neglectful precursors, etc.).

edited 20th Mar '12 12:00:08 AM by TheBadinator

Raven Wilder
I wouldn't feel comfortable pegging either Science Fiction or Fantasy as more "standardized", because I only read a tiny fraction of all the sci-fi/fantasy books that come out in any given year, and the ones I do read will hardly be chosen at random. Without a far, far more thorough knowledge of what-all is being published in each genre, I'm loath to make such sweeping statements about them. The best I can say is that the most popular fantasy stories seem to be more standardized than the most popular science-fiction stories. As for why that is, here's my best guess:

Science-fiction is (or at least presents itself as) something that could theoretically happen, and part of why people like the genre is the hypothesizing about what Real Life might be like in the future. As such, a science-fiction story that gives readers a new and unusual hypothesis about the future is going to have a leg up over science-fiction that retreads familiar hypotheses.

Fantasy, however, makes no attempt to pretend that the bizarre events it describes are possible. Fantasy readers still enjoy imagining what it would be like in the world of the story, but since there's no "this could actually happen!" factor, this is a much smaller part of the genre's appeal than it is for science-fiction, so a unique premise is not as big an advantage.

edited 20th Mar '12 3:47:41 AM by RavenWilder

"It takes an idiot to do cool things, that's why it's cool" - Haruhara Haruko
 21 JHM, Tue, 20th Mar '12 7:59:14 AM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up][up][up] & [up][up] These are both really good points, though I may have a bone of contention with first because of the second... (That, and I'd argue that certain regions of science-fiction have become unusually prohibitive for very curious reasons, but again: Different point.)

Oh, choices, choices.
I think fantasy seems more 'standardized' because it's easier to copy/imitate/verb synonymous to previous ones.

I think it's more of a matter of volume. A lot more fantasy is a lot more data points with which you can categorise and more chance for more groups of similar items to be a sufficient size to be a "standard" category.

 24 nrjxll, Tue, 20th Mar '12 12:14:55 PM Relationship Status: Not war
I think it's more of a matter of volume. A lot more fantasy is a lot more data points with which you can categorise and more chance for more groups of similar items to be a sufficient size to be a "standard" category.

This is the first thing I've seen here that I definitely disagree with, if I read this correctly. There is not "a lot more fantasy" then science fiction, so this cannot be an explanation.

Incidentally, another interesting thing I've observed, after thinking about it some, is that the subgenres of science fiction tend to be divided by plot, whereas the subgenres of fantasy tend to be divided by setting.

edited 20th Mar '12 12:15:14 PM by nrjxll

 25 Morven, Tue, 20th Mar '12 4:50:22 PM from Seattle, WA, USA
Nemesis
While fantasy could (&, in my opinion, should) be a genre where the possibilities are endless, in practice much fantasy is written with two inspirations; history and myth. Both are limited; there's only so much we know about in history, and only so much we have in myths. Especially so if you're limiting yourself to Europe-centric versions of both.

Well, then there's the third inspiration: other fantasy books. Again, this isn't very encouraging for innovation.

A brighter future for a darker age.
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