Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Literary Terms: Magical Realism, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

In past literary terms posts, we have discussed: the difference between terror and horror; apocalyptic, dystopian, and post-apocalyptic fiction; and legend, myth, and fairy tale. We are happy to continue our studies with the latest addition to our literary terms series. One of our favorite things about fiction is its ability to build new worlds, ones which we (literally) can’t access in our everyday lives. Magical realism, science fiction, and fantasy all construct their own unique realities in different ways. It may seem like it would be easy to distinguish these genres, but the lines are not as clear as you might think. We love the way that these genres are working their way into popular “literary” fiction. We think that’s all the more reason to take a close look at how magical realism, science fiction, and fantasy differ from one another.

Imagination Concept

Magical Realism – Magical realist fiction takes place in a world that resembles our own, except for the introduction of a magical element, which cannot be explained by the conventions of our reality. For example, Aimee Bender’s novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, is about a girl whose life is realistic in every way, except that she can taste the feelings of the chef in the foods that she eats. Ramona Ausubel’s story “Chest of Drawers” is another great example. In it, a husband whose wife is pregnant is envious of her ability to create life. The only unreal element of this story is that a set of drawers materializes in the husband’s chest. The joy is in seeing this magical element play out against a very real backdrop, such as the moment when the wife asks her husband to carry her lipstick in one of his chest-drawers at a party. Magical realism is often associated with Latin American literature and of course Gabriel García Márquez’s name looms large over the genre. Magical realism is infused into the world of his circular, spellbinding novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. In one powerful instance, yellow flowers fall from the sky, in mourning, it seems, for a powerful character’s death. Magical realism is becoming increasingly popular in contemporary American fiction, as well, and we could not be more thrilled about this.

Science Fiction – Science fiction also describes altered worlds, but in this case the elements that differ from our current reality are explained by developments in science. Karen Russell’s novella Sleep Donation, for example, takes place in a world in which insomnia has become an epidemic with no cure. Insomnia is treated as a scientific phenomenon: people can donate their sleep in hours, a process that is described clinically; nurses at the sleep banks can literally smell the sleep streaming out of the donors. This novella has sometimes been classified as magical realism, perhaps because other works of Karen Russell’s fall into that genre. But, because all of the unreal elements of Sleep Donation’s world are explained by the (hypothetical) workings of science, it falls into the camp of science fiction. Another hugely popular author whose work contains elements of sci-fi is George Saunders. In his story “Escape from Spiderhead,” for example, inmates are administered drips that contain concoctions capable of making them fall in and out of love. And, of course, TV shows and movies like Star Trek and Interstellar, that imagine futures in which new levels of space travel are possible, fall into the sci-fi category as well. While genre definitions are helpful, genre lines are not absolutes. For example, a story could have elements of both magical realism and science fiction.


Interview: Award-Winning Editor, Ellen Datlow

An enormous thanks to Ellen Datlow for agreeing to discuss horror with us this month. Ellen has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and currently acquires and edits stories for She has edited more than sixty anthologies, including the annual The Best Horror of the Year, Lovecraft’s Monsters, Fearful Symmetries, Nightmare Carnival, and The Cutting Room. Forthcoming are The Doll Collection and The Monstrous.

She’s won multiple awards for her editing. She was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre”; has been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career, and the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award for 2014, which is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field.

ellen datlow

This month The Masters Review is focusing all of our content on horror and scary stories, of which I consider you the authority. Can you talk about your specific preferences in the horror genre? How they’ve changed, grown, or even simplified? What must a story evoke to be considered horror?

I’m afraid I’ve got to disappoint you—I have no specific preferences in horror. I love stories that stick with me because there’s more going on in them than just a one-note “scare.”  For me, great horror fiction has the same elements as any great fiction: A unique voice, characters that keep me interested, and a believable plot that forces me to continue reading. With the addition of an underlying sense of dread.

You’ve edited more than sixty anthologies, have over thirty years of experience editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and have numerous awards to your name. What have you learned about the genre in this time?

One thing I’ve learned is that the borders are fluid. Many of the most interesting stories combine science fiction and horror, or drift uneasily between dark fantasy and horror. There is science fiction that feels like fantasy and fantasy that feels like science fiction.

And some of the best writers dance around the genres gracefully by creating disturbing horror, compelling fantasy, or realist science fiction depending on where their muse leads them.

I often think horror is misinterpreted. What would you say to someone who doesn’t like it? Who would you encourage them to read? What does horror offer readers that is unique (beyond the obvious thrills and chills)?

I’d advise them to ignore most of the movies that refer to themselves as “horror”—they’re not. Most of what’s out there debases the entire genre with its graphic violence against women and its slasher mentality. That type of sensation horror is the lowest form of the genre.

To me horror often overlaps with the weird, in that it’s creepy and gives you a chill. (Although as I mention below, some weird work isn’t dark enough for me to consider it horror.) A movie might keep you on the edge of your seat (which doesn’t mean there should be no violence—John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the most effective pieces of horror film making I know).

Effective horror explores the truths that humans are loathe to face: death most prominently—the fact that we’re all going to die. The loss of loved ones, losing one’s control, fear of the unknown, pain. These things scare us whether couched in the supernatural or psychological. (more…)