Science Fiction v. Magic

A neighbor of mine recently asked me to review a manuscript of a mid grade science fiction novel with an eye toward the world building in the story. I’m not an expert by any means, but I have read a lot of science fiction over the course of my life and I’m always willing to offer my opinions regardless of how well or ill founded they may be. My wife saw part of what I wrote and thought it might make a good blog post. It was on the difference between magic and science fiction.

One of the things I included in my ramblings was a favorite aphorism coined by Arthur C. Clarke a famous science fiction author and scientist in his own right: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So the difference between a fairy tale and science fiction is changing the label from “magic” to “science.”

In the fairy tale Cinderella’s fairy godmother sprinkles fairy dust on her dress that magically transforms it into a beautiful gown. In the science fiction the female scientist dispenses nano machines that gather atoms from the surrounding environment (including Cinderella’s dress) and build them into molecules then assemble the molecules according to a pattern encoded into the spin state of their electrons into a beautiful gown.

The scientific mumbo jumbo is meaningless but serves as a tag that lets the reader know the story she is reading is science fiction not a fairy tale with magic.

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