Genre Wars: SF & F and Magic

Last week I shared my musings on the divide between scifi and fantasy, and why it’s not the most helpful or natural distinction.

Over at, one of my counterparts has offered a different perspective. In the hottest of takes, he suggests that in Star Wars, the Force is less magic and more psionics, hence not really science fantasy (at least initially).

He also points to Orson Scott Card’s directive:

The thing is, I think Orson Scott Card nailed it when he said that if you include magic, for it to be interesting, there must *always* be a price to using it. Or else, it’s just unlimited power and that’s boring.

Ok, I don’t necessarily disagree here. But I’d say that magic needs to be done smartly – not necessarily at a cost, but it must be limited either in power or use. Unbounded magic gets boring quick, that’s true.

Take the Harry Potter books, as an example, which are chock-full of magic. The casting of most spells is not explicitly spelled out (ha) by Rowling in most cases, but it’s clear that magic has limits. Most incantations seem to require a precise pronunciation and intonation, along with accompanying gestures (there’s your somatic component!). These requirements in and of themselves limit less skilled wizards/witches. More advanced magics may call for visualizations, ingredients, or other components.

In other words, magic has limits and in some cases cost.

For a little more back and forth, and to read Gita’s other comments on scifi versus fantasy, see here. Be sure to scroll down and read the comments!

We’ve also got some goings-on at Twitter. It’s difficult to round up all the branching threads, but here’s one (click on it to see):


    • Gita’s answer was that technology is a sunken cost, basically.

      I think it can go either way. He writes of Clarke’s Third Law, but I do not.

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