What is Science-Fantasy?
Interview with YA author Jodi Meadows
Lately, I've heard the term "Science-Fantasy" a lot in connection with YA literature. Why is the idea of blending science fiction and fantasy within a novel so fascinating? Because science-fantasy uniquely mixes two very different genres of literature, and in so doing, gives birth to amazing stories that draw a new landscape for literature. To find out more about science-fantasy, I interviewed the lovely and uber talented Jodi Meadows, literary aficionado and YA author of the science-fantasy NEWSOUL trilogy...
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your literary road to becoming the author you are today?
Jodi: Certainly! Of course I was a child prodigy with more talent than you could fit in an oil tanker. I graduated university with highest honors when I was only six years old! By seven, I'd finished my first 500,000-word manuscript and had it considered by several well-known publishing houses, but none of them believed I'd written it. Sadly, I would have to wait twenty more years before anyone believed I was capable of writing fiction. Okay, that's all a lie. I didn't even like books until I was in third grade. I stayed home sick one day, but still had to finish the book we were reading for class. I wish I could remember the title -- I'd love to find it again -- but the only thing I can remember about it was there were children trapped in a "haunted" cave. The ghostly wailing turned out to be wind keening over a hidden opening. I was so disappointed when I realized it wasn't a real haunting. But the seed had been planted. I found a few other books I liked...then more and more until I -- gasp! -- enjoyed reading. In seventh grade, my teacher shared WAIT TILL HELEN COMES by Mary Downing Hahn. It was so creepy and, best of all, the ghosts were real. That book, and a few others I discovered as I grew up, made me abandon the idea of becoming an astronaut (I hear you have to be good at math for that, anyway), and decide I really wanted to be a writer.
Q: You queried your debut novel as a science-fantasy. That's a term I'm hearing more and more of lately. How would you describe/characterize science-fantasy? How is it different from the individual genres of science fiction and fantasy?
Jodi: To be honest, this isn't a subgenre I'd considered until a couple of years ago when I wrote a manuscript with dragons, aliens, prophecy, and robotic faeries. That was the first time anyone said "science-fantasy" to me, and I'm still working out what it means. I suppose it would be too easy to say it's a blend of science fiction and fantasy elements. Or science fiction stories where the fantasy is also real. Besides, a lot of science fiction and fantasy elements are the same thing; the difference is in how you explain it. Teleportation can be magic, or it can be alien technology that disassembles you at the molecular level, then puts you back together on the other side. Shapeshifting can be magic, or it can be nanotechnology that rearranges all your bits. (As for what happens to the extra mass when you go from human to rabbit? Still a raging debate!) There are exceptions to every subgenre definition, and plenty of people to get huffy when they think someone is defining something incorrectly. I prefer not to get into arguments about it, so I let them believe what they want to believe. My personal definition would be science fiction + fantasy = true literary love. I like to have a wide definition, rather than try getting into specifics. As long as there are elements of both, if someone wants to call it science-fantasy, that's just fine with me.
Q: In your opinion, what are some great examples of science-fantasy novels out in the bookstores now (regardless if they are shelved as sci-fi or fantasy)? What shining characteristics in those specific novels really made them science-fantasy in your eyes?
Jodi: Oh goodness. I'm not going to be good at this one. I actually had to recruit outside help for this question. Embarrassingly, I haven't read most of these, so I can't comment on specifics, but these are the novels mentioned when I asked a well-read team of writers. ALL THE WINDWRACKED STARS, by Elizabeth Bear The Pern series, by Anne McCaffrey WHO FEARS DEATH, by Nnedi Okorafor THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER and DRAGONS OF BABEL, by Michael Swanwick The Darkover series, by Marion Zimmer Bradley LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE, by Robert Silverberg THE GUNSLINGER, by Stephen King Obviously, these are all going on my to-read shelf immediately. And while it's not a novel -- though there are novel tie-ins -- I think STAR WARS is pretty science-fantasy. Spaceships, aliens...and the Force. If the Force isn't magic, I don't know what is.
Q: Where would you like to see the literary parameters of science-fantasy go from here?
Jodi: I just want to see more of it, period. It's fun. There's so much you can do with it, and I'd love to see where other authors' imaginations take them when they realize it's okay to have pegasi surfing the internet.
Q: I know what book I'm going to be standing in line for. Yours! Congratulations on your recent publishing deal for THE NEWSOUL TRILOGY! That is so exciting! Can you tell us more about the books?
Jodi: Thanks! I'm beyond thrilled, and I still can't get over how many people are looking forward to reading it! The pitch we used for Publishers Marketplace is this: About the only girl who is new in a world where everyone is perpetually reincarnated, and her quest to discover why she was born, and what happened to the person she replaced. While that's certainly accurate, we were trying to fit a ton of worldbuilding into just a few words. We didn't have room to mention the science-fantasy: mysteriously glowing temples, altered memories, computerized sylph traps, and gasses that cause the two aspects of centaurs to come apart. Erin is born into this society of extremely old people. Everyone else has been reincarnated dozens of times. Since they remember all their past lives, they have the advantage of learning from mistakes, even the ones that kill them. (What is that BUFFY quote? "Those who fail History [class] are doomed to repeat it in summer school.") For THE NEWSOUL TRILOGY, I imagined people who could take multiple lifetimes to study the genetics of roses, and a world where capital punishment was pointless. Most of all, I imagined what it would like to be new in this society.
Q: From the author's perspective, how is writing YA science-fantasy different from writing other YA books (i.e. urban fantasy, high fantasy)? Any unique and/or difficult/challenging aspects?
Jodi: I didn't set out to write a science-fantasy. As with all my projects, stories, worlds, and characters come fully formed. In ON WRITING, Stephen King compared writing to archaeology. Paraphrasing badly, the story is all one piece, and you must unearth it without destroying it in the process. You learn more about it as you go, but just because you can't see it yet doesn't mean it's not there. This really resonated with me. So ERIN INCARNATE just was a science-fantasy. Writing it was like writing any other story for me, except that characters discussed how they invented laser pistols to deal with dragons. While I tried to let the worldbuilding be background to characters, I did run into problems early on. People reading the first chapter immediately assumed it was a standard secondworld fantasy. They saw centaurs and sylph. When Erin pulled out a flashlight -- chaos! In that respect, it was quite a challenge to ease people into the idea that both centaurs and flashlights could exist in the same world, let alone the same paragraph.
Q: Any non-top-secret writing-in-projects (WIPs) in science-fantasy you want to share with us? (Of course you're more than welcome to share your top-secret ones too!).
Jodi: *grin* You're shameless! But yes, as I mentioned in an earlier answer, I do have another science-fantasy called THE LOYAL SWORD, which I wrote a few years ago and I'm now considering turning it in to a YA. There are dragons and giants, spooky magic forests, and aliens whose secret base is guarded by robotic faeries. It's part of a longer series where the science fiction aspects get bigger and more apparent. I'd love to finish writing it one day.
Q: Randomly, random...the random tidbits interviewees share always goes far beyond anything I could dream up as an interviewer. So, what utterly random thoughts do you want to share to finish up this interview?
Jodi: Things on my desk: a knitting pattern book, half a knit tank top, a scarf in progress, socks in progress, bottle of water, two jars of spindles, box of graham crackers, three kinds of ferret treats, paper towels, fake flowers (the other kind just die), a spindle project in progress, CATCHING FIRE (Suzanne Collins), a small stuffed bear with a top hat and cape and mask, my Red Sox hat, and a coffee mug that says "Reincarnate", which a friend gave to me in honor of ERIN INCARNATE.
*****Thank you so much, Jodi! To gain more mana'o from Jodi, you can visit her blog, in which, she graces readers and authors with query writing help, her thoughts on books (even ones not yet published...something she likes to remind me of in Goodreads *grin*), and lots of other fun stuff.