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Christina Paladeau,
Editor, Branch Out

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Technology or Magic? Expanding Imaginations and Fantasy Genres

As science broadens our reality, fantasy extends the imaginary even further.

Fantasy books.Yesterday’s Magic, Today’s Tech

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s third “law”* states that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The adage seems to hold water. Daily life is full of tools that our grandparents would have seen as magical — the internet, drones, GPS, mobile phones, 3D printers, virtual reality headsets.

Innovation Fuels Imagination

Surrounded by science harnessed for practical purposes, what do we do with it? We dive deep into imaginary worlds.

We play video games where we fight dragons, build worlds and hunt for treasure. We 3D-print game pieces or figurines for tabletop campaigns. We watch television shows and movies about vampires, superheroes and time travel. We fly drones with cameras so we can envision what it’s like to soar above the trees or down a waterfall. We seek out ways to free our imaginations and re-imagine the stories many of us read as kids — fairy tales and fantasies.

Discover New Genres

The expansion of what technology can do, and what authors can imagine, has led to the emergence of new types of fantasy books. Fairfax County Public Library’s collection has many titles in the newly-named genres of steampunk, cyberpunk, planetary romance and space opera — and some of these books have been around for a while, just waiting for you to find them:

  • Steampunk: The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, Mainspring by Jay Lake, Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology.
  • Cyberpunk: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick, Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson, River of Gods by Ian McDonald, Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan.
  • Planetary Romance: The Dune series by Frank Herbert (and other authors), the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley, the Helliconia trilogy by Brian Aldiss, the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey.
  • Space Opera: The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie, the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, the Culture series of Iain Banks.

Tom Robbins logic quote.

*Arthur C. Clarke’s three adages known as Clarke's three laws:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
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