Saturday, March 31, 2012

Is Fantasy Less Creative Than Science Fiction?

To those who don't read genre fiction, the difference between fantasy and science fiction (SF) probably seems pretty small, like the difference between techno music and house. But to fans of these generes, the differences are usually really clear. One common critique is that fantasy fiction tends to have less variety than SF. 

The common complaint is that while SF is endlessly creative, showing us wild worlds we've never imagined, fantasy tends to rip of The Lord of the Rings most of the time. Particularly, people pretty sick of elves.

Certainly, if one read the "sword and sorcery" subgenre of fantasy, it might look this way. (Not all fantasy is sword and sorcery-- you can check out "urban fantasy" too.) But here's the thing: people love elves and dwarfs and dragons.  The other way to look at it is that SF has failed to come up with any species prototypes that people love enough to want to read about again and again-- fantasy and horror has. Elves are like vampires and werewolves and zombies-- people can't get enough of them. Why don't we have lots of novels about the Buggers from Ender's GameOr at least cheap rip-offs of them? If buggers are not human enough, how about Star Trek's Klingons?

Interestingly, not every Tolkien race took off either: not every fantasy world has ents or hobbits. On that topic, many of the races that we describe as Tolkienesque he borrowed from much older mythology: dwarfs, elves, dragons, goblins. Orcs have been moderately successful, but they're not ubiquitous like elves are. It suggests that the successful fantasy races are successful because they are inherited from a time-worn tradition of compelling archetypes: the faerie, the dragon, the hairy beast in the wilderness, the elf, the demon. A tradition much older than Tolkien.

Pictured: yet another elf. Like we need one. From Wikimedia Commons.

Thanks to my man Daniel Saunders for inspiring this blog. 
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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Banning Smoking and Changing Your Mind

My neighborhood newspaper recently reported that Ottawa was on the verge of banning smoking on patios, in parks, and at beaches (Hofley, 2012). The public applauds this. At the end of the article, Ottawa’s medical officer of health expresses her approval because smoking causes a good deal of death. The article says that “the ban is about reducing mortality rates associated with smoking.”

I think we all agree that smoking is bad for your health. Is this a good reason to ban smoking in public places?

People seem to think that people will smoke less, or will be more inclined to quit smoking if we make it harder for them to smoke. This didn’t seem right to me. People don’t quit addictions because of inconvenience.

I thought this was yet another decision that should have been based on scientific data, but wasn’t. I still think that, in that I doubt most advocates bothered to look for data, but in my research for this entry I took a look.

I was wrong.

Turns out that banning smoking in public places does reduce smoking consumption and makes more people quit.
I suspect that part of it is because public smoking makes it more socially acceptable, and people start and keep smoking, in part, because of social acceptance.

Some people never want to be wrong, and hold on to beliefs long after they are discredited-- for reasons of honor. I don’t scold myself for being wrong. I pride myself for changing my mind in the face of empirical study. Finding yourself to be wrong is an opportunity to be a good person.


Hofley, C. (2012). Smoking ban closer to reality. Centretown Buzz, 17(2), p5.

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