When I was young, I watched a dichotomy of cartoons: The Jetsons and The Flintstones. These shows represented two families; one set in the future and the other in the past. They often came on back to back. They were both family sitcom type shows centered around married men with children dealing with the various problems of life.
George Jetson lived in an idyllic future. With a wife, two kids, a robot maid, and a flying dog, George lived in a round house on top of a tall pillar (like the space needle). He drove a flying car which conveniently folded up into a briefcase, which he carried to his desk job at Spacely Sprockets.
Fred Flintstone led a charmed caveman life. Also married with a daughter and a pet dinosaur, Fred’s concrete home had all the modern amenities thanks to trained animals which served as disposal, oven, and other appliances. Fred’s vehicle had an opening in the bottom for his bare feet to run on the ground and thus move the stone wheeled car. He operated a dinosaur tractor at his work, which was a rock quarry.
Taken as a group, the message of the two programs seemed to be that the setting wasn’t important. No matter what time period, the important part of life is family and friends. But I wasn’t buying into that nonsense! Even as a kid, I could see a huge different in a life where one guy has a FLYING CAR and the other one is basically building up momentum on two huge flywheels. I knew for sure I wanted to grow up to be like George Jetson.
As a corollary, I believe these cartoons represent the unhappy union of science fiction and fantasy under the umbrella of “speculative fiction”. Just as the Jetsons and Flintstones were nearly identical stories with only the setting as a variation, many people mistakenly think that these two genres go together. All the libraries and book stores lump them together. Publishers tend to print both or neither. In my recent book, The Actuator: Fractured Earth I have characters moving between areas of literal sci-fi and fantasy. However, the two are NOT interchangeable.
The setting is part of the characters. It is integral to the themes and ideas explored in the story, whatever the media. In some cases, like Firefly and Our Mutual Friend, the setting is treated as a character with a progression arc. I would go so far as to say any story which can be lifted out of one setting and into another is a failure on the part of the author to properly explore and utilize the milieu. (Except Shakespeare– those plays seem to work in a variety of settings. Probably because he wrote the plays for theaters with relatively simple settings.)
The point is, it matters. I informally quizzed several friends and family members. Would you rather live in a fantasy world where magic is real, or in a sci-fi setting with amazing technology? Without exception they said they would prefer to live in a sci-fi world. Many cited the bathroom facilities as a key factor in their decision. However, most of them noted their preference to read fantasy books above science fiction. How about you?
Paul Genesse defines sci-fi as something we could get to from here. It’s possible, however unlikely, we could obtain the future detailed in sci-fi. Fantasy, regardless of the time frame, is impossible for us to get to. Do you agree with his definition?
So what I realized as a child seems to be well acknowledged. Most people would rather live in the Jetsons future than the Flintstones past. Who wouldn’t want a flying car? Unfortunately, the world played a cruel trick on me. Quite unintentionally, I grew up to look like Fred Flintstone. I have a permanent muzzle of stubble that can never be shaved enough to disappear. My cars are closer to needing me to pedal than they are to lifting off the ground. And while I write both fantasy and sci-fi, I have to say I prefer the science fiction for what I most want to be and live in.
Nevertheless, the world has failed to deliver on the promise this pair of cartoons seemed to be making. I knew as a child we would never have pet dinosaurs, which we could task to serve as a vacuum cleaner or dishwasher. (Why in the world didn’t they use one to pull their car?) However, it seemed possible for me to one day have a robot maid. As one of the earth’s Fred Flintstones, I am disappointed to find there really aren’t any George Jetsons. So is fantasy really more impossible than sci-fi?