In a recent discussion with my friend, R. A. Baxter, I casually mentioned that magic and future tech were fundamentally the same thing in different settings. In some ways science fiction and fantasy are the same, which is why they are often shelved together in stores and libraries. Fans of both often prefer the term “speculative fiction,” since the lines between them have been blurred so much.
He pointed out that one big difference between them is that readers often assume future technology will be possible some day, whereas most of the time nobody believes magic is real. What I realized when I heard this, was that sci-fi seems fundamentally more optimistic than fantasy for that reason.
Traditional sci-fi is full of ideas for inventions that would make life better. It is set in the future, and as real time catches up with the imagined worlds of past authors we are amazed that so many were correct. In many cases, the inventions presented as fiction inspire later engineers to invent them, thus fulfilling a kind of techno-prophecy.
Medieval fantasy is set in the past, and tends to include a longing for bygone ways. The magic changes the balance of power and often alters the course of lives or worlds. However, the overall statement seems to be that life would be better with magic.
Based on these stereotypical genre descriptions, fantasy is more pessimistic. In reality, there are many dystopian futures and fantasies that include a positive ideal of humanity (which is about the characters more than the magic). Indeed my own fantasy novel, Salvation, is much more socially positive than my science fiction book, Theocracide.
What do you think? Does one of these genres represent a more positive view of humanity in general?