Fantasy vs Science Fiction
It’s often said that Star Trek is science fiction whereas Star Wars is fantasy with space ships. This sort of explains the difference:
Chiang offered a short discursus on the history of science. In his telling, the pivotal moment was the emergence of chemistry – a genuine science – from the magical discipline of alchemy. The latter involved the purification of the soul alongside the purification of a base metal into nobility, while the former was grounded in observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and systematization. Alchemy failed and chemistry prevailed, said Chiang, because the soul is of no consequence.
This corresponds to the personalism of the fantasy genre. The magician is always chosen, set apart from others as the bearer of a special destiny. For Chiang, this implies hierarchy, elitism. He contrasts this with science fiction, which he construes as egalitarian. The science of science fiction is – in theory if not in practice – available to everyone. Star Wars is instructive here. Although anyone might pick up and fire a blaster or fly a starship at light speed, only the elect can wield the Force. Star Wars is thus fantasy and not science fiction.
No fan of hierarchy, Chiang observes that fantasy stories are rarely set in post-industrial revolution settings. He explains this by way of Marx’s theory of the alienation of labor: the worker’s estrangement has the effect of erasing difference and collapsing social hierarchies into the binary of proletariat and bourgeoisie. This flattening?—?tightly yoked to the mechanical world-view?—?makes it difficult to believe in a personal universe. Everyone is ontologically equivalent in the eyes of the market. Thus fantasy stories set in capitalist societies require a greater suspension of disbelief.
I’d always thought that magic and technology (applied science) made for an interesting dynamic. It’s pretty easy to imagine that those who are powerful through magic would have a pretty natural hostility towards science, which allows the masses to accomplish many of the same things that they can do. So for it to work, you either need the magical to be very limited in number (like the Jedi) or limited in what they can actually do.