Science fiction and fantasy have always been on opposite sides of the same coin. It’s the classic dichotomy of science versus magic, sword versus laser and spaceships versus dragons. Now don’t get me wrong, it is not uncommon for a science fiction story to have some fantasy elements and vise versa. However, true sci-fi/fantasy hybrids—where science fiction and fantasy are equally represented—are a bit harder to come by. A novel like Frank Herbert’s Dune certainly has strong fantasy elements, but is decidedly science fiction. Terry Brooks’ Shannara world is apocalyptic science fiction at its roots, but presents itself mostly as fantasy. If we venture outside the literary realm to include film, it can be argued that Star Wars—with its princesses, saber battles, and the mysterious “Force”—owes at least part of its tremendous popularity to the fact that it appeals to both sci-fi and fantasy fans. But is it an actual hybrid? Many would say ‘no’.
However, some authors are making the choice to create worlds that are sci-fi/fantasy balanced in true yin and yang fashion. One recent example is R.A. Baker’s Rayna of Nightwind series. One can argue that Baker’s new series is science fiction in fantasy trappings, but there’s a case to be made that there’s more than enough fantasy present to give it hybrid status. The first novel, The Beast at the Gate follows a young, modern-day woman who is teleported to a preindustrial place in time called Taren. There are repeated references to “science”, though it’s usually in a derogatory manner. Science isn’t held with high regard in Taren, but it does exist. The fantasy aspect of Baker’s novels is apparent from the start. The female protagonist Rayna Powell is thrust into a low-tech world of kings, queens, mages, archers and pike men. The citizens of Taren all sport pointed ears, like your typical high fantasy elf.
There is also a concept in the book called “psi-magic”, which is a form of psychic power. It is the metaphysical glue that binds the fantasy and science fiction elements of the author’s world together. R.A. Baker’s story seems to flow from fantasy to science fiction and back to fantasy again with little effort. Forexample, the reader can be swept away in an epic battle against a fire golem, only to be caught up in another current involving malfunctioning war satellites and human cloning in the next chapter. By the time we get to Baker’s second book in the series, Beyond the Band of Death, we are treated to killer robots, underground laboratories, gene-altering bombs, gruesome mutants, wizard rivalries and dragons. It is possible that the third book (when it comes out) will nudge the series out of hybrid territory and firmly establish it as science fiction. But until then, Baker has created a complex balance between two disparate genres that never once feels out of place.