Elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy

I’ve been watching Sapphire and Steel (1979-1982) starring David McCallum and Joanna Lumley, and I’m troubled by the opening narration.  It’s a perfect example of a common problem with fantasy and science fiction.

The deep voice at the start says this:-

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

The problem, obviously, is that use of the word ‘element’ – they’re just not.  It ought to be:-

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Carbon with Iron Sulphide, Carbon, Radium, Aluminium Oxide, Silver and Iron with Carbon. Aluminium Oxide and Iron with Carbon have been assigned.

(In some of the episodes, Lead and Silver have also been assigned and they aren’t mentioned as such.)

In Ancient times, it would go like this:-

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements don’t exist. All other elements are available: Fire, Earth, Air and Water.  Fire and Water have been assigned.

And, if you think about it, it’s ‘forces’, so surely, “…Strong, Electromagnetic, Weak and Gravity.  Strong and Weak have been assigned.”

All very silly, I know, but there’s an important point here.  Mixing science with fantasy always destroys the suspension of disbelief.  To give another example.

The Force is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.

Which is fine.  Even the use of the word ‘energy’ works, because it’s the non-scientific definition.  However, in the Star Wars prequels, the Force was suddenly generated by midi-chlorians, tiny living entities inside all the cells of the body.  This brought the concept under scientific scrutiny and it immediately failed.  Biology doesn’t work like that, so the suspension of disbelief – whoosh!  There it went.

The solution for Star Wars would simply be to remove those lines and pretend they never happened.  Mysticism in a space fantasy isn’t a problem, it follows its own rules and that’s part of its universe.  Pure Science Fiction occupies this universe and so its rules are those rules.  As you move towards Science Fantasy with FTL, teleportation and so on, you generate new rules and you must follow those.  Fantasy has magic and ‘can do anything’, except it has to follow the rules of its magic.

Science fiction must obey the scientific laws, and fantasy must obey its own lore.

So, finally, to fix Sapphire and Steel, it must be dragged away from the clutches of science.

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transcendental agents may not be used where there is life. Corporeal agents are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel (and maybe Lead and Silver) have been assigned.

Job done.

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