Sunday, April 26, 2015
Raygun Fantasy and Scientifiction
For example, many episodes of the original Star Trek series were basically raygun fantasy. The various episodes in which powerful aliens - or computers! - who masquerade as gods, angels, or who act in much the way that spiritual beings are said to act here on Earth are especially indicative of this. "And the Children Shall Lead", "Metamorphosis", "Wolf in the Fold", "Arena", "Who Mourns for Adonais?", and many other episodes of that series typify that sort of approach. Northwest Smith encountered many beings that were from other dimensions or planes of existence and were no different than otherplanar beings in fantasy fiction. Star Wars is notable for its fantastic elements, especially the various manifestations of the Force, and draws many of its plot concepts from myth and legend. The Lensman stories tend toward scientifiction, but the Arisians resemble occult concepts of Ascended Masters to a great degree, the Eddorians invade our universe from an alien space-time continuum, and the telepathic powers of the Galactic Patrol are largely similar to magic.
Another frequent element of raygun fantasy is the use of swords. This can be either unexplained, as in Flash Gordon where fighting with swords just happens or Krull where the presence of swords is taken for granted, or else given a rationale of some sort, such as the interaction of light sabers and the Force in Star Wars or the shield belts of Dune. This happens often enough that I had considered calling the subgenre "sword & blaster".
That last brings up an important area of crossover in subgenres of SF. The SF New Wave frequently drew inspiration and concepts from the era that gave us the core of raygun fantasy, and as a result often fits well into the concept. In fact, the influence occasionally went the other way as well, after a fashion, as when the 1980 film of Flash Gordon featured an Emperor Ming who controlled and enhanced his soldiers with drugs, a common New Wave motif.
To my way of thinking, the ideal of raygun fantasy stories are C.L. Moore's Northwest Smith stories, Flash Gordon, and Star Wars. Those form the core around which I am building my ideas of the subgenre. There are many other examples, from Lost in Space and Battlestar Galactica (the 1978-79 series more than the 21st century remake) to Richard Corben's "Den of Earth" stories and Leigh Brackett's Eric John Stark tales, plus the Masters of the Universe toy line and television series, not even to mention videogames like Final Fantasy. One of the most recent manifestations of the idea is found in the blockbuster film Guardians of the Galaxy. I'll discuss this all more completely later.