Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

In simplest terms, technofantasy is Fantasy that has scientific/technological trappings, or uses scientific/technological tools: it is distinguished from Science Fiction in that there is no attempt to justify such use in scientific or quasiscientific terms (sometimes there is a bit of gobbledegook, but both creator and audience know this for what it is) – although the closeness of the two forms may be seen if we regard Arthur C Clarke's suggestion that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" as a literary rather than a technological observation. More importantly, fantasy is not a genre whose subject matter should be confined to historic or fictional pasts – to Golden Ages or Lands of Fable, or to medieval-style Secondary Worlds: fantasies can as well be set in the present or in futures as anywhere/anywhen else. Thus a robot capable of casting Spells that work is a creature of fantasy, not sf.

The ancestor of the technofantasy subgenre can be viewed as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818; rev 1831), a novel which, while often described as the first true sf novel, in fact contains no science whatsoever outside vague allusions to the mysterious powers of electricity (the Frankenstein Movies, with their technological extravaganzas, may blind us to this) and is anyway much more concerned with a fantasy theme: the nature of Good and Evil. A like concern underlies Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) – a major difference between this and the similarly themed The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1891) by Oscar Wilde is that the former is a technofantasy and the latter defiantly not. H G Wells's The Invisible Man (1897) is another novel which is often viewed as sf but which is arguably technofantasy (> Invisibility).

Examples of technofantasy are too many to cite. Most have appeared during the past few decades, as technology has replaced God in the Western mind. Technofantasies see people fall into video games (as in God Game [1986] by Andrew M Greeley [1928-2013]) or tv programmes (as in Stay Tuned [1992]); spirits may communicate with the living via tv screens (as in the Poltergeist series and Scrooged [1988]; > A Christmas Carol); automobiles may be possessed (> Possession) as in Stephen King's Christine (1983) and especially The Car (1977), or somehow become sentient (> Herbie Movies); such traditional entities as Fairies and Faerie may be substituted by technology-derived but equally fantastic counterparts (as in The Brave Little Toaster [1987] and Toys [1992]); technology may be used to create Zombies (as in Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives [1972]); a nuclear plant may adopt many of the attributes of deity (as in Akira [1989]); the Devil may be a machine (as in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey [1991] and, in a different way, Jeremy Leven's Satan [1982]); a super-sophisticated robot may be capable of Shapeshifting – a notion drawn from Folklore and thus a core fantasy notion – as in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991); or . . . Such fantasy themes as the Golem, a fictitious artefact of an earlier science, can be approached from two such different directions as those in He, She and It (1991; vt Body of Glass) by Marge Piercy (1936-    ), which cobbles a fantasy notion onto purported sf, and Terry Pratchett's Feet of Clay (1996), which creates ridiculous quasi-science in order to justify his golems in a fantasy venue.

A particular technofantastic artefact spawned by the Cinema is beginning to make its appearance in written fiction as well: the Toon, the animated character given a real existence in the human world. Also related to technofantasy are those fantasies couched in what are certainly science-fictional terms, like Sheri S Tepper's Raising the Stones (1990), in which Legend and Reality overlap, Gods existing in the real world but as a symbiotic fungus. Christopher Stasheff has taken this Planetary-Romance form of the subgenre to its extreme. And sf's cyberpunk subgenre is perhaps the ultimate expression of technofantasy: usually having no real relation to the potentials of current science, it allows its protagonists to indulge in such activities as flying through what are effectively Fantasylands – where they Quest, encounter and defeat the technofantastic equivalent of Dragons, and may even find Love. [JG]

see also: Science Fantasy; Steampunk.


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.