What happens when you have magic and spaceships? Or gods and mad scientists? Some of the most exciting worlds in science fiction also include fantasy elements — and here are our 12 favorites.
It really feels as though the cutting edge of speculative fiction lately is stories where neither magic nor science can fully explain what's going on. A lot of our most popular entertainments lately have merged both, and that space in between the genres is shaping up to be the most fruitful domain of all.
Note: This article doesn't really include the "science that's so advanced, it's indistinguishable from magic" trope, which is a very different thing and probably deserves its own list.
Marvel's most famous characters mostly get their secret origins from science — a radioactive spider, mutants, a cybernetic super-suit, a super-soldier serum, etc. — but once you drill even a little bit below the surface, the mystical comes bubbling up and it's totally awesome. The Scarlet Witch, whose name pretty much says it all, is a mainstay of the Avengers, and the Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange, is one of Marvel's coolest heroes. And so on — pick up any one of the Essential Defenders reprint trades, and you'll see the Hulk and the Silver Surfer venturing into the worlds of magic with the Atlantean prince Namor. Rocking.
Superman is the last survivor (well, sorta) of a distant planet, Krypton. He has two main weaknesses: the radioactive fragments of his homeworld, or magic. How awesome is it that a nigh-invulnerable alien is scared of magic? It boggles the mind. The DC Universe's mystical characters include Dr. Fate, the Spectre, the Phantom Stranger and Zatanna. And with storylines like Identity Crisis revolving around magical mind-wiping, magic is now at the center of the DC Universe, alongside all the science-fictional parallel universes and super-cyborgs.
The Book Of The New Sun sequence by Gene Wolfe.
Set in a distant future when the Earth is dying — not unlike the Dying Earth stories by Jack Vance — Wolfe's novel takes on the appearance of a fantasy epic. As SFSite explains:
The shape of the plot itself is pure high fantasy, and at the beginning of the series one would be forgiven for thinking Urth was a parallel world of the comparative past, complete with magic and monsters. But as one progresses, Wolfe drops subtle hints that accumulate into the realisation that Urth is in fact our own Earth, just far into the future.
The Dark Tower by Stephen King
King doesn't respect genre boundaries — the only thing unifying the various features of this post-apocalyptic series is it all came out of his brain. There's that insane runaway train Eddie defeats with dead baby jokes, plus all the mutants in the first novel. But then there's the incubus at the beginning of the third novel, and the whole ominously mystical cast to the series.
No matter how you felt about this show's ending, you have to admit that Lost blended fantasy and science fiction in an addictive way, the likes of which we'll probably never see again. There was electromagnetism and time travel, and a cute physicist in a skinny tie explaining it all to us. But there were also supernatural forces that toyed with our mortal fates. From early on, it should have been obvious that science was never going to rationalize every aspect of this story, and the ending confirmed it.