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stream. Let me just repeat that date: The Sword of Shannara was published in 1977.
Remember that date, because it is an important year.
Science fiction had been successful for many years before 1977. It was (at that
time) more deeply ingrained in the culture than fantasy. There had been successful
sci-fi TV series and movies for over twenty years by 1977. Forbidden Planet ,thefilm
that gave birth to Robbie the Robot, came out in 1956. The original The Day the
Earth Stood Still was released in 1951. Flash Gordon was a successful TV series in
1954. 1954!
Television just echoed the popularity of written sci-fi in fiction at that time.
There were many successful sci-fi authors during what would later be called the
“golden age” of sci-fi after World War II. Amazing writers such as Larry Niven, Jerry
Pournelle, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Gene Rod-
denberry, James Blish, Arthur C. Clarke, Frederik Pohl, and Theodore Sturgeon all
put pen to paper in that era. Philip K. Dick ( Blade Runner and To t a l R e c a l l )was
writing during this pre-1977 period. Star Trek and Lost in Space were both on TV
in the 1960s. Has there ever been a more influential genre intellectual property than
Star Trek ?Oh,yes,therehas.
Man set foot on the moon in 1969, and 2001: A Space Odyssey was released
in 1968 and was a huge success. Science fiction was all the rage in popular cul-
ture during this time. People who consumed “genre fiction” consumed mainly sci-
ence fiction, period. Fantasy was a “geeky” backwater. Fantasy did not appear
on television. Fantasy did not appear in the movie theaters. Think about that a
minute. No fantasy on TV, hardly any fantasy in the movies, hardly any fantasy in
In games, science fiction was well-represented by such titles as Starforce: Alpha
Centuri and Car Wars . Starforce , published by Simulations Publications, Inc., known
as SPI, was typical. Combat-oriented, strategic in scale, and hard-sci-fi in backdrop,
Starforce and its spin-offs easily outsold a little-known fantasy game during this time
period called Dungeons & Dragons . D&D became very well-known by 1977, when it
split into D&D and Advanced D&D .
Fast forward to 2008. Newly published fantasy novels outnumber new science
fiction books two-to-one. That doesn't take into account sci-fi books that are simply
knockoffs of sci-fi movies (I mean, how many Star Wars stories can we read, now,
anyway?). And, 20 years after the watershed of 1977, in the late 1990s along came
Harry Potter . There has never been a sci-fi book with anywhere near the impact or
success of Rowling's masterwork.
And, in games, there is World of Warcraft .'Nuffsaid,there.
What happened that caused this sea change? What was this watershed event?
Well, my friends, it was a movie released Memorial Day weekend in May of 1977.
That movie was called Star Wars .lcomebacktowhyIbeieve Star Wars was
such a success and why it muddied the water in terms of the sci-fi/fantasy gap in
just a bit, but first I want to dig into the differences between fantasy and science
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