Happy 40th birthday, D&D! The world's oldest fantasy adventure role-playing game? Yes, but ... most of the world doesn't know about the role of science fantasy in the first eight or so years of your existence. The genre purges of the 80's - serious fantasy only, please! - saw science-fantasy shaken out of successive D&D rule sets. But psionics, giant insects and blobs, and the crashed spaceships in both Arneson's and Gygax's games, are important sci-fi intrusions in the early game.
But beyond fiction, science fantasy casts a sympathetic light onto the gamer's own activities. You, a modern, rational person, are using actuarial tables and polyhedral number crunching to enact a Dark Ages drama. Hell - the very activity of role-playing is science fantasy!
If any more proof is needed, below are the inspirational works and authors from Gygax's famed Appendix N. I've highlighted them as non-science fantasy (yellow), science fantasy by one of the three definitions below (green), or straight science fiction, albeit sometimes with a medieval or ancient setting (blue).
1. Scientific explanations or sci-fi settings of apparently fantastic phenomena. Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, where knowledge of chemistry and physics explains the dragon's breath or the giant's curse. De Camp & Pratt's Compleat Enchanter, where voyages to fantastic worlds stem from modern-day adventurers' mastery of higher mathematics. McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern and John Carter of Mars - sword-and-planet, dragon-and-planet.
2. The return of the fantastic to a far future or post-apocalyptic world. Vance's Dying Earth, Lanier's previously mentioned Hiero's Journey, and others.
3. The fantastic intruding into a world ruled by science: Lovecraft, Zelazny's Amber series, or the explorer's romances of A. Merritt.
Anderson, Poul: THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
Bellairs, John: THE FACE IN THE FROST
Burroughs, Edgar Rice: "Pellucidar" series; Mars series; Venus series
Carter, Lin: "World's End" series
de Camp, L. Sprague: LEST DARKNESS FALL; THE FALLIBLE FIEND; et al
de Camp & Pratt: "Harold Shea" series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE
Farmer, P. J.: "The World of the Tiers" series; et al
Fox, Gardner: "Kothar" series; "Kyrik" series; et al
Howard, R. E.: "Conan" series
Lanier, Sterling: HIERO'S JOURNEY
Leiber, Fritz: "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" series; et al
Lovecraft, H. P.
Merritt, A.: CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al
Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; "Hawkmoon" series (esp. the
first three books)
Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III
Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al
Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al
St. Clair, Margaret: THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; "Ring trilogy"
Vance, Jack: THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al
Wellman, Manley Wade
Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; "Amber" series; et al.
Science fantasy is the largest of these three categories, and if you put the sci-fi authors in with it, it easily overwhelms the pure fantasy sources. I've also boldfaced what in my opinion are the most important influences on the actual game, the works that contributed most to the concept of the races, classes, magic and monsters in the game. These are evenly split between science and classic fantasy.
As I look over these influences I also realize that in my own Band of Iron campaign I've been taking a different approach to confront the mythic with the modern. Let's call it "fantasy-science." If all goes well the section of the campaign dealing with that will come to a climax in a session tomorrow, so in my next post I'll be at greater liberty to write about its secrets.