Where’s the Line Between Science Fiction and Fantasy?

Answer: is there one?

Kit, you say, of course. One has aliens and the other has elves.

Both of which are made-up creatures that have no basis in reality. So where’s the difference again?

Kit, you say, one has space travel and one has magic.

Well, as we recently discussed, some people think that space travel isn’t possible and any sufficiently advanced technology appears to be magic.

Kit, you say, one is used to extrapolate what will happen to us as a species in the future, and one…has dragons.

Really? Are you going to sit there and tell me that fantasy doesn’t deal with human nature in situations that we may never actually experience?

Let’s look at Star Wars. Scifi, right? It takes place in space, there are spaceships and aliens. But – it follows a classic hero’s journey, a fantasy staple, AND there’s a magical ability called the Force. How does it work? Midochlorians. And how do midochlorians work? Magic, essentially. Plus light sabers are fancy swords. Star Wars is a lot closer to Lord of the Rings than Ringworld.

In my head, you can’t really separate the two genres. Instead there’s sort of a speculative fiction sliding scale. On one end you have the hard science fiction – Rendezvous with Rama, for example – and on the other end you have epic fantasy, like the Wheel of Time. And then everything else falls somewhere in the middle, with things like Pern and Incarceron sitting about halfway.

And actually, if you want to take this scale further, you can make a triangle with paranormal or horror being the third point, and then you can stick a work of speculative fiction somewhere between all three. Horror’s a bit hard to incorporate, because while a lot of it includes speculative elements of some sort (experiments gone wrong, aliens, things that go bump in the night) you also have the slasher subgenre which doesn’t particularly fit.

But! My point is that there’s not really a line. There’s no hard and fast rules you can make that will adequately separate the two from each other. There’s too many works that straddle the line and could go either way. For each rule, there’s a dozen rule-breakers.

Do you agree, Squiders? If not, where would you put the line?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. [...] Instead there's sort of a speculative fiction sliding scale. On one end you have the hard science fiction – Rendezvous with Rama, for example – and on the other end you have epic fantasy, like the Wheel of Time.  [...]

    Reply

  2. I’d agree with this, although the dividing line that I’ve generally heard is that if it’s scientifically possible then to go with sci-fi, and if not, fantasy (which is why Anne McCaffrey’s dragons would fall under sci-fi). Generally if a book’s genre is ambiguous I cheat and if I’m in doubt check the LOC cataloging descriptions. :P

    Reply

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