The Increasingly Muddy Line Between Fantasy and Science Fiction

Have I shown you my speculative fiction pyramid, squiders? Hold on, let me do a quick paint drawing for you.

Speculative Fiction TriangleTada! Behold, the speculative fiction pyramid. Because, back when I was doing the Subgenre Study, I found it increasingly difficult to tell where one genre ends and another begins. Something like Pern looks like fantasy on the outside, but actually takes place on a planet that humans colonized.

The Pern books are admittedly kind of old-school at this point, but it’s certainly not the only example I can provide. The Shannara books (getting new life through the upcoming TV show) have always hinted that it takes place in our world after some disaster at some point in the distant past. And one of my favorite books that I read this year, The Queen of the Tearling, has every high fantasy trope you could want, but makes mention of England and Scotland and some passage made to get to where the story takes place. (And, actually, apparently Amazon has its sequel, The Invasion of the Tearling, which I have sadly not read yet, filed under Science Fiction>Dystopian.)

So while it’s true that most speculative fiction falls somewhere on the speculative fiction triangle (dark fantasy would go between fantasy and horror, say, and science fantasy would go between science fiction and fantasy), it almost feels like a lot of fantasy has pushed off toward the science fiction end.

My own personal theory is that we, as a technical society, like to know how things work, and so magic systems have become more technical and, over time, morphed toward the old “Any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic” end of things. So maybe a world has magic, but instead of being true magic, it’s just considered magic because the Ancients who came up with the technology are dead and long gone, and the knowledge has been lost through whatever.

…one sec, I have to write down a story idea.

This co-written novel I’m working on right now has some elements of this too. What do you think, Squiders? Elements of our time? Is is really as pervasive as it seems, or do I just keep falling into that particular type of book?

2 responses to this post.

  1. I think it’s because the gatekeepers are fading. They built the fences, and are not maintaining them. This is a good thing in my mind. Many new stories are mashups of other genres. Steampunk seems to include a bit of magic these days.

    I still hold that Star Wars is as much fantasy as it is science fiction.


    • Steampunk always feels like it can go more fantasy or more scifi, depending on how it’s put together.

      (Star Wars is totally fantasy in space. You shall get no argument from me there.)


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