Friday, October 25, 2013

Genre Talk—The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

We interrupt the usual Life Lessons Friday post. Reba is en route to Salt Lake City and will resume posting next Friday. (Don’t worry, I’m not letting her leave us!)

The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy
During our last Genre Talk discussion, I gave you the basics on the general category of Speculative Fiction. Today I’m going to deliver on my promise to give you some insight into the difference between Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Often times readers and writers will lump science fiction and fantasy together without realizing the difference. And in an attempt to differentiate, they’ll often come up with arbitrary rules about what makes something fantasy or scifi. Truthfully, there are very few books that mix the two.

Here are some of the myths you may have heard:
  • If it has dragons, it’s fantasy.
  • Science fiction only deals with hard science.
  • Epics are always fantasy.
  • Science fiction deals with space wars.

These are just a few of the ones I’ve been told.

The truth is they’re all wrong…and they’re all right. And none of them gives an accurately complete picture of the sub-genres.

The definitions aren’t as difficult as I may have led you to believe. But they both are determined by the world built by the author.

Science fiction depends on a universe that is based in science. For instance, if the author has built a world where dragons have evolved or been genetically engineered, that is science fiction. A classic example of this is the Dragons of Pern series by the late Anne McCaffrey. Her books are populated by dragons, fire lizards and the like. BUT, and this is an important distinction, these animals were genetically engineered. They do possess the ability to mind-link with their rides and breath fire. But it is all explained through science.

Fantasy has the one additional element of magic. The classic example of this is the Narniabooks from C.S. Lewis. The worlds he built have dark magic and light magic. And things happen WITHOUT a scientific reason.

Both book series have dragons and creatures that we'd consider other-worldly. But one is explained by science and the other through the supernatural.

Now, I have a quiz for you all. 
I challenge you to name one science fiction story (or movie) and/or book, as well as one fantasy story (or movie) and/or book. AND to support your answers with these definitions.

If you disagree with my parameters, I’d love to hear from you, too. All in all, today should prove to be a spirited discussion and we’ll all learn something, as well as get some new books to put on our to-be-read lists!

Don’t forget to join the conversation!



  1. All the Star Trek movies are SciFi--and I love them. However, I also love movies like The Dark Crystal and The Neverending Story, which are Fantasy (right?)

    1. Pam, right on all counts! Thanks for taking time to play, Blessings, E

  2. The Harry Potter books/movies are fantasy and Star Wars is Sci-Fi, I think.

    1. Ellen, you're exactly right. Even though the Star Wars movies have odd species, they're obviously a result of their different plants of origin. Well don! Blessings, E

  3. The Eragon books would be considered fantasy. And of course star wars