Friday, September 18, 2015

The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

As we move into fall, a lot of us begin to anticipate upcoming movie releases. For those of us with geekish bent, we look forward to those like the new Star Wars. In honor of the movies to come, I’m going to share 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 Narnia books 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. Rendezvous with Rama (and just about anything else) by Arthur C. Clarke is science fiction. He wrote stories based on what science could actually do and avoided the magical thinking of warp drives and speeds faster than light. Terry Brooks' Shannara series are fantasies complete with magic, wizards, dragons, etc.
    Here's a tongue in cheek definition of the difference between scifi and fantasy:
    If it has horses and swords in it, it's a fantasy, unless it also has a rocket ship in it, in which case it becomes science fiction. The only thing that'll turn a story with a rocket ship in it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.
    - Debra Doyle

    1. Henry, I love that!!! Thanks so much for sharing. Blessings, E

  2. The Princess and Curdie is a great example of fantasy. Star Wars? Science Fiction.

    1. Marjorie, I totally agree. Thanks for dropping by! Blessings, E

  3. "The Empire Strikes back"--Science Fiction. Would the Narnia series be fantasy?

    1. Carole, Yes to both. At least that's the school of thought I agree with. The entire science fiction/fantasy debate has been going on for a long time! Thank you for sharing! Blessings, E

  4. I would consider the Narnia series to be fantasy, but what about C.S. Lewis' Cosmic Trilogy? I've seen it categorized as both Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

    1. Ava, I agree with Narnia, and I think the Cosmic Trilogy is Scifi. It is an interesting debate. Thanks so much for joining in! Blessings, E

  5. Magic is just another word for science that we do not yet understand,

    1. Nathaniel, in some ways, that's definitely true! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Blessings, E

  6. As you know, I needed this post today! Hahahaha! Thanks for the info!