Science Fiction Versus Fantasy

Zeke Newbold

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So I want to discuss subtle but important genre distinctions (in, mostly, writing) here - and what significance they have.

I am a sort of science fiction and horror fan and can read most things which fall into this genre. However, giver me a book of what would be termed Fantasy - straight Fantasy - you know, sword and sorcery, or stuff involving magical kingdoms and Elves and such like then I find that the stories just don't work for me. I can't lose myself in them.

It seems to be a simple question of exposition. The way it works is this. Tell me that Once Upon a Time there lived a race of dwarves who lived underground and had special psychic powers and try to proceed from there ...then you have lost me at the outset. However, tell me that there is an alien humanoid race on a planet in such and such a galaxy which is of small stature and which lives underground following a nuclear war and which has, over time, developed psi-powers because... yadayadayada...then I'm hooked!

it seems to me that often the only serious distinction between science fiction and Fantasy lays in the fact that Science fiction will always provide a rationale for whatever magic unfolds - probably a B.S pseudo-scientific rationale, but rationale at least, whereas Fantasy won't. Take Tolkein's work: you're dropped straight into the Middle Earth and there are Elves and such like there. Is it the past the future or another planet or what.?..You are simply not told and it is expected to not matter.

But I find I need explanations, no matter how silly of far fetched they may be. It is Just So won't do for me.

Sometime in my thirties I began to wonder if I was missing out on something by not reading Fantasy and I tried to read some - people like Terry Brooks and so on. It was okay, but it just didn't hook me. I find that there is a sort of scale and I can only go so far along it. So I can read - say - Jack Vance or Piers Anthony (both tip over into Fantasy, I'd say) but, for example, the Star Wars franchise has always left me cold because I think my brain recognises it as Fantasy (Good versus Evil, Princesses, Sword fights etc) despite all the SFnal paraphenalia it is cloaked in.

If one is being honest about it though, both science fiction and Horror (which I will not embark on here) are both subsets of Fantasy. Science fiction is more of an adventure tale which uses `science` as its background explanation and horror more of a thriller which uses the Occult as its basis - but both are fantasies.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that the distinction between science fiction and fantasy is an Anglophone one. I can tell you that in the Russian language there is only `Fantastica` - which encompasses both science fiction and fantasy without distinction. Of course, there are words to distinguish SF from Fantasy - but these are not widely used and do not appear in bookshops of or film genre descriptions. (It is interesting to note that Fantasy, unless you mean fairytales, hardly existed in Russia until recent times. There are not Russian Tolkeins or C.S Lewises that I know of, but plenty of science fiction writers. Many of these, such as Boris and Arkady Strugatsky often embarked on what we would call Fantasy, however. And, of course, Russia has since pioneered it's own form of `Urban Fantasy` courtesy of Lukyashenko and Max Frei and some others).

I used to belong to a Science Fiction club in a British town. We eventually changed our name to Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Club. The `horror` was for me, as I like that genre too, and the `Fantasy` was for one other member for he only read such books. He was outnumbered but, sometimes, after he'd swilled down a few Lancaster Bombers he's say things like: `You all take the piss out of me because I'm into Fantasy - and yet you all read stuff in that has telepathy in them - for which there is very little scientific evidence for at all!` (He was a teacher of Psychology). He had a point.

Anyway, the points to discuss are:

* Where are you on the Science fiction/Fantasy scale (if you will allow for it)?
*Or are you like me, someone who can't really relate to Fantasy at all? (Or vice versa - a Fantasy fan who doesn't do SF)?
*Do you believe Science fiction and fantasy constitute quite different genres or - like I haver hinted at above - really not so different as all that?
*Are there any Hard S.F purists here who can only take on board science fiction written by scientists and/or which has a carefully researched grounding in real science?
 

Cochise

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There is of course fantasy without any particular science element - Lord of the Rings would be a classic example. Yes there is 'magic', but no science.

Like Kondoru i don't have any interest in pure horror.
 

Zeke Newbold

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There is of course fantasy without any particular science element - Lord of the Rings would be a classic example. Yes there is 'magic', but no science.

Like Kondoru i don't have any interest in pure horror.
And if you'd read the O.P you would have seen that that is precisely what I'm discussing!
 

Cochise

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And if you'd read the O.P you would have seen that that is precisely what I'm discussing!
In Minas Morgul and the other works of the Nazgul there is evidence of 'science' . Which Tolkein refuses to explain.

I took it that you are arguing that as long as one doesn't try and explain the science its magick, but if you do its science?

And you said you want explanations, and I'm saying, sorry, ain't none , none intended or offered, so it's fantasy. Your quote:

"But I find I need explanations, no matter how silly of far fetched they may be. It is Just So won't do for me."

It isn't your choice, it's the author's.
 

Turtle91

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So I want to discuss subtle but important genre distinctions (in, mostly, writing) here - and what significance they have.

I am a sort of science fiction and horror fan and can read most things which fall into this genre. However, giver me a book of what would be termed Fantasy - straight Fantasy - you know, sword and sorcery, or stuff involving magical kingdoms and Elves and such like then I find that the stories just don't work for me. I can't lose myself in them.

It seems to be a simple question of exposition. The way it works is this. Tell me that Once Upon a Time there lived a race of dwarves who lived underground and had special psychic powers and try to proceed from there ...then you have lost me at the outset. However, tell me that there is an alien humanoid race on a planet in such and such a galaxy which is of small stature and which lives underground following a nuclear war and which has, over time, developed psi-powers because... yadayadayada...then I'm hooked!

it seems to me that often the only serious distinction between science fiction and Fantasy lays in the fact that Science fiction will always provide a rationale for whatever magic unfolds - probably a B.S pseudo-scientific rationale, but rationale at least, whereas Fantasy won't. Take Tolkein's work: you're dropped straight into the Middle Earth and there are Elves and such like there. Is it the past the future or another planet or what.?..You are simply not told and it is expected to not matter.

But I find I need explanations, no matter how silly of far fetched they may be. It is Just So won't do for me.

Sometime in my thirties I began to wonder if I was missing out on something by not reading Fantasy and I tried to read some - people like Terry Brooks and so on. It was okay, but it just didn't hook me. I find that there is a sort of scale and I can only go so far along it. So I can read - say - Jack Vance or Piers Anthony (both tip over into Fantasy, I'd say) but, for example, the Star Wars franchise has always left me cold because I think my brain recognises it as Fantasy (Good versus Evil, Princesses, Sword fights etc) despite all the SFnal paraphenalia it is cloaked in.

If one is being honest about it though, both science fiction and Horror (which I will not embark on here) are both subsets of Fantasy. Science fiction is more of an adventure tale which uses `science` as its background explanation and horror more of a thriller which uses the Occult as its basis - but both are fantasies.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that the distinction between science fiction and fantasy is an Anglophone one. I can tell you that in the Russian language there is only `Fantastica` - which encompasses both science fiction and fantasy without distinction. Of course, there are words to distinguish SF from Fantasy - but these are not widely used and do not appear in bookshops of or film genre descriptions. (It is interesting to note that Fantasy, unless you mean fairytales, hardly existed in Russia until recent times. There are not Russian Tolkeins or C.S Lewises that I know of, but plenty of science fiction writers. Many of these, such as Boris and Arkady Strugatsky often embarked on what we would call Fantasy, however. And, of course, Russia has since pioneered it's own form of `Urban Fantasy` courtesy of Lukyashenko and Max Frei and some others).

I used to belong to a Science Fiction club in a British town. We eventually changed our name to Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Club. The `horror` was for me, as I like that genre too, and the `Fantasy` was for one other member for he only read such books. He was outnumbered but, sometimes, after he'd swilled down a few Lancaster Bombers he's say things like: `You all take the piss out of me because I'm into Fantasy - and yet you all read stuff in that has telepathy in them - for which there is very little scientific evidence for at all!` (He was a teacher of Psychology). He had a point.

Anyway, the points to discuss are:

* Where are you on the Science fiction/Fantasy scale (if you will allow for it)?
*Or are you like me, someone who can't really relate to Fantasy at all? (Or vice versa - a Fantasy fan who doesn't do SF)?
*Do you believe Science fiction and fantasy constitute quite different genres or - like I haver hinted at above - really not so different as all that?
*Are there any Hard S.F purists here who can only take on board science fiction written by scientists and/or which has a carefully researched grounding in real science?
It's spelt "Tolkien"
 

Cloudbusting

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Anyway, the points to discuss are:

* Where are you on the Science fiction/Fantasy scale (if you will allow for it)?
*Or are you like me, someone who can't really relate to Fantasy at all? (Or vice versa - a Fantasy fan who doesn't do SF)?
*Do you believe Science fiction and fantasy constitute quite different genres or - like I haver hinted at above - really not so different as all that?
*Are there any Hard S.F purists here who can only take on board science fiction written by scientists and/or which has a carefully researched grounding in real science?

I understand where you're coming from:

1) I definitely prefer science fiction to straight up fantasy, although in all honesty I'm not a big reader of fiction.

2) The only obvious exceptions for me are actually Star Wars and Harry Potter (latter of which I grew up with). However I much prefer Star Trek to Star Wars.

3) I think you're right in the sense that there's a connection between the two genres but they're definitely not the same. On a personal level I find the idea of what has happened in a fictional future (and why) really interesting, whereas with fantasy these aspects are often not important. I find LOTR pretty dull, and whenever my partner has it on I'm always asking about 'technical' aspects that never get explained and aren't important to the plot. Ultimately, no matter how far fetched the plot is, science fiction tends to be more relatable than straight up fantasy. For me Harry Potter was different because during the time I was reading it there were aspects which were very relatable.

4) I'm happy with sci fi that is very speculative and not necessarily grounded in reality. I would say that I am very drawn to dystopian sci-fi, but it seems a lot of it is dystopian so that's probably a bit of a non statement.

The one slightly unusual thing for me is that although I'm really not a fan of horror films, I feel very differently about horror podcasts. Perhaps it's because there's usually more of a psychological element to them with less shock tactics.
 

bugmum

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I like both. In fact, I'm probably a bit more Fantasy than Sci Fi, if I'm honest. I can see why you would want the two classified as separate genres, but I do think there is an element of overlap between them. (This is probably a personal thing due to a number of short stories that I have stuck in my head, which I am slowly trying to bring into reality.). I think that Michael Crichton probably fits the bill of the Sci Fi writer whose works were based on actual science; I quite like his brand of reality-meets-fiction, and it probably helps if the author has a grasp of what they're writing about (don't they say you should write about what you know?).
 

PeteByrdie

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Yeah, science fiction and fantasy are not so much different genres as different flavours of a single, unnamed genre. This wouldn't have to be the case were it not that some 'science fiction' will not stay in its box, and the same is true of fantasy.
I used to belong to a Science Fiction club in a British town. We eventually changed our name to Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Club. The `horror` was for me, as I like that genre too, and the `Fantasy` was for one other member for he only read such books. He was outnumbered but, sometimes, after he'd swilled down a few Lancaster Bombers he's say things like: `You all take the piss out of me because I'm into Fantasy - and yet you all read stuff in that has telepathy in them - for which there is very little scientific evidence for at all!` (He was a teacher of Psychology). He had a point.
Somewhere, I started a thread about science fiction tropes that are far more common than they should be given how unlikely they are. Telepathy was among them. A science fiction franchise or two that included telepathy would be fine, but the presence of telepathy and some other psychic powers in science fiction are ubiquitous enough that they're not considered at all out of place. Similarly, you could have an ostensibly fantasy world which includes aliens and ancient space vessels and other technology. Some fantasy worlds, like Carnival Row or Avatar: The Last Airbender, are effectively steampunk fantasy worlds, where science fiction forms of steam-age technology exist alongside magical beings and powers.

I read very little fiction. When watching movies and tv series, I generally prefer science fiction. For gaming such as Dungeons & Dragons or interactive fiction, I prefer fantasy. But I don't doubt that both of these things are all about creating fictional worlds within which to tell a story, and there are no real limits to what that world can include. If there's a difference, it's that one is extrapolated from our real world and the other isn't. Star Wars shows this best. Most people would recognise Star Wars as science fiction, but most people are probably wrong in that. It's fantasy in science fiction clothing, not because it's swords and sorcerers, but because it has no grounding in the real world, and no amount of spaceships and laser guns will change that. Now, if we have a story set in the future, where the population has been oppressed and descended to medieval levels of technology, while a tyrannical elite retain advanced technologies considered magic by the peasant class, it's sword and sorcery by nature, but it's science fictional sword and sorcery.

I'm just rambling now.
 

Cochise

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I like both. In fact, I'm probably a bit more Fantasy than Sci Fi, if I'm honest. I can see why you would want the two classified as separate genres, but I do think there is an element of overlap between them. (This is probably a personal thing due to a number of short stories that I have stuck in my head, which I am slowly trying to bring into reality.). I think that Michael Crichton probably fits the bill of the Sci Fi writer whose works were based on actual science; I quite like his brand of reality-meets-fiction, and it probably helps if the author has a grasp of what they're writing about (don't they say you should write about what you know?).
Hal Clement is another one whose stories are based on extreme but feasible science.
 

Mythopoeika

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For me, my preference is for Science Fiction. Most preferable is SF of the 'hard' variety.
I'm also a fan of fantasy and science fantasy.
I don't 'do' pure horror, although I'll read/watch horror if it is part of the SF/fantasy novel/film.
In the past, I've been a member of the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society.
 

GNC

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Why not just call it all... fantastique?!!!
 

Zeke Newbold

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3) I think you're right in the sense that there's a connection between the two genres but they're definitely not the same. On a personal level I find the idea of what has happened in a fictional future (and why) really interesting, whereas with fantasy these aspects are often not important. I find LOTR pretty dull, and whenever my partner has it on I'm always asking about 'technical' aspects that never get explained and aren't important to the plot. Ultimately, no matter how far fetched the plot is, science fiction tends to be more relatable than straight up fantasy. For me Harry Potter was different because during the time I was reading it there were aspects which were very relatable
Yes I ploughed through Lord of the Rings (Book One) somewhere in my early twenties and it was very much by way of a fulfillment of a duty. I think I respected some of the prose but otherwise just had to haul myself though it. And yet I can read with some interest almost anything tagged as `science fiction`.

Harry Potter is an interesting one. I have come to the conclusion that this phenomenon is simply a generational marker. (I don't know your age Cloud, but I suspect that you are not in your fifties like I am). I remember my mother showing me the first Harry Potter novel, which she had bought for my niece (then about ten) - sometime in the early Nineties. It was my first exposure to it and I looked at the cover adorned with a geeky looking schoolboy and a steam train -FFS!- and thought `Well, I'll be damned`. Later my niece would force me to read some of it - and it just struck me as Roald Dahl Mark 2.

I don't suppose the Harry Potter generation will ever be able to explain the appeal of it to people of my generation (most of whom just don't get it). Likewise, I suspect there is a younger generation growing up who also won't get it either. It is difficult to find a comparison (my generation doesn't seem to have had an equivalent) but I suppose the nearest might be things like Biggles and Dan Dare (both also baffling to the generations which followed - as well as, no doubt, those that preceded it).

Now, if we have a story set in the future, where the population has been oppressed and descended to medieval levels of technology, while a tyrannical elite retain advanced technologies considered magic by the peasant class, it's sword and sorcery by nature, but it's science fictional sword and sorcery.
That sounds like the premise of Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's Hard to be A God! (Except the ones with the magical technology are observers from a future Earth and the medieval society exists on another planet).

For me, my preference is for Science Fiction. Most preferable is SF of the 'hard' variety.
I'm also a fan of fantasy and science fantasy.
I don't 'do' pure horror, although I'll read/watch horror if it is part of the SF/fantasy novel/film.
In the past, I've been a member of the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society.
That's an eye-brow raiser! I would have had you down as a strictly hard S.F kind of a guy, for some reason!

Why not just call it all... fantastique?!!!
Well, as I said, in the Russian language, the term for both Science fiction and Fantasy is `fantastika` and they are not lexically differentiated for the most part. I don't know about other languages but I suspect the `Science fiction` and `fantasy` distinction may be a purely Anglophonic one.
 
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