Fantasy or Science Fiction?

Do you think a story necessarily needs magic to be considered fantasy? Or if you can at least pretend to explain it away with natural causes, does that make it science fiction? For example, I have my story Juryokine listed under fantasy, but never once does anybody use magic. Everything the characters do is either handled by machinery, or they're nonhuman characters with special abilities. I even go so far as to explain that the Sorakines don't fly just because they have wings, their bodies generate a special chemical that allows them to alter their own fields of gravity in order to make themselves lighter, enabling them to fly. Because of that, I've had some people tell me it belongs in science fiction, even though such a thing is completely impossible. What do you think? And not just in regards to my story, what do you think of this overall?

*Looks at Dragonriders of Pern*

*Looks at Star Wars before Lucas fucked it up*

*Looks at almost every comic universe that's had more than two writers*

*Looks at Evangelion then realizes that maybe Gainax isn't best example of anything reliant upon logic and/or sanity*

Eeeyeah... not exactly a new thing, to blend fantasy and scifi to the point of being indistinguishable or having both existing in the same universe.

I think people who care that much about genre separations as to argue about it are dumb as hell.

Ehh, I'm not TOO concerned with it, but it's interesting to think about. I like to bring up sometimes how all the recent Marvel movies could be loosely classified as scifi, but I also used to have a friend who adamantly refused to admit that a story could be science fiction if it involves anything that did not or wasn't known to exist in the real world- even going so far as to call Star Trek fantasy.

To be fair, Star Trek *is* fantasy.

Doesn't stop it from also being science fiction. But it is most indisputably fantasy. Every third episode of the original series has someone with magic powers. And Next Generation has freakin' Q. And DS9 has the prophets. And Voyager has... me wondering what drugs those writers were using...

*looks at the science wizards of H.P.Lovecraft*

What TanaNari said.

I'm not sure of that. I'm not a real fan of sci-fi but to me the difference between the two seems to be mainly concerned with exploring vs. explaining. It's a different need that they (primarily) satisfy.

But I wouldn't really care for that much. Except you plan on getting really freaky with all the magic and like your fantasy all hard and realistic.

But even in sci-fi there's a scale of sci-fi hardness: Which can explain pretty neatly why people call Star Trek Fantasy.

Given what you wrote it's science fiction, just the way Star Wars was fantasy until the 1990s atrocities hit the screen.

I wouldn't be too worried. As someone mentioned you'll find the Pern books firmly planted in the fantasy section despite them being science fiction. Labling can be done by 'feeling' as well even though the actual content by definition diasgrees with said feeling.

"exploring vs. explaining"

I've seen people try to argue that, but it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. There's plenty of indisputable scifi that doesn't do much explaining (1984, as an example) and focuses hard on exploration (Logan's Run, Soylent Green, Gataca) of their respective worlds.

I've seen plenty of fantasy that goes through painful, exhaustive efforts to explain the nature and mechanics- most "urban fantasy" settings, to start with. Lots of settings with psychic powers.

My personal favorite is the backstory present in Legend of Dragoon. This is a setting which treated magic as a hard science. We're talking eugenics, robots, genetic engineering to construct artificial life, town sized reactors that used larval gods as a power source sufficient to create flying cities.

It was magnificent.

Simple fact of the matter is, the two genres... like most fictional genres... are hard to define as separate from one another. Seriously, what would one define the Cthulhu mythos as? Fantasy? Scifi? It's neither and both at once.

Just listen to Extra Credits(Note that they are about gaming, but it is translatable.)

They talk about defining genres of games by the feeling or aesthetic that they generate. Personally I feel that the same applies to literature, namely that a book can be classified by the feeling it evokes.

Like any piece of literature that evokes wonderment, rather than reasoning, can probably be classed as fantasy, likewise any piece of literature that gives you andrenaline from reading, would be classified as action and so-on.

Speculative fiction.

I hesitate to use the term "speculative fiction" because of how broad it is. If you wanted to, you could list literally all of fiction under that one term.

"If you wanted to, you could list literally all of fiction under that one term."

I'm afraid I have to emphatically disagree on this one. In fact, I think it's likely most fiction isn't speculative.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Catcher in the Rye

Lord of the Flies

Huckleberry Finn

Sherlock Holmes

Moby Dick


The vast majority of television drama and/or comedy and/or mystery.

And as for being "too broad", how is that any different to "literary fiction"? And no one is ever really bothered about splitting *that* into sub-sub-sub-genre-punks.

Genres basically exist for the sake of marketing departments. "You liked X? Then you'll love Y!"

@Dary I disagree with your statement. Genres are invaluable for consumers. It allows them to have a vague idea of what will be present in a book, and collects the books they would enjoy in a single easily specifiable category., because people usually(citation needed) enjoy more or something similar to what they previously enjoyed.

Like I said, genres exist for the sake of marketing departments...

TanaNari, even then you could argue that those are speculative fiction just because they're fiction. Those events never happened, which means the author is SPECULATING what would happen if those series of events were to take place in that given setting with those given characters. I digress, though. That's an argument that actually sounds very similar to the scifi vs. fantasy argument.

As for literary fiction, call me ignorant but I've never actually understood what that means, lol. The most I've ever understood is that it's a term hipsters love to throw around.

@TariNari, ho-lee shit. Legend of Dragoon. That is a massive blast to my childhood past, and I thank you for it.


I don't understand fully how you come to your conclusion, TanaNari.

Exploring vs. Explaining holds up pretty well to scrutiny. It's - forgive the word but I can't think of a better one this quickly - the bias to put one thing in the sci-fi departement and another one in the fantasy that doesn't hold up.

Or, to better understand your argument: Why do you consider 1984 an undisputable sci-fi work? What are the actual reasons?

True: By using explaining vs. exploring as a hard and fast (and not very accurate, I give you that) rule we have to rethink of what we take as fantasy and what as sci-fi. Does not automaticly rule it out. We had to rethink a lot of old biases when we began to see movies as not just blockbusters.

Of course are there gonna be overlaps in some cases. But even for lovecraft one could argue that on a story level you can see the gaps between fantasy-oriented stuff (call of cthulhu, no mention of the why and what and how) and sci-fi oriented stuff (shadow out of time, lots of why and what and how) and even horror oriented stuff much clearer than just taking about twenty different stories and slapping them together into one mass.

Asimov's definition of science fiction was a story that dealt with "What if...?", "If only..." and "If this goes on..." That would include both Star Trek and 1984. Fantasy, on the other hand, is about "making the impossible possible" (although I can't remember whose quote that is XD). Generally, science fiction is about looking at our future, and using it as a commentary on our present. For example, the way Philip K Dick would often write about drug abuse, or how Akira is a commentary on youth culture in 1960s Japan.

Also, 1984 was pretty futuristic for the time it was written, same as Brave New World.

I'd say that Science Fiction should include a futuristic setting, but I'm not well educated on the subject of genre definitions. I don't think Fantasy needs 'magic', though. A story about a vampire hunter using guns with silver bullets in an urban setting is totally Urban Fantasy. The vampires are what makes it 'Fantasy'.

Speculative fiction is a catch all for fantasy, science fiction and horror (but for some unexplained reason not magical realism -- chanting spells in Spanish apparently makes it less fantastic...). Basically the term is used for fiction we can all agree depict the currently impossible. Religious fiction is also kept outside the definition, mostly because it's a sensitive matter -- my fantasy is your reality and vice versa.

One (of many flawed) distinction between fantasy and sci-fi (and don't ask me where horror fits in) is that the former requires the outright impossible and the latter the currently impossible.

Notably most of Jules Verne's works weren't sci-fi at the time they were written, at least not in the sense of depicting the currently impossible. For example, while the passengers would have been splattered and the vehicle immediately vaporised due to friction, the moon-travel was a possibility given the (flawed) scientific knowledge of the time.

Hence Pern goes into sci-fi as the entire setup is based on pseudo-science, and Star Wars (pre 1990s movies) goes into fantasy due to the force. Observe that you'll be hard pressed to find the titles in those shelves though. Dragons blend poorly with sci-fi and starships are seldom a major part of fantasy.

As a side-note David Eddings' social realistic novels were firmly planted in the fantasy section when they hit the market. That was the backlash of branding the name of an author, which goes to prove that actors aren't the only ones who get type-casted.

My ramblings above should be valid as of 2012 when I received my MA in comparative literature specialising in speculative fictoin. Funny crap could have happened since then.