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My work schedule has been shuffled around and I have several projects I need to work on; so I think I'm going to put off diving into our next book for a week.  Sorry, gang.  I'll be back next week for sure.

But since we just finished looking at a fantasy novel and are about to jump into a space opera, I thought it might be fun to talk about the differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Long-time readers of this series might recall that I touched a bit on this subject in an earlier diary:  The Mohs Scale of SF Hardness.  Cartoonist Phil Foglio has said that, at least in the case of Role-Playing Games, there is no difference between the two.  ("What's New": Fantasy vs. SF page 1; page 2)

But what do you think?

Let me know.  Next week I'll be back with part one of The Skylark of Space.


So, what do you think of Science Fiction vs Fantasy?

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| 89 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Any sufficiently advanced science... (19+ / 0-) indistinguishable from magic.  -- Arthur C. Clarke

    That's what pops into my mind for some reason.

  •  Speaking of Space Opera... (13+ / 0-)

    You can read my own space opera web comic, Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine, on my website:  Kurtoons Online

    I live for feedback.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 06:36:43 PM PST

  •  I was an avid reader of science fiction in the (20+ / 0-)

    1940's. Late in that decade, I began to see some magazines that were science fantasy. I read some of them but I didn't like them. I continued to read science fiction until around 1953, then I stopped altogether. I was much more interested in reading actual science books and magazines and I still am. I rarely read fiction, and the nonfiction reading I do now is almost always with a purpose in mind.

    As you can see, I am an old man. Reading has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I remember when our farmhouse finally got electricity, I knew that reading at night would be much more comfortable.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 06:40:49 PM PST

  •  Well.... (11+ / 0-)

    One's got wizards and the other's got mad scientists...
    One's got dragons and the other's got BEMs...
    One's got mythical races and the other's got aliens....

    "If this Studebaker had anymore Atomic Space-Age Style, you'd have to be an astronaut with a geiger counter!"

    by Stude Dude on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 06:45:18 PM PST

    •  The one nobody mentioned (5+ / 0-)

      afaict, anyway:  Contemporary fantasy.

      It usually involved worlds leaking into each other: elves popping up in 20th century cities, for example.  Neil Gaiman's American Gods almost defines the subgenre, but he was late to the game.

      Charles de Lint, Tom Deitz, Gael Baudino, and several others whose names I'm forgetting worked in this subgenre in the 1980s and 90s, and it was contemporaneous with Tim Powers' best work.

      To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

      by Youffraita on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 12:48:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Almost forgot! (3+ / 0-)

      Gaiman again: Neverwhere.

      Totally a contemporary fantasy with magic and all...and not an elf or an orc in sight.

      To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

      by Youffraita on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 12:51:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  SF, of course! (7+ / 0-)

    Because it got computers!

    Who wants to be without computers?

    "If this Studebaker had anymore Atomic Space-Age Style, you'd have to be an astronaut with a geiger counter!"

    by Stude Dude on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 06:46:06 PM PST

  •  It strikes me as ironic that the fantasy genre (14+ / 0-)

    as it exists today is so bogged down in formulas and conventions that "hard SF" is almost always less rigid than fantasy.  An alien from outer space in SF any time in the past 80 years could well be a hive mind similar to an intelligent sponge.  But in fantasy, dwarves hate elves, swords are always magic and have a name, everybody hates the poor orcs, and the government structure is always monarchical, the main political division being between good kings and bad kings.  

    I don't know how people can read modern fantasy novels, especially these long, long series, like George R. R. Martin's.  I think it must be that people just get comfortable with their stories being just a certain way and so they want to read the same thing over again but with the names changed.  

    Okay, I can dig that.  Everybody has some favorite comfort food.  I'd hate it if I bought a bag of M&Ms and discovered some asswipe genius had improved it.  But I don't understand the writers of fantasy, either.  I would think after a while they would want to bash their heads into their desks rather than write one more story about stubborn princesses.

    •  Like Ted Sturgeon Said... (8+ / 0-)

      "Ninety percent of everything is crap!"

      But even in a cliche-ridden field like fantasy, there are writers who find new things to do, new ways to play with the old cliches, and sometimes invent new cliches of their own.

      And there is more to Fantasy than the standard J.R.R. Tolkien/Gary Gygaxian Pseudo-Medieval Fantasy.  Some that come to mind are:

      The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
      Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin
      A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
      A Midsummer's Tempest by Poul Anderson
      Operation Chaos also by Poul Anderson
      Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

      All these books invovle magic, and all are Fantasy novels, but they vary widely as to which fantasy tropes they use and how they handle them.  Of the bunch I mentioned none of them have dwarves, only Last Unicorn and A Midsummer's Tempest involve kings, and the only only Another Fine Myth has a notable sword (and that is actually a cruddy sword which the protagonists try to pass off as a magic one).

      Although, in your defense, I have to admit that many of the fantasy novels I have enjoyed most have been by writers with a SF background, like Anderson, LeGuin and Asprin, who bring a SF sensibility to the way they handle magic and tackle world-building.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:39:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've tried to break the forumula by writing a fan- (5+ / 0-)

      tasy series set in an Arabian Nights-like universe.

      The first volume is Mistress of the Topaz, but the sequel is in an advanced state of preparation.

      "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here:

      by Kimball Cross on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 10:56:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Not necessarily (7+ / 0-)

      There's some really good fantasy out there that breaks the formulas.  Pratchett is a big one for starters.   I'm also thinking of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn (or Elantris, for that matter), or Lois McMaster Bujold's The Sharing Knife series.  I really enjoyed Jane Lineskold's series about the wolf (name currently escaping me), and Kate Forsyth's The Witches of Eileanan series.  Just off the top of my head.  Sure, there's formulaic stuff out there too, but even that can be good depending on how well it's written.  If you don't notice the formula as you're reading, does it matter if one was used?

      The Girl Who Loved Stories
      I’m a feminist because the message is still "don’t get raped" not "don’t rape"

      by Avilyn on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 11:50:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ha! Wish I could rec you 1000x (7+ / 0-)

        There is a case to be made that sf is merely a subset of fantasy.

        True sf diehards will deny it, but...unless you are writing about generation ships, there's that whole speed-of-light-faster-than-which-nothing-can-go problem.

        So, magic is needed to travel the stars.  Warp drive or wormholes: it's all magic b/c the speed of light is the limit.

        OTOH, the best fantasy is all character-driven.  Maybe Bilbo has his little sword, but the story -- the plot -- all arises out of the conflicts among the characters.

        Swords and spells are merely trappings.  Who the characters are, in their hearts, and what they intend to accomplish, and why:  These are the factors driving any decent fantasy and, for that matter, any well-written novel of any genre whatsoever, including the one called "literature."

        To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

        by Youffraita on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 01:15:17 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yup. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Limelite, Avilyn, quarkstomper, Youffraita
          There is a case to be made that sf is merely a subset of fantasy.
          Unquestionably.  And Bilbo and Frodo are great fantasy.  But there is such a surfeit of swords and wizards and princesses out there that if you are tired of all that (I suppose I feel like my intelligence is being insulted, I suppose, so there's that subjective matter) then all the swords and sorcery out there seems to be its own rather stultified subset living in the shadow of Tolkien.  

          There are so many crap movies out there and repetitious computer/platform games with big-boobed bimbos wielding swords that if the story is good, it has to OVERCOME that burden to not become junk!

          I think you can probably include most horror in the fantasy genre, as well.  Sometimes the line becomes very blurry, as with King's Talisman.  The flood of teen vampire romance novels should fall into the fantasy category.  Indeed, many of them also include swords and wizards and artifacts of doom, etc., so that line becomes blurred.  That's sad, because Anne Rice really did such a nice job reviving the whole genre back in the late 70s, it's sad to see how the junk takes over and ruins the rest.  

          (I grew up on vampire films.  My Jungian mom that I've mentioned before had a thing for those cheesy European vampire and horror flicks when I was a wee lad and I used to stay up late at night past any normal child's bedtime watching those with her on late night chiller TV shows while she and her friends drank margaritas and analyzed the symbols.)

          •  Now see, (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            quarkstomper, Youffraita, Dumbo

            For me, seeing that a book has anything to do with vampires or werewolves is an instant put-off, and 99% of the time I won't pick that book up.  I don't mind an element of mystery, but I'm not a huge fan of horror.

            Video games are a whole 'nother discussion; lots of stuff to talk (rant) about there. ;-)

            The Girl Who Loved Stories
            I’m a feminist because the message is still "don’t get raped" not "don’t rape"

            by Avilyn on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 11:54:37 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Oh, Dumbo. I really can't (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            quarkstomper, Dumbo

            speak about horror as a genre.  It is definitely a subset of fantasy, of course it is.

            But I can't go there.

            I grew up with sf and fantasy where the world was very well-defined.

            Horror, as it has come to be known through movies in the U.S. is all about the monster that lurked underground for 200 years (with no food) until the teenagers went into the basement and were eaten by it.

            Yes, a vast oversimplification on my part: but that's basically the paradigm for horror movies since sometime in the 1970s.

            I don't consider them worth watching unless you pay me at least a hundred bucks per film.  Ain't gonna watch 'em for free, and sure as shit ain't gonna pay my hard-earned bucks to see trash like that.

            To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

            by Youffraita on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 03:30:33 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  A Good Example..... (13+ / 0-)

    Of something that straddles the line between fantasy & science fiction is "Doctor Who." It's considered a classic science fiction TV series, but some years back Sir Terry Pratchett put out a blog post in which he argued "Doctor Who" is NOT science-fiction. Basically, when you get down to it, The Doctor functions as a wizard, his sonic screwdriver is his magic wand, and his companions are his sorcerer's apprentices.

    Doctor Who is ludicrous and it breaks most of the laws of narrative... The unexpected, unadvertised solution which kisses it all better is known as a deus ex machina – literally, a god from the machine. And a god from the machine is what the Doctor now is. A decent detective story provides you with enough tantalising information to allow you to make a stab at a solution before the famous detective struts his stuff in the library. Doctor Who replaces this with speed, fast talking, and what appears to be that wonderful element "makeitupasyougalongeum". I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would dare try to jump-start a spaceship that looks like the Titanic by diving it into the atmosphere... but I have to forgive the Doctor that, because it was hilariously funny.

    People say Doctor Who is science fiction. At least people who don’t know what science fiction is, say that Doctor Who is science fiction... I just wish that it was not classified as science fiction. Much has been written about the plausibility or otherwise of the Star Trek universe, but it is possible to imagine at least some of the concepts becoming real. But the sonic screwdriver? I don’t think so. Doctor Who’s science is pixel thin. I’m sorry about this, but I just don’t think that you can instantly transport a whole hospital onto the moon without all of the windows blowing out. Oh! You use a force field, do you?! And there’s the trouble; one sentence makes it all okay.

  •  I always say I like science fiction better (7+ / 0-)

    but every time Pat Rothfuss posts on Facebook, I want to reply with "get back to work!!! I need that 3rd book!!!!" so I like at least some fiction really well. Have loved Tolkein since I was 10.

    I'm reading Fuzzy Nation right now, the last Scalzi that I haven't read. Got a chunk of the forthcoming book in the Old Man's War series from Audible & am listening to it.

  •  Why not both? (7+ / 0-)

    And by that I mean Vernor Vinge's excellent A Fire Upon the Deep!

    The tent got so big it now stands for nothing.

    by Beelzebud on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:18:21 PM PST

  •  Shared Elements (11+ / 0-)

    "Star Trek" has similarities with a lot of different genres, which can give an idea of how elements are shared. Roddenberry originally sold "Trek" to NBC by describing it as a western in space ("a wagon-train to the stars").

    And the stranger & his friends strolled into the saloon. For Kirk was the only gunfighter who could help drive off the Klingon gang that had besieged the town.
    While the "Trek" franchise itself has a secular humanist philosophy, some of the story elements could be rearranged into religious myth & legend.
    Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence  wrote about this in a great book called The American Monomyth. Kirk represents Christianity without a God or Jesus, making him an comfortable mythical savior. He descends from the heavens to save those who are unable to rise above their own weakness. He saves the weak and then must abandon personal connections and romance to return to protecting the universe by ascending back to whence he came.
    And "Star Trek" could also be read as a modern folk tale or fairy tale. There have been various books and academic papers on the sociological impact of the show as a collective myth. This is a TV show that will probably outlive everyone reading this sentence, and the best explanation for why it has endured is the appeal of its rose-colored depiction of the future. It's been argued the staying power of "Star Trek" is that it serves as a pop-culture shared myth of the future which expresses everyone's hopes for everything that will be.
    Once upon a time, in a far away land, there was a Knight in shining armor. For when he heard of the terrible loss of life on Janus VI, Kirk & his men went boldly with haste to stop the devil that lie in the dark. But upon battle with the monstrous & terrible "Horta," they realized that it was neither. For the great & wise Kirk found a way for everyone to live happily ever after.
  •  SF often distills (11+ / 0-)

    the essence of a fundamental philosophical question or moral question and provides a unique way of thinking about these topics separated from the constraints of modern day.

    What is sentience? Let's start talking about robots, A.I., transfer of human consciousness to digital, aliens with different levels of cognitive abilities.

    Star Trek was notorious, and a bit ham-fisted about this sort of societal introspection, but took on racism, euthanasia, overpopulation, and a multitude of other topics.

    •  LOL! Too true: (4+ / 0-)
      Star Trek was notorious, and a bit ham-fisted about this sort of societal introspection
      I remain enamored of their notoriously ham-fisted approach, during the notoriously ham-fisted 1960s.

      But (ducks and runs) my favorite ST series remains Voyager.  Great production values, woman captain, out there in deep space just trying to get home.

      To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

      by Youffraita on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 01:24:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The best SF TV series for me was Babylon 5 (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Brilliantly written and acted, with a terrific overall plot.  I sobbed like a child during the last episode.

        But the one that I loved, that I still love, that I will love and treasure and poke fun at and take to my grave as THE SF television...

        Star Trek.  Always and forever.

  •  Two sides of the same coin. (8+ / 0-)

    Great question.

    I like them both equally.
    It's the world(s) building that counts.

    The best Sci Fi and the Best Fantasy have a world view and a standard internal set of physics (and metaphysics), and they stick to them. (unless there's call for a one-off exceptional event for the sake of story)

    Take back the House in 2014!!!! ( 50-state strategy needed)

    by mungley on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:24:00 PM PST

    •  I keep up less with fantasy than I do with SF (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Limelite, quarkstomper

      and that's precious little enough these days. Still, I agree with your main point. Give me a world that is compellingly imagined, a coherent story with characters who grow in the telling and I'm a happy reader.

      Nothing human is alien to me.

      by WB Reeves on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 02:45:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  While there are some SF writers (5+ / 0-)

    from the 50s and 60s who also wrote wonderful fantasy—Avram Davidson and Fredric Brown come to mind right off—the sword and sorcery branch of fantasy is utterly boring to me. SF fascinates me in large measure because the best of it exists within the discipline of framing its storytelling and ideas within the context of science, or extrapolation thereof. By definition, that's a discipline that is completely absent from fantasy.

  •  In the World of Imagination ... (8+ / 0-)

    ... neither science nor fiction are any more unimaginary than fantasy or history.

    From the space opera Flash Gordon 1935 and 1938 -- Azura: Witch Queen of Mongo by Alex Raymond, and Azura: Martian Queen of Magic by Beatrice Roberts (Former Miss New York).

    Millions of us – the majority – must come together to insist that President Obama and the Democrats stand up and fight for the things we sent them there to do ... Michael Moore

    by MT Spaces on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:53:47 PM PST

  •  I've been glued to old "Thunderbirds" episodes (6+ / 0-)


    But, I'll drop everything if I find a new Michael Moorcock "Elric of Melniboné" tale.

    For all his over-the-top adjectiveness, I immensely enjoy reading the daring, simplistic yet dashing tales put forth by H. Rider Haggard.

    I can become engrossed in even the most dry Asimov sci-fi novel without trying.

    And, of course, these genres overlap constantly.

    So, half a dozen of one, . . .

    "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

    by wader on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 08:08:26 PM PST

    •  I'm working through the complete Supercar (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, quarkstomper

      Fun at a very basic level.

      My favorite episode so far is when Mike Mercury, Dr. Beaker, Jimmy and Mitch the monkey are flying Supercar to the South Pole when Supercar's control systems get hacked and they are forced to land in the middle of the Amazon at a Lost City!

      Underground, is a mad scientist in a secret base staffed with his robots. He's going to launch a nuclear missile at Washington, D.C. if the Supercar team can't stop him!

      (I can see where Moonraker got some story ideas...)

      Lots of science fiction elements - but a lot of fantasy. Just fun!

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:49:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I write stories in both genres (9+ / 0-)

    although I prefer sci-fi.

    For me, the distinction is that sci-fi must be plausible, have a plausible explanation that fits within the arc of science ( or reasonable speculation of it) that we know. I allow myself only one 'unreasonable' assumption to tweek with. All that might or might not be explained in the context of the story, but I have to have it in my head or the story just isn't right.

    Fantasy, on the other hand, uses magic. With that, while it has rules in the story, I'm allowed to get away with a lot more things that I could not do in a sci-fi setting.

    I do have a story that is blending the two, but I'm finding the science side I am much stricter about it fitting with what we know as plausible.

    As a writer, I find blending the genres rather jarring for the most part, so I tend not to. Or if I do, one will take a backseat to the other.

    I am much too liberal to be a Democrat.

    by WiseFerret on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 08:10:37 PM PST

  •  Science-fiction tries to fit (8+ / 0-)

    within the boundaries of science or science as it one day might be, or at least pays lip service to scientific understanding even if it is only to use it for humour. Fantasy doesn't even pay lip service: it operates according to its own rules entirely. Note that you can have fantasy without magic as such (Peake's Gormenghast series comes to mind).

  •  Unsure I even buy into fiction vs. non-fiction (5+ / 0-)

    so beyond that,it is indeed all rock 'n' roll to me.

    "George RR Martin is not your bitch" ~~ Neil Gaiman

    by tardis10 on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 08:18:07 PM PST

  •  Sc-Fi: a World Futurized (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    or cataclysmized.

    Fantasy: a World invented w/o basis in reality.

    Sci-Fan: Star Wars.  Dune.

    I don't read enough in either genre to know anything about it so I wrote my fantasy on science fiction.

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 05:48:41 AM PST

  •  I prefer (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I prefer my science fiction the same way I prefer my men-Hard.

    Analog Magazine FTW!

    Definition of SF: If you take the science out of a SF story, and you still have a story, it is not SF.

    RIP Will Beinlich 1993-2011 (Just 1 more game, please....)

    by Sark Svemes on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:10:09 AM PST

  •  Science Fiction vs Speculative Fiction (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quarkstomper, ferg

    I try not to get to worked up.  I want good writing.  Whenever the plots or dialog is repetitive I switch off.

    Ibis Exilis "Mingling religion with politics may be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America" Thomas Paine

    by Ibis Exilis on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:46:08 AM PST

  •  What I want.... is a good story (6+ / 0-)

    One that is consistent with the logic of the world within the tale, one with characters worth letting into my head, one that keeps me turning the pages.

    Lois McMaster Bujold has proved herself adept at both Science Fiction and Fantasy. The late Poul Anderson did as well, and even blended the two successfully.  There are plenty of examples.

    Good writing is good writing - look at how many people who'd never normally pick up Fantasy or SF got captured by Harry Potter.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:55:05 AM PST

  •  No one has mentioned (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    old wobbly, quarkstomper

    Harry Dresden, the most modern of modern wizards. I complain that the library buys too many fantasy books and not enough SF, but read all of the Dresden Files.

  •  Fantasy unimaginative?! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    old wobbly, quarkstomper

    Puuurrlease! Only for those lacking in that very same imagination, and dare I say it, happy to content themselves with stereotypes.
    So without further ado, may I direct you towards authors such as Glen Cook ("The Black Company" series, which in the first books arguably purports to tell the tale through the eyes of the 'bad guys'; "Garrett P.I", a detective in a fantasy city).
    Talking of blurring genres, you have SF meets Fantasy (or is it SF becomes Fantasy, or SF disguised as Fantasy, oh I get so confused!) in Anne Mccaffrey's "The Dragonriders of Pern" books.
    And if you're feeling literary, of course there is the unique "Book of the New Sun" series by Gene Wolfe. ("It's Fantasy Jim, but not as we know it.") His "Soldier of the Mist" books have already been mentioned, so I'll mention them again, just because.
    There are many more, but I've got some serious readin' ta do, dontcha know? In fact today I feel like trying something a bit different. Ummm, let's see. I know! Maybe something involving elves and dwarves, for a change...

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