This is something that has always confused me. As a fantasy writer, as well as a huge fantasy reader, I’ve often questioned why in bookshops and online categories, Science Fiction and Fantasy genres get bundled together. I know there are people out there who struggle to tell the difference, but the way I see it is this:
(And while I acknowledge that there are countless sub-genres of both of these ‘parent’ genres, I’m talking basics here.)
Fantasy is something fantastical, i.e, made up, make believe, not real. We can talk fairytale castles in the sky, mages and elves battling one another with elemental magic, hell, let’s go one step further – necromancy! Raising the dead for one reason or another.
Science Fiction is something not yet achievable, but with scientific reasoning and methods, could become reality. Advances in genetic cloning to create a super race of soldiers, artificial intelligence, long-term space travel to distant galaxies.
Well that’s how I see it anyhow? Does my explanations make sense? The Lord of the Rings isn’t sci-fi, it’s fantasy. Star Trek isn’t fantasy, it’s sci-fi. And yet the Star Trek book serialisations and Tolkein’s much-loved classics could in theory be placed side by side on a shop bookshelf. These couldn’t be anymore different than one another.
One of my all time favourite fantasy novels is Danielle Trussoni’s Angelology. We’ve got fallen angels and nephilims waging a secret war against humans. The history the author goes into when discussing Christian mythology is astounding and interesting. (On a side note, I recently read on her Facebook page that the series has been optioned to be turned into a TV series. Great stuff!)
When you compare this to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park for instance, you can clearly see the difference. Angels don’t exist – they are part of a theology created by humans. Dinosaurs did once exist and Crichton’s novel uses advances in scientific research to extract DNA to replicate the genome and recreate dinosaurs. It all goes a little pear shaped after that as we all know, and the moral of the book is clearly making references to humans’ endeavours to be the hand of God. But you can’t say the two books are the same at all.
So why do the genres blur? I guess to a lot of people, science fiction advances are often so incomprehensible that they are in a way magical. The archetypes are different, but understandably similar. I read a quote recently by Arthur C Clarke on Pinterest:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
I guess on the face of things, it all comes down to one’s definition of M A G I C – magic can be a miracle of sorts to some people, whereas in the fantasy realms, magic is a force, an intangible entity that can be wielded as a weapon or as a higher concept. A cure for all cancers could be classed as some kind of miracle – a magic, if you will, but it is through science that that magic occurs.
As always, let me know your thoughts. It’s an interesting one this, isn’t it? And I’m sure it is going to be one of those debates than doesn’t have a right and wrong answer. I’ll leave you with a philosophical thought: the magic contained within both fantasy and science fiction novels, although different, has the same effect on any reader.
(Images taken from free image websites around the web. Copyright remains with the artists)