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Thread: Sci-fi vs Fantasy

  1. #1
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    Sci-fi vs Fantasy

    I read this article hear: http://www.stackedbooks.org/2014/02/...out-magic.html

    and then my question is. If fantasy is just something relating to something that is "fantastic" and is a world not of our own. They please tell me then what differentiates a fantasy setting/world vs science fiction world?
    Last edited by aguywhotypes; 12-18-2014 at 11:33 PM.
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  2. #2
    Onwards, ever onwards ClareGreen's Avatar
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    I could try, but then we'd hit Star Wars and we'd be back to square one.

    The only real answer is the one you have. Everyone's answer is slightly different. Sci-fi tends to skew to the more scientific side of things that aren't real while fantasy skews to the magical, but there are plenty of places where they overlap (and places where things used to be solidly sci-fi, such as ESP, but are now fantasy).
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  3. #3
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    I usually say that science fiction is the fiction of the possible, whilst fantasy is the fiction of the improbable.

    But there can be a grey area. I just finished reading Morgan's The Dark Defiles, which is marketed as fantasy, but I'm...uh...not convinced. It's hard to explain to anyone who hasn't read that trilogy.
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  4. #4
    Learning to read more, post less JustSarah's Avatar
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    So then what would you call fiction of the possible, but unlikely?

    Like Dune is one of those books, when I read it just couldn't tell whether it was fantasy or science fiction.
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  5. #5
    Most Unbecoming of an AW Moderator zanzjan's Avatar
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    Academics consider Science Fiction to be a subset of Fantasy, with Fantasy being all fiction that is non-mimetic, ie, not attempting to accurately mimic real life. Looking at it that way catches all sorts of stuff, like Space Opera and Alt Hist and Magic Realism and Smexy Vampires and good old swords-and-ogres Fantasy.

    From a non-academic standpoint, that line is a giant wiggly-wobbly constantly-shifting gray area*. Frex, if you argue that SF dealt with projections of future possibilities in technology, where does Faster than Light travel fall? To some, that alone renders a story clearly fantasy. Those of us who are more optimistic about future discoveries like to think it's not proven impossible yet. To most, though, it's a narrative mechanism. There are thematic and narrative commonalities that both SF and F share, and some that are very much associated with one or the other (space ships vs. dragons, frex.) that, taken in whole, tend to determine where in the spectrum a given story falls. There are plenty of stories out there that have a foot planted pretty solidly in both camps.

    As a writer, you should know in your head what your story is, at least generally, for the purposes of querying agents, submitting work to appropriate markets, etc. If you sell the work, genre becomes a functioning of marketing that work to readers. But there is no hard and fast division, nor any sort of easy litmus test between SF and F that someone can't come up with exceptions to.

    (* in academia too -- there are camps.)
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  6. #6
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    This is they way that I normally distinguish the two. Both stories, of course, include fantastic and often unbelievable things. But what distinguishes the two is that while science fiction contains fantastic things, they are still things that could exist in the realm of possibility, even if it's in the far distant future.

    Let's take The Hunger Games, for example. This is an example of science fiction. Even though the story contains hovercrafts, gene manipulation to create new animals, and incredible advanced medicines, technology, none of these things are outright impossible. Just because we don't have any of these things now, doesn't mean we could never have them in the future.

    That's a huge element of science fiction: speculating about the possibilities of the future.

    Harry Potter is one of the more obvious examples of fantasy, but let's look at something not so clear: The Golden Compass. Even though, like science fiction, there is new technology and speculations of alternate dimensions, it is still a fantasy book because there are witches and human's souls live outside their bodies in the form of talking animals.

    Both these things are impossible, no matter how far in the future we are, so that makes The Golden Compass fantasy.
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    Pie aren't squared, pie are round! Introversion's Avatar
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    I think the real answer is, they're both marketing terms used to try to pigeonhole speculative fiction. Much like the music industry (or at least, critics and enthusiasts) tries to define very specific genres and sub-genres, like "electronica" (genre), and "trance" or "IDM" (sub-genres).

    To me, these labels are at best points somewhere on a spectrum of wishfulness. "If only I could travel faster than light..." "If only humans were telepathic..." "If only there were dragons..." Their relative places on that spectrum seem very subjective to me. One can argue the merits of one's judgment about that, and much time can be spent (and often is) doing so, but I don't think it's really possible to do it objectively?

    And ultimately, not very interesting to me as an author, except insofar as an agent and/or publisher picking a label possibly affects sales of my work.

  8. #8
    Lost the instruction manual Locke's Avatar
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    Well, first of all, this...

    Quote Originally Posted by Introversion View Post
    I think the real answer is, they're both marketing terms used to try to pigeonhole speculative fiction. Much like the music industry (or at least, critics and enthusiasts) tries to define very specific genres and sub-genres, like "electronica" (genre), and "trance" or "IDM" (sub-genres).
    But for general purposes, science fiction is spec fic that has a setting steeped in science and technology while fantasy is generally based in myth and magic. However, there's been plenty of crossover. Heck, there's a genre for crossovers: science fantasy.

    If you really want to get confusing, we can also through steampunk, cyberpunk, space opera, epic fantasy, quest fantasy, erotic fantasy...

    er...

    you get the point...

    The bottom line is that you should write the story that's the story and leave marketing to the spreadsheet gods.
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    With classic forms of SF and fantasy, it's simply the setting. Space ships, alien planets, and the future=SF. Quasi-historical settings, dragons, magic-fantasy. But both genres have long since expanded beyond these forms.

    I think it's often as much about the premise behind the setting setting as much as the plausibility of the made-up elements. Dune is considered to be SF because its setting is the the space-faring far future. Same with the Dragonriders of Pern. Same with Star Wars. I suppose you could call them soft SF, or fantastical SF or some such thing. Yes, all of these have mental powers and technology that are magical that allow them to distort the known laws of physics. But the explanations are quasi scientific (psi powers, or the spice mutates the navigators so they can warp space and time with their brains). And the places where these stories occur are a part of our (aka the real) universe and is supposed to be operating by the same rules, even if they're fudged.

    Even Star Wars is set in a galaxy long, long ago and far, far away. Still a part of our universe, though very distant.

    The Wheel of time, Lord of the Rings, and George RR Martin's books are fantasy, because they're set in either some long-ago past (or future with WoT) where the laws of nature were different, or some alternative world/universe we could never reach with technology alone. The fantasy universe is has its own rules (often explained by magic, or via gods that don't exist in our universe).

    But there's this huge area of overlap when it comes to historical fantasy (versus SF set in the past), steampunk, SF and fantasy set in the present-day world or near future and so on. With these, I think it comes down to whether or not the things they have that we don't (or never did in the case of historical settings) is whether we invoke magic, a change in the laws of nature, or the supernatural to explain it or not.

    So if you write a novel where some people discover they can use mindspeech, and it turns out to be because they have the blood of an ancient race that was touched by the old gods flowing through their veins, or maybe even just a cool and unexplained magical power? Fantasy. If it's the result of special psi powers because they're the results of secret genetics experiments that created brains that could interface with subatomic particles in a way that opens communication channels between people? It's SF.

    Just my two cents, but of course it's the nature of the beast that we'll all be able to find works that lie in the blurry boundaries or that incorporate elements of both.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 12-19-2014 at 02:35 AM.
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  10. #10
    The Hobbit-Vulcan hybrid Lillith1991's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustSarah View Post
    So then what would you call fiction of the possible, but unlikely?

    Like Dune is one of those books, when I read it just couldn't tell whether it was fantasy or science fiction.
    Dune was most certainly science based, or the conflict of the series was.
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  11. #11
    The Hobbit-Vulcan hybrid Lillith1991's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zanzjan View Post
    Academics consider Science Fiction to be a subset of Fantasy, with Fantasy being all fiction that is non-mimetic, ie, not attempting to accurately mimic real life. Looking at it that way catches all sorts of stuff, like Space Opera and Alt Hist and Magic Realism and Smexy Vampires and good old swords-and-ogres Fantasy.
    See, this I don't understand. I mean, some of the earliest what we would call SF are in fact gothic fiction. Do academics mean that gothic stories are Fantasy too? Frex Frankenstien is first and foremost a Gothic, and is considered an early example of both SF and Horror. Does that make it Fantasy? Or is it something else by virtue of its age?
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  12. #12
    Most Unbecoming of an AW Moderator zanzjan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lillith1991 View Post
    See, this I don't understand. I mean, some of the earliest what we would call SF are in fact gothic fiction. Do academics mean that gothic stories are Fantasy too? Frex Frankenstien is first and foremost a Gothic, and is considered an early example of both SF and Horror. Does that make it Fantasy?
    At least among certain camps, yes, Frankenstein is fantasy. Is there any reasonable connection between how those folks define fantasy and how writers/readers/editors/publishing houses/bookstores define it? The cynic in me would say only by the slimmest, mostly barely tangible margin outside coincidence.

    (I should also add the caveat that academic definitions may have moved on in the many years since I took literature courses in bulk.)
    Last edited by zanzjan; 12-19-2014 at 03:39 AM.
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  13. #13
    The Hobbit-Vulcan hybrid Lillith1991's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zanzjan View Post
    At least among certain camps, yes, Frankenstein is fantasy. Is there any reasonable connection between how those folks define fantasy and how writers/readers/editors/publishing houses/bookstores define it? The cynic in me would say only by the slimmest, mostly barely tangible margin outside coincidence.

    (I should also add the caveat that academic definitions may have moved on in the many years since I took literature courses in bulk.)
    Illogical. That would mean that besides Historicals, contemp Thrillers, certain forms of Horror, and a couple others, that everything else is Fantasy. That makes more than half of what is, has been, and will be published Fantasy from an academic standpoint. I mean, I know you explained it and I know you concede to possible change in the deffinition. But still, it just seems to lack any real sense of logic like other academic forms of classifying stories at least pay lip service to.
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  14. #14
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    For me, the difference is in the focus of the story.

    My favorite example: Our heroes are walking and suddenly come upon a large reptile that breathes fire.

    In a SF novel, there would be a scientific(ish) explanation of what the classification of the creature is, how it's physically able to breath fire, etc.

    In a Fantasy novel, there would be some sort of myth or legend about such creatures, how rare and dangerous they are, when the last one was encountered, what Great Hero/ine slayed it, etc.

    Same creature, different ways of handling it.

    My take, at least.
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    I would define fantasy as a story with elements that cannot exist within the physical laws of the universe as we know them.

    Spaceships, lasers, FTL travel, teleporters, hell even time travel are all things that are at least theoretically possible. At one time things like airplanes, submarines, and automobiles would have seemed just as unlikely. So no matter how unlikely it may be, if there is at least a theory of how something could actually exist I would say it qualifies as science fiction. A desert world with gigantic worms that create a substance that can mutate human beings to give them extraordinary abilities such as telepathy, foresight, or the ability to bend space? Well, technically, all that could happen in the universe as we know it.

    Now, by comparison, there is no way to explain magic. It is not possible for someone to wave a wand or speak certain words and create a ball of fire or summon someone from out of thin air. Unless you are providing some sort of technological explanation, that can only occur if the physical laws are different from what we know them to be.

    So if a story could not possibly exist in a world with the same physical laws we know it is fantasy. If it is at least theoretically possible then it can be viewed as science fiction.

  16. #16
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    First and foremost - there is no clear definition of science fiction or fantasy. The terms have evolved over time as writing has evolved and styles have changed. They are fuzzy and imprecise terms.

    If anyone comes up with a dividing line to differentiate the genres, then you can bet that at least one author will plonk a story that straddles that dividing line.

    This is not unusual. We could also argue about exactly when a romance becomes erotica. Or when a thriller becomes a detective story. Or the difference between YA and adult. Or what the hell is contemporary fiction. Or what constitutes a "classic".

    They are all fairly loose and sloppy terms. The labels are important for connecting readers to books, but we shouldn't get too worried about the fine detail. It simply isn't there.

    Having said that, my working definition is this: science fiction at least tries to explain how something happens. We have engines and machines which take AA batteries. You press a switch and something happens - time travel, faster than light speed, a ray gun.

    It doesn't matter too much if the effect is implausible or downright impossible. We can always argue that we simply haven't yet invented the technology to understand how the gizmo works. But there has to be a gizmo - a sense that stuff happens because of a science.

    Fantasy allows the effect to happen without the gizmo. We accept that the thing happens without needing an explanation. The One ring turns Frodo invisible because ... because that's what it does. No other explanation needed.

    Star Wars, for me, was science fiction/ fantasy in episodes IV to VI because we had a mixture of spaceships with engines (gizmos) but we also had the force - an unexplained thingie.

    Episode one introduced the idea of the midichloriens to explain the force. And that for me tugs the saga more into science fiction. I'd still call it a fantasy because of the prophecy of the one. But it became more science fiction as soon as they started to explain stuff.

    That's my working definition. Nothing more, nothing less. There will be exceptions to it and it's not exactly a neat dividing line. It's simply the one that makes most sense to me.

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    wow.. good stuff
    I was not expecting all of this..

    I have to say.. of all the explanations.. I like the ....

    because of gizmo then it SF

    if no gizmo then fantasy.

    that is really helpful!

    im not sure though how creatures would fit in.. I guess they could.. you could say were they modified by some sort of gene splicing (lots of gizmos to do that, hence SF) or were the creatures just hear among us or come from the atomosphere or came out of the lake , no gizmos then fantasy.. that makes sense to me.. love it
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  18. #18
    Merovingian Superhero ULTRAGOTHA's Avatar
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    It's a shaded spectrum. On this end, you have pure solid science based speculation. On that end, you have pure magic based story telling. In the middle you have stories that could go either way depending on who's doing the definition.

    It's like the blue-to-green line. Have a range of dots that run from pure, classic green to pure, classic blue. Everyone sees exactly the same colors, but different people will point to different dots and say "this is blue where the one next to it is green".
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  19. #19
    Most Unbecoming of an AW Moderator zanzjan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lillith1991 View Post
    I mean, I know you explained it and I know you concede to possible change in the deffinition. But still, it just seems to lack any real sense of logic like other academic forms of classifying stories at least pay lip service to.
    Well, yeah, no argument from me there.

    It does go a fair ways towards demonstrating how much like herding cats trying to nail down genre definitions can be, though.
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    The Hobbit-Vulcan hybrid Lillith1991's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zanzjan View Post
    Well, yeah, no argument from me there.

    It does go a fair ways towards demonstrating how much like herding cats trying to nail down genre definitions can be, though.
    And as proof academics are cats in human form.

    *gets short story idea about scholarly cats*
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  21. #21
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    The obvious distinction is whether the impossible is presented as advanced science or as magic. By the author. Ignore that Clarke crap.


    It obviously can get pretty murky for individual books.

    But I would call Dune and Star Wars SF. Not hard SF, maybe, but still SF. Especially if you get into the Stars Wars EU stuff, where they actually try to explain the science behind stuff.

  22. #22
    Merovingian Superhero ULTRAGOTHA's Avatar
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    Midichlorines. Bah!
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  23. #23
    Lost the instruction manual Locke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aguywhotypes View Post
    wow.. good stuff
    I was not expecting all of this..

    I have to say.. of all the explanations.. I like the ....

    because of gizmo then it SF

    if no gizmo then fantasy.

    that is really helpful!

    im not sure though how creatures would fit in.. I guess they could.. you could say were they modified by some sort of gene splicing (lots of gizmos to do that, hence SF) or were the creatures just hear among us or come from the atomosphere or came out of the lake , no gizmos then fantasy.. that makes sense to me.. love it
    It's settled, then. All Gremlins movies are science fiction.
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  24. #24
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    My definition is pretty simple. If it can happen, however unlikely, it's SF. If it can't happen, it's fantasy.

    But I also detest "sci-fi". More often than not, "sci-fi" means fantasy disguised as SF.

  25. #25
    Pie aren't squared, pie are round! Introversion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ULTRAGOTHA View Post
    Midichlorines.
    Sounds like the ingredient in a cleanser? "Cleans your floors, tops your desserts; now with all-new midichlorine whitener!"

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