The Blurred Lines Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

Image reveals science fiction and fantasy elements as origami dinosaurs watch a comet fall from the sky

By Dale Spencer, @DaleSpencerwork

What’s the difference between science fiction and fantasy? It’s hard to tell sometimes — the boundary lines between science fiction and fantasy can sometimes blur.

A classic example of this is the novel A Wrinkle in Time, which combines scientific theories (such as quantum physics and wormholes) with elements of Christian fantasy along with witches and fortune tellers using crystal balls.

Another good sci-fi/fantasy book example that’s trending in popularity is Cinder, a Cinderella retelling, where sci-fi aspects of cybernetic organisms (A.K.A. cyborgs) and futuristic high tech exists. It’s also fantasy because of the mysterious “Lunar” mind control powers along with the beast-like mutants.

To better understand the difference between science fiction and fantasy, let’s examine some of their definitions. 

Science Fiction Definition
According to Dictionary.com, Science Fiction is “a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc.” Or check out this helpful def from Readwritethink.org: “Science fiction is a genre of fiction in which the stories often tell about science and technology of the future…these stories involve partially true partially fictitious laws or theories of science. It should not be completely unbelievable, because it then ventures into the genre fantasy.” An example of science fiction is the novel The Hunger Games. So in other words science fiction involves scientific theories, which must make logical sense.

Fantasy Definition
Fantasy has an abundance of definitions that are more imaginative than science fiction. According to thefreedictionary.com, Fantasy is fiction characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements… an unrealistic or improbable supposition… imagination unrestricted by reality… a whimsical or far-fetched notion.” An example of fantasy is the Harry Potter Series. Based on these various definitions, fantasy is mainly derived from the imagination and not from scientific theories. It’s more “make-believe.”

If you’re craving more explanations between science fiction and fantasy, click here. Then again, you could always Google and/or Wikipedia them.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Comparisons
It does help to compare the two: Science Fiction vs. Fantasy. In fact, the www.treitel.org site does an awesome job at this. See chart below:

Science Fiction Fantasy
  • consists of improbable possibilities
  • of plausible impossibilities
  • the literature of change
  • the literature of longing
  • a transformational kind of fiction
  • a normative kind of fiction
  • often ends with the establishment of a new order
  • often ends with the re-establishment of order
  • usually is optimistic about change
  • Rarely optimistic about change
  • the unknown is to be understood and thereby changed
  • the unknown is to be loved for its strangeness
  • fictional world is ruled by laws that are understandable by human reason, and eventually controllable by human effort
  • whether capricious supernatural entities run the show
  • story works based on a set of rules that are explicit throughout the story
  • story works by rules that are rather vague and shadowy
  • more likely to involve general laws, applied by people who are in the right place at the right time, or have the right insight or the right tool handy
  • involves people who have special talents that enable them to do special things
  • make their power by understanding natural laws which are made known in textbooks or re-discovered by the characters themselves
  • characters may gain power by studying arcane lore or by knowing the true names of things or people

If you want more opinions on the two genres try www.differencebetween.net. See chart below:

Science Fiction Fantasy
  • has its groundings in science and is possible
  • has no grounding in reality, and so is not possible
  • based on facts
  • based on imaginary concepts
  • almost related to real things, and based on technology and science
  • involves things that do not exist in real life
  • supernatural and magical forms not likely
  •  uses more supernatural forms and magic in its plot or theme
  • rational plot and themes
  • irrational plot and themes
  • can be about robots, space or aliens
  • can be about talking animals or something immortal
  • can be divided into hard science fiction, soft science fiction, social science fiction, cyber punk, time travel, alternate history, military science fiction, super human, apocalyptic and space
  • can be divided into horror fiction, mystery fiction, super hero fiction, fandom and community

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Blends
Now that the distinctive boundaries between the two genres are clear, let’s see what happens when the two join forces. Combined, blurred lines can occur. According to tvtropes.org, “Science Fantasy works…take traditional Fantasy and Science Fiction tropes and throw them in a blender, purposely creating a setting that has the feel of both. Expect to see a lot of classic Fantasy tropes (e.g. warriors with swords, dragons, wizards, castles, and elves) and a lot of standard Science Fiction tropes (e.g. spaceships, aliens, lasers, scientists, robots, and Time Travel).” Some examples of Science Fantasy (or Sci-Fi/Fantasy) movies include “Superman,” “Avengers,” “Star Wars,” “The Matrix.” and “Avatar“. Of course some stories have more elements of one genre over the other. It’s sometimes difficult to tell whether a story is more one category over the other. What are your thoughts on the subject?

The SF Site provides great descriptions on the different types of science fiction and fantasy, which includes blended categories as well. By the way, this is a major spoiler alert related to my book so I’ll let you think it over. Hint: Two of the categories from the SF Site represent my book the most. Science Fantasy is one and the other is listed, but I won’t mention it. You’ll have to read my book to find out.

Which one do you like the best: Science Fiction or Fantasy?
pollcode.com free polls 

For your amusement, I have provided some fun science fiction and fantasy sites:

Are you a huge fan of science fiction or fantasy? If so, check these worldwide conventions:

 References:

  • “Definition of Science Fiction.” Readwritethink.org. ReadWriteThink. Web. 10 Aug. 2013.

               <http://www.readwritethink.org/>.

  • “Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex. Web. 10 Aug. 2013.

               <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fantasy>.

  • Prabhat. Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy. DifferenceBetween.net, 28 July 2011.

               Web. 10 Aug. 2013. <http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-

               between-science-fiction-and-fantasy/>.

  • “Science Fantasy.” TV Tropes. Tvtropes.org. Web. 10 Aug. 2013.

               <http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ScienceFantasy?

               from=Main.ScienceFictionVersusFantasy>.

  • “Science Fiction.” Dictionary.com. Web. 10 Aug. 2013.

               <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/science fiction>.

  • Treitel, Richard. “What Is Science Fiction?” What Is Science Fiction? Web. 10 Aug. 2013.

               <http://www.treitel.org/Richard/sf/sf.html>.

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