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These are two different genres that often get lumped together under the genre Speculative Fiction. I know in the library I go browsing and I find Star Wars next to Lord of the Rings. So often, they are together because people think: these are two genres that represent the impossible, so they should be together. I personally think they should be separated, but I can see where they are coming from. So let’s define both of these.

Science fiction is usually defined as being grounded in reality and possible in some distant future. Fantasy isn’t grounded in reality and admits the possibility of magic and supernatural creatures. Seems like it would be a pretty clear line separating them. In most cases, it is. But not always (of course, no genre is really clearly defined. There can be romantic thrillers or science fiction horrors). I’ll go over the melding of these two genres farther down. But first, let’s talk about what separates them

Lord of the Rings is fantasy. Someone wielding a gun in middle earth would be totally out of place. Many fantasy authors stop their world’s technology growth before guns are invented. It makes it simpler, with swords and sorcery. Often the appeal of these worlds is the simplicity. Aside from unfair taxes and lawyers, the people didn’t have to worry about modern problems like insurance, internet, mortages, car registration, subscriptions, paying the electric, gas, water, and heating bills, or voting in elections. Whether these things are improvements or not on life, who knows. But people like to fantasize about living in a simpler world, where going on a quest could make all the difference. Exploration, justice, politics, and religion are all themes explored in fantasy.

Asimov is science fiction. He based his books on what could be extrapolated from current understanding of science and the laws of physics. Exploration, politics, and social consequences of technology are all explored in this genre. It embraces the mortage and bill paying and complicates life even more with robots and space travel. Unfortunately, if you’re a purist writer, traveling to other worlds is really limited, as there has been no realistic way suggested, that I know of, to surpass the speed of light. Even theories that haven’t been disproven, like using dark energy to create a bubble in space, require so much energy that they would basically be impossible. Hyperspace, the catch all phrase for some way to bypass the speed of light, doesn’t really have any explanations either. So much of science fiction is, in a way, fantasy, with guns and spaceships. So the definitions above don’t always apply. Just remember this: sci fi deals more with technology, while fantasy deals more with magic. In crossovers, whichever element is emphasized determines the genre.

A perfect example of melding of science fiction and fantasy is an old movie series you might have heard of. Anyone remember Star Wars? Although it first seems very science fiction, there is one element that doesn’t have any basis in science (despite George Lucas’ attempt to inject it in episode I (Mr. Lucas, please read my post on magic and how it should be full of wonder)). The force changes everything. While subtler than some magic, it is there and plays a big role in the movies, despite Han Solo’s attempts to deny it (which is kind of odd, since 20-30 years earlier, the galaxy kept peace through the Jedi and no one seemed to doubt them). So despite being labeled science fiction for space ships and blasters, it has some strong fantasy elements (the force, prophecies, monsters, swords, etc)

I enjoy fantasy more than science fiction, because of the element of wonder, of the existence of the impossible. Science fiction often tries too hard to explain everything. Not to say I don’t read science fiction, though. Orson Scott Card is a favorite, including his Ender books. There are others as well, but generally I prefer fantasy. Sometimes, in crossing over between the two genres, it is done well (ironically, aside from Star Wars, the best I’ve seen in crossovers is in video games, especially the Final Fantasy series). Sometimes, though, I don’t really enjoy it much. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books, though I thought I would like them for having dragons, my favorite animal, but by making it based in science, the books lost their magic for me. Others might not have this problem. It all depends on your tastes and what you like.

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