Genre Divide Sci Fi Fantasy

November 10, 2014

Most people read sci-fi and fantasy because they enjoy imaginary worlds, extraordinary experiences, ideas beyond our current reality. Some people are biased. They like one genre and refused to acknowledge the merits or engage with the other. I have a friend who runs a sci-fi only book club and absolutely no elements of fantasy are allowed in. It inspired my sci-fi or fantasy meme. Me, I’ll take a good story in whatever form it comes.

But for those invested in the distinction, the primary difference tends to be the source of what makes the world extraordinary.

If it’s magic, the mysterious and unexplainable, it’s fantasy.
If it’s technology, the defined and measured, it’s sci-fi.
If there are swords and horses, it’s fantasy.
If there’s spaceships, it’s sci-fi.
If it happens in the past – fantasy.
If it happens in the future – sci-fi.

CHILDREN OF DUNE Julie Cox as Irulan Syfy
CHILDREN OF DUNE | Julie Cox as Irulan (Syfy)

But what happens when the spaceships are populated by witches?

If an author explains the magic in the world, the rules and mechanics of it, so thoroughly that it becomes science, is it then sci-fi?

And if the future world has become primitive – a great dystopia of sword fighting and religion mixed in with the scientific downfall. Where does that story stand? (Also, someone please write that story because it sounds awesome.)

Since I’ve never really cared about the line between sci-fi and fantasy, I’ve become fascinated by the idea of worlds that mingle the two; that allow both science and magic to exist. Because I think that’s a truer reflection of our world.

Yes, the post-modernists want to be able to measure and prove everything they believe in. But if the world is bound to only what you can comprehend, then it becomes a rather limited world. If you insist on reading only one genre or the other you’re inevitably missing out on some great books. If the explainable and the numinous exist side by side, however, it’s a scary world… and an efficient one; beautiful and understood and wild all at the same time.

It’s a vast world of books and ideas and stories. So I thought it would be fun to play a game with stories that have both fantastical elements and mechanical ones; with books that look like one thing but are something entirely different on the inside. To play a little with the genre divide and see what happens when we cross it.

Sci Fi November 2014
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15 responses to “the genre divide

  1. Great post: I totally agree on trying to keep our minds open to avoid missing great books, and I liked very much that you chose to post accompanying pictures from the Dune saga, the best example of seamless blending of science fiction and fantasy elements. The ocean is far too vast to reduce it to a series of small pools…. 🙂

    • Annie

      The Children of Dune miniseries is just so pretty and both the story and the pictures fit so well. I’m glad someone else appreciates that 🙂 love your line about the ocean!

  2. I love both fantasy and sci-fi, and I think they go hand-in-hand in a lot of ways. Great post. 🙂
    Also, someone did write the series you mentioned. It’s called the Chevies Trilogy, and the first book is The Sword. It’s pretty good, though not my favorite books in the world.

    • Annie

      ha! That’s so cool someone actually has written a story like that. I was just trying to throw together as many elements of sci-fi and fantasy that I hadn’t used in examples yet 🙂

  3. I think books that cross multiple genres are great and sometimes there just isn’t one genre to describe a book. I would love to read more sci-fi/fantasy combined books.
    I have once read a book with magic users and technology, but I wans’t a big fan of how the concept was worked out. In that book, the two faction stood against each other and fought each other.
    I think it can be hard to mingle both genres in a believeable way and I think it’s more realistic if the people have access to both technology and magic, because if there is technology why would you not use it? It just seems weird to have one group who only do magic and one group who only uses technology.

    • Annie

      I think that’s fairly common – that if someone does combine technology and magic then they’re in opposition to each other. Which, if done well I guess is fine. But yes, I’m like you I’d rather see them working in harmony together or a culture built on both that leverages the power of one to improve the other.
      And I agree, it would be difficult to mingle them in a believable way. But I think that’s part of what would make it so interesting if it was done well.

  4. I absolutely love reading everything. (As long as it’s YA or Mg, though, I keep attempting adult and I just don’t click with it, unfortunately). I really like the variety of reading across all the genres! Fantasy is my favourite though. I love urban-fantasy and OH, I absolutely love sci-fi, but the fluffier kind. I get lost in ones like Ender’s Game (although I did love that particular book to bits). But I prefer sci-fi like These Broken Stars.

    • Annie

      I rarely connect well with adult books also. My whole life I’ve read things categorized as YA (before YA was even a category so they were shelved in the kids section of the library). So, the arguments people have about adults reading YA or why or what’s the value – they sort of baffle me. Those are the kind of books I like the way some people like biographies or non-fiction or James Patterson. It isn’t a question, it’s a given.
      And I do tend to lean toward fantasy more than sci-fi. Though I don’t mind either more hardcore sci-fi vs the fluffier kind (These Broken Stars was great). For me, it’s the character development and a lot of the harder sci-fi tends to focus on that science at the expense of the characters which is why I find it less interesting 🙂

  5. Great discussion! I tend to just say that I am a fan of speculative fiction now, hoping that people get that that means both sci-fi and fantasy (since I enjoy both).
    If you are interested in a great online book club that also makes the effort of crossing between the two, check out The Sword and Laser — their whole premise was to get fantasy fans (swords) reading sci-fi (lasers) and visa versa.

    • Annie

      Speculative fiction is like my new favorite phrase from #RRSciFiMonth because you’re right, it encompasses both genres and all the gray areas in between. Thanks for the link – I’ll totally check out the book club 🙂

  6. It’s so so difficult to separate the two as they normally come hand in hand. My own book group is SF&F, I’d never imagine just doing one or the other! There are many overlapping elements most of the time.

    • Annie

      If I were to host a book club again, I’d probably do the same and have it be both Sci-Fi and Fantasy because, you’re right, there’s so much you can encompass in that. Mine was just a free for all and we read some good books and some bad books but had a great time doing it.
      My friend who runs the sci-fi only group – it is very restricting but, I think for him that’s half the fun. He’s the kind of guy who a little bit enjoys shouldering the role of genre dictator 🙂

  7. Ooh, that was a really interesting post! :O I never really thought about the divide between the two. Sci-fi has many fantasy elements, like the Lunar Chronicles with Marissa Meyer. There’s some fantasy stuff in there, but explained as technology, but I still consider that series as sci-fi and fantasy.

    • Annie

      I haven’t read any of the Lunar Chronicles beyond Cinder – but that’s another great example of a book that really combines both fantasy and sci-fi elements 🙂