Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I joined a panel about science fiction vs. fantasy at last weekend’s Marcon convention. The premise was: “Why are some readers so clearly drawn to one of these genres and not the other, and yet some folks love both?”

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This was a good discussion, with the audience chiming in, too. No one in our room admitted to not enjoying both science fiction and fantasy. In fact, the quality of a novel’s storytelling and characterization was much more important to everyone than just genre.

The discussion centered more on what makes a work science fiction or fantasy — what were the defining characteristics? This is a rich topic — we went on about it for over an hour — and I won’t recap it here. Everyone agreed there was a range of speculative fiction. Not everything falls clearly into one category or another.

To my thinking, this makes the genre much richer. The idea got me thinking about some books I’ve read that blend or challenge speculative fiction tropes.

* Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, which she called a “melodrama of manners”. Set in a created world, it’s clearly a fantasy that alternates between the intrigue of the decadent nobility and the personal stories of two men who live in Riverside — but it has no magic at all.

* The Roads of Heaven series by Melissa Scott. A wonderful blend of science fiction and fantasy. The books are a space opera, but they also have magi, and pilots who use magical abilities to navigate space.

* The God Engines. John Scalzi creates a world where a captured god powers a spacecraft, and where faith is a real thing. Nice blend of science fiction and fantasy.

* Of course the amazing Pern novels by Anne McCaffrey. They seem to be fantasy, since they have dragons, and everyone knows dragons are magical creatures — right? But it becomes clear as you read that these are science fiction novels.

These are just some of my favorites. I’m sure there are many others.

Why restrict your reading by genre? In fact, why restrict it by any artificial characteristic? What matters most to me is a good story.

FYI, here are a couple of links where people attempt to explain the difference between science fiction and fantasy: one from Gotham Writers, and  from io9.