I'm going to do a series of posts on speculative fiction for a class I'll be teaching at an upcoming writing conference. Hope you all will find some value here!
As you can see from my last post, speculative fiction covers a wide array of genres. Today, I'm going to focus on what are, in my opinion, the two main branches of speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy. The two have some similarities and some differences. Let's take a look at each.
Both sci-fi and fantasy deal with the world as we don't know it. In other words, they both speculate about what could be different from our known reality. At it's simplest, difference between the two is that sci-fi deals with aliens and spaceships, fantasy deals with wizards and elves. That's an oversimplification, but it does work.
Science Fiction deals with science and technology. What could possibly be out there that we just haven't developed or don't know about yet. I've heard many times that science fiction has to have some aspect of science so intrinsically tied into the plot that if you remove the science, you have no plot. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the oft cited example--perhaps the world's first science fiction novel. That is true, if you want to give a strict definition, but I find a lot of leeway in most novels that clearly fall into the science fiction realm. If it's set on another planet, deals with aliens, takes place in space, deals with technology or society of the future (or even an alternate past), then it's sci-fi in my book.
Fantasy deals with magic of some sort. It's not considered scientific or technological. It's a power that usually only certain people possess. Fantasy can be set in medieval times, modern times, or even in the future, on Earth or some other world entirely, though usually the world is more like an alternate earth than another planet out in space somewhere. That's not a hard and fast rule, though. This is an art after all, not a science. ;) Fantasy often deals with non-human creatures who are native to the earth/world of the story--not aliens from somewhere else.
Of course, there are many flavors of both sci-fi and fantasy, and many times the two are blended and can be hard to separate or classify. To me, that is one of the strengths of speculative fiction. It's inclusive. It's adaptable and it's fun!
Next up: Part III--Rules For Writing Speculative Fiction
Read Part I--What is Speculative Fiction?