Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Friday, January 20, 2012

Writing Speculative Fiction: Part II-The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

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?


Danyelle L. said...

Great post! I like that thought about if you take the science out, the plot falls apart for science fiction. I'd never heard that before.

Love the idea that speculative is inclusive and adaptable!

*grin* And then there's Science Fantasy which kind of makes my brain implode when I read it, because it uses both.

Melanie Fowler said...

I'm glad you posted this. It's a good insight to the differences, and similarities between them.

Angie said...

Thanks, Melanie. I'm glad to know it was useful to you. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Shallee said...

Good descriptions of the sub-genres here, Angie! I found Orson Scott Card's descriptions in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy interesting, too. From what I remember, his take is that it depends on the focus. For example, he calls Star Wars fantasy because even though it happens in space, the focus is not on the technology and the "science," which are never explained, but on the characters and society.

I like that the speculative fiction umbrella can cover anything, though. To me, it's sci fi if it has any connection to science, space, etc., like you said--even if it's wildly speculative, if it has a base somewhere in science, it's sci fi to me. Fantasy usually uses some form of magic that, even if it's fully explained, could never conceivably happen in our world.

Ah, how I love both genres!

AstonWest said...

Space opera combines the best of both...just saying... ;-)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Cool post! It sounds like you are well prepared to teach a class!
I love both fantasy and scifi, and find it interesting when the seem to cross over.

Alice said...

I lean more towards fantasy, but am starting to like some sci-fi.

Mohamed Mughal said...

I've never been able to categorize my own writing. I'll continue to read your posts on speculative fiction on the chance that that's what I'm doing :)

The Golden Eagle said...

I hadn't thought of Science Fiction plot before.

I love it when authors combine elements of SF and F. It makes it harder to classify, certainly, but it makes for a more interesting story as well. :)

Laura Josephsen said...

I can relate to that whole last paragraph. My upcoming novel is classified as speculative fiction, because after more than a year of trying to pinpoint genre, and talking to fellow writers and professionals, that's the closest I can come. It's not quite fantasy (no magic) and even though it's science-based, it's too much of a historical feel, but it's not historical. Steampunk was close, but there's no steam and...yeaaah, it was a lot of fun. ;) I love speculative fiction, though, and the many branches that come from it!

Carolyn V said...

Nice! I knew there was a difference. ;)
Thanks for posting this Angie. Very interesting.

Angie said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by, everyone! Sorry I've been slow in responding. Had a busy weekend which ended with me sick. :( I appreciate all the thoughts and comments, though!

Christy said...

I like it! Thanks for the great post.