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Sci fi vs. Fantasy – what’s the difference

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by WordyWonderland, Mar 17, 2019.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    MizoreMizore -- I disagree fundamentally with your definition of science fiction. It would wipe out a portion of the genre. We can agree to disagree on it :)
     
  2. Mizore

    Mizore Dreamer

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    Then you can give examples of that science fiction that we know can happen and why continue to consider it science fiction.
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I can come back when I'm not at work and elaborate on it. However, since you're taking the affirmative stance, maybe you can meet your burden of why this should be the definition of science fiction. I think it is a bad definition. I don't think there is any logical underpinning to it. And I don't think it is followed by either science fiction publishers or authors. But if you want to make a case for it, feel free.
     
  4. Mizore

    Mizore Dreamer

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    Also your definition wipe out a part of the genre, because Star Wars, Warhammer 40K, etc., would not be science fiction according to you, but they are science fiction according to many others, although those works are not hard science fiction. My idea of science fiction is that there is no precise definition that differentiate fantasy and science fiction, the difference is only gradual. Science fiction must always have a speculative element, so it can not be entirely limited to what we know. I think it's the most reasonable. The unreasonable thing is to consider that both are strictly separated and that it is clear if a work is fantasy or science fiction.
     
  5. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    Maybe I’m missing the point between Mizore’s and Steerpike’s views, but it feels like you’re arguing the same case. This quote above is, in my opinion, as good a definition as any. However, for the purposes of defining a work of fiction as either fantasy or science fiction, then certain factors ought to be taken into consideration. Take Isaac Asimov’s books for example. I would argue that they are science fiction. Factor one: are they possible? Yes, probably, even if they are unlikely possibilities. Factor two: do they contain fantasy elements? No. Factor three: what kind of story is it and how important are the scientific elements? As far as I can recall they are usually stories about society, integration with technology; and the scientific elements are central to the plot.

    Warhammer 40K. Possible? Not really. Fantasy elements? Yes, gods and demons. Story and scientific elements? Personally I would say they revolve around war and the scientific elements of the super soldiers, rather than focus on the fantasy elements (though not always). But it is set in the future and ‘reads’ like science fiction, so science fiction with fantasy elements, or fantasy with science fiction elements? This one is a borderline example.

    Star Wars. Possible? Not really. Fantasy elements? Not really. Story and scientific elements? “Chosen One” storyline and scientific elements are props: examples, so many humanoid aliens that breathe the same atmosphere, hyperdrive, force shields, all ice/desert/jungle worlds. Really no science at all. Plus it starts with ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.’ So, space fantasy (for me at least).

    For me science fiction is it’s own genre of fiction, the same as westerns, romance etc. But the beauty of fiction is the ability to blur the lines between genres, or add a pinch of this and a dash of that. I do love a good space western. And many a good discussion can be had about what a particular work’s genre is.
     
  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Fantasy: I'm going to live forever.

    Science Fiction: Someday a machine-based (AI) extraterrestrial species is going to find my DNA wherever I'm buried and use it to clone an entire race of once-extinct humans to repopulate the Earth. Which will be great. But eventually the sun's going to expand and burn the Earth to a crisp, undoing their efforts.

    Horror Science Fiction: Someday a machine-based (AI) extraterrestrial species is going to find my DNA wherever I'm buried and use it to clone an entire race of once-extinct humans to repopulate the Earth. Unfortunately, they failed to detect the other life form that has claimed for itself the land they plan to use for the first new human town. It proceeds to eat each of their new creations, who are still naive and childlike even though a few are already evolving into something fierce enough to fight that life form. These few are our main characters. (No one survives however. Or one of the evolved neo-humans survives but has gone insane due to a genetic mutation. The epilogue for this second scenario will focus on those machine-based extraterrestrials who have begun taking steps to use the surviving specimen's DNA for their second attempt at reviving the human species.)

    Horror Fantasy: I'm quite happy that sales for my twenty novels are great, making me wealthy. But my new mansion has a secret. A strange life form living below the basement has decided it doesn't want me there—at least, not as I am. I fight to stay, but ultimately the creature wins. I'm caught, and the blob-like, many-eyed, many-tumored, foul-smelling creature's body envelops mine, absorbing me into it. I'm going to live forever as part of that creature—underground, because it returns to its home, waiting for the next occupant of the mansion. Wait, I mean we return underground, waiting for the next occupant.

    Space Opera: I may well live forever as a cyborg, but who knows? I'm happy traveling between worlds, sometimes fighting in wars, sometimes pulling off cool heists for a price, with my crew who are a cool assortment of characters from various worlds and cultures. Something significant happens, draws me into a particular net of causality for a certain length of time—about one novel's worth of time, or maybe a trilogy's worth. It's a good thing my absent father-creator (?) left me a Przbrat Blaster Bow, because melee combat sometimes screws with my body in weird ways; plus, it seems to get the job done. My crew has various abilities common to their species. I don't understand those abilities well, but whew, am I glad I have a capable crew! Even if we do bicker with one another sometimes. (I won't speak of the few outright, authentic betrayals.)

    Superhero: I'm going to live forever because I not only heal at an unimaginably fast rate, but even if I die the comic book publishers will retcon that death and show how that damned fatality was an impostor. Or else some buddy or random individual with the power (innate, received, or machine-based) will revive me. I suppose this isn't living forever—there will be periods of death in the latter case. And I don't know if my healing factor will survive the sun's eventual expansion. (I may want to suicide even if I do survive that; because, it might be lonely.) Or I might be so boring that the publisher leaves me dead.

    [Can someone do Fairy Tale? I'm brainstormed out.]
     
  7. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    That, or they can’t handle Deadpool anymore!
     
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  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I saw this quote attributed to Ray Bradbury: “I define science fiction as the art of the possible. Fantasy is the art of the impossible."

    This one is Heinlein: "A handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method."

    One might argue that the Heinlein definition more appropriately describes what is called "hard science fiction," however I think there's a lot to be said for a broader application, even when the elements of the science may not be as explicit in other cases.

    Science fiction does deal with the plausible, and often with the possible. For example, both earphones and video chat were "science fiction" at one time. Particularly video chat, which apparently showed up in a story in 1911. Certainly possible--we have them both now. At the time they were written, they were pure science fiction.

    I submit that Meg Howrey's book The Wanderers is science fiction. It is certainly marketed as such. And it is entirely possible, given that the story spans a three-year "simulated" mission to Mars, and the effects on the astronauts and those they left at home.

    Whether you're in the near future or the far future, the hallmark is adherence to known scientific principles of the time, extrapolations therefrom, or at least plausible explanations for diversions therefrom. With fantasy you don't have that.

    "Space fantasy" like Star Wars is still fantasy, just like western fantasy, or medieval fantasy, or dungeons and dragons fantasy (if you want to add a bunch of qualifiers) is all fantasy.

    If you use an expansive enough definition of "fantasy" you can pull science fiction, and in fact all fiction, into it, but that doesn't seem particularly useful.
     
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  9. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    Science fiction draws inspiration primarily from science and pseudoscience.
    Fantasy draws inspiration from mythology,history, folklore, legends, religions\philosophy and fairy tales.
     
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  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I do think there's getting to be a blend area where there's overlap between science fiction and regular fiction, especially if you consider something like the use of a completely realistic AI or robotics in applications we just haven't gotten to yet. Science Fiction is first and foremost a subgenre of Speculative Fiction, and we're at a place where there's so much technology available that plenty of new things are possible without the speculation.

    Most of the examples I can think of fall into the Thriller category. I'll toss out one really quick though, the 3D printing of firearms is right around the corner. Everyone believes it's going to happen. A story about a mafia-type group that's cracked the last hurdles and started printing their weapons. Is that really sci fi?
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2019
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  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    This is true, and funny.

    Most current sci-fi in the cinemas, or sci-fi flavored movies at least, seem to focus more on speculation about future social structures (government, business, customs, entertainment, etc.) and/or aliens and their worlds. These have been themes for a very long time, but they're what's left in abundance because we don't have the actual foresight to know, already, how these things will be once we reach the future.

    Then there are near-future types occasionally extrapolating what a technology now burgeoning might become. These also tend to focus on alterations to human societies—or else, they just frame and color what would otherwise be a typical action-adventure or thriller.

    The Martian is another near-future type. It's basically a survival story with an exotic environment. I'm glad science played a key role and received its due. But it was known science, wasn't it? :sneaky:
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2019
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  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    fiction (n.)
    early 15c., ficcioun, "that which is invented or imagined in the mind," from Old French ficcion "dissimulation, ruse; invention, fabrication" (13c.) and directly from Latin fictionem (nominative fictio) "a fashioning or feigning," noun of action from past participle stem of fingere "to shape, form, devise, feign," originally "to knead, form out of clay," from PIE root *dheigh- "to form, build."

    __________

    A cool observation.

    I wonder if our modern distinctions might focus more on the material of the clay than the general act of shaping.
     
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