Socially Produced

Thinking about our cultural context, one cultural token at a time.

On the Differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy

with 3 comments

One of my personal pet peeves is the existence of a science-fiction and fantasy culture that prides itself on sort of non-chalantly blurring the line between the fandoms. I began to think about this in response to a post by Leah Libresco. This has been brought into relief by Alyssa’s recent post about where the X-Files belongs within those categories.  I might be one of the few people left in the internet that has sort of still not fully accepted this blurring and I’d like to provide an alternative method of categorization for science-fiction and fantasy. A disclaimer: I’m partially motivated by the fact that I generally dislike fantasy and the worlds of fantasy novels.

I think science-fiction is speculative in a way that fantasy can’t be and this is a trick that exists because of modernity. Due to the fact that we live in a world fundamentally removed from most elements of fantasy, the realm is used as a way to push extremes or subtleties in human behavior, rather than speculate on the ways in which human beings, through the common tools available to the human species, change the world around them and the nature of human beings themselves. Fantasy is fundamentally grounded in the nature of humanity now. Science-fiction can scope out an alternative future where the things we consider fundamental to our existence can be changed.

Secondly, there is the ways in which the technology rarely exists outside of a broader context in such a way that it can be both a)explained or b)produced. Fundamentally, the scope of science-fiction, even if it is focused, cannot deal with the world moved by the individual. The broader machinery of society and of technology form hand in hand to define a communal context. The fantastical powers that take root in fantasy can exist without any meaningful connection to the broader context of the story and more importantly, in many ways, they exist to not be connected to the broader realm.

That said, I think the idea that sci-fi is progressive and fantasy is conservative is silly – there are many conservative critiques one can make through sci-fi.

A more textual difference is also rooted in the nature  of the writing. Science fiction writing is explanatory in nature, because it almost always has to attach itself to context that demand explanation, since they exist outside of the individual. Fantasy is a narrative of casualities, without the nature of explanation.

There are a couple more things I could mention, primary amongst them, the aesthetics of science-fiction. Mind you, the contrast becomes really easy if it’s giant-battle-robots and magicians. I also think that science-fiction universes are generally solution-driven rather than problem-driven. I feel like there are ways to be more clear about them. I know many people find them to be a fuzzy line, but I really dislike most major forms of fantasy and most major ivy-league popular fantasy collections. The only major fantasy I’ve ever enjoyed is the HP series, but that is largely for issues not really dealing with the fantasy. In fact, in many ways, I like post-Voldemort non-canon fanfiction the most because I see much of it written from a sci-fi writer’s perspective.


Written by Ferny Reyes

October 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Pretty interesting post..

    Jeyna Grace

    October 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm

  2. What about Q? Q’s fantastical powers exist without any meaningful connection to a broader context. They’re not dependent on environmental factors, and there’s no real effort to explain them, apart from a hint that the Q might have been like humans once. Instead, it does seem to be a way of pushing on extremes in human behavior, specifically human reactions to power. In no sense is Q fundamentally different from a spoiled and bored child, who maybe grows up a little over time. And yet, Q is a key part of an important science fiction show.


    October 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm

  3. Hum. That’s a good point, Mr. Shelton. My initial instincts is that Q becomes an element to reify the science-fiction elements of the show because their reactions are fundamentally premised on a model of human inquiry, rather than the response being the inability to respond to fantastic powers.

    I’ll think about it a little bit more.

    Ferny Reyes

    October 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm

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