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The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

Here’s one for genre-definition curmudgeons…it’s a quote by Michael Crichton in his review of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five:

“As a category, the borders of science fiction have always been poorly defined, and they are getting worse. The old distinction between science fiction and fantasy – that science fiction went from the known to the probable, and fantasy dealt with the impossible – is now wholly ignored. The new writing is heavily and unabashedly fantastical.”

“The breakdown is also seen in the authors themselves, who now cross the border, back and forth, with impunity. At one time this was dangerous and heretical; the only person who could consistently get away with it was Ray Bradbury. Science fiction addicts politely looked the other way when he did books such as Dandelion Wine and the screenplay for John Huston’s Moby Dick. It was assumed he needed the money.”

[via One-Minute Book Reviews]

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

6 Comments on The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. thoreaubred // September 13, 2007 at 2:40 am //

    What does science fiction have to do with Kurt Vonnegut? πŸ˜›

    As for Crichton, he’s better known recently for his fictional science.

  2. To quote a famous U.S. Supreme Court judge:”I know it when I see it!”

  3. I’ve always thought of science fiction as speculative, but isn’t steampunk science fiction? we know that it never ‘happened’, yet there it is.

    SF should be based in known technology, right? Star Wars has always been science fantasy, but does The Terminator get relegated to action fantasy until we actually discover time travel?

    Perhaps it comes down to weighing the relative amounts of technology & logic vs. magic & spirituality of a work.

  4. This is not new!

    There are some favorite books of mine that the line between fantasy and science fiction are so blurred that it becomes something else completely. Specifically C.S. Friedman’s “Black Sun Rising” comes to mind. The whole story starts out with a spaceship crash landing on a planet and then they discover that machinery fails on this planet so they are stuck and a whole “low tech” fantasy world arises from the ashes of the spaceship wreck. (I have severely bastardized the story line here, sorry!) What comes of this is a great story that mixes sci-fi with fantasy, a little horror thrown in and even a Casanova-esque character that has vampire like qualities!

    This book is so “all over the map” that it turns out to be a great ride. The follow up books “When True Night Falls” and “Crown of Shadows” both start off slow but come to a good head at the end but never seem to deliver as much as “Black Sun Rising” did but all three are still a worthy read.

    Originality good! Same old sci-fi bad!

  5. I agree tditto! originality is the biggest thing for me. The whole sensawunda thing, how can you have it without something new? The most original stuff for me blends it all around, which makes you want to check out influences. Like the way Perdido Street Station opened up a whole world of fantasy that I actually can get into.

    These days I think terms are better to describe than to categorize, eg. it starts out a little cyberpunk, goes into a space opera, then ends in a sort of fantastical Jack Vance Dying World cosy catastrophe.

  6. Let me open with a quotation from that most prolific source, Anonymous:

    ”If you have to ask what science fiction is, you’ll never know.”

    This is a quote from Arthur C. Clarke in his foreword to Science Fiction Quotes From The Inner Mind To The Outer Limits.

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