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Whose Bright Idea Was It To Group Science Fiction With Fantasy?

My Thoughts by Tom A. Wright

Magic Wand and Laser Pistol

Although I’ve occasionally enjoyed reading a book or two in the fantasy genre, I much prefer Science Fiction. So, when I’m looking for a new book to read, the odds are I’m searching for the latter. Why then, when I search bookstore shelves or do an Amazon search, the two are combined? I’m sure there are many other readers out there who prefer one to the other and, like me, find the clumping of the two frustrating.

How can anyone confuse one for the other? With a few exceptions, rarely are Science Fiction and Fantasy anything alike. Fantasy usually delves into things like magic, and mythical monsters or creatures. Science Fiction usually delves into science and technology that may or may not exist at some future date. The only correlation I can see is the element of existence. Neither magic nor speculated technologies exist. This one extremely thin thread is too flimsy to forever bond the two together. After all, Fantasy has unique rules of follow, often tied to mythology and folklore. Science Fiction usually has a different set of rules to follow, tied to science and technological theories of today, extrapolated into a logical progression of future applications. An advanced particle beam weapon would be as out of place in a Fantasy novel as a wizard is in Science Fiction.

Oh, I can hear the objections already. Star Wars had Jedi knights performing magic through the force. Star Trek had omnipotent beings like the Q doing like-wise. Arthur C. Clarke wrote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And Larry Niven delved into Fantasy on a few occasions, blending Fantasy and Science Fiction in a very humorous series about a time traveler sent to what he thinks is his world’s murky past to recover animals lost to extinction. In actuality, the time machine sent him to the past in an alternate dimension where dragons and unicorns really existed. And let’s not forget Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern novels. Even though the stories are of people with primitive technology living in a world with Dragons, the set up to the whole series is that the characters are descendents of space travelers who colonized the planet Pern. They genetically engineered local flying lizards from two foot long creatures to full sized, flying dragons, then lost their technology.

I’m sure there are quite a few other examples of novels or other media combining the two genres. But there are a huge number of books that cross between two or more genres. Books like the Da Vinci Code mixed Suspense, Religion and a Mystery. Janet Evanovich mixed Comedy, Suspense and Romance in her Stephanie Plum series. Even I like to mix Mystery into my Science Fiction.

Sure, the lines can be very blurry. But my novels are first and foremost Science Fiction. I would be annoyed if Amazon classified Terraforming Teardrop as a Mystery. It is first and foremost, Science Fiction. When people want to find it, they would look for it under Science Fiction. When you or I want to find Science Fiction books in general, we don’t want to weed through entry after entry of Fantasy. Fantasy fans will most likely feel the same way, not wanting to weed through Science Fiction. In the end, I feel the laziness of the bookstores in not separating the two a huge disservice to both writers and readers alike.

December, 2012

Tom A. Wright
Copyright © 2012 Tom A. Wright