What Is the Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy?

SciFi Alien World
SciFi Alien World

When discussing various writing genres, it is common for people – both writers and readers – to lump science fiction and fantasy together under the catchall term “speculative fiction.” On a general level, this comparison between these two genres is accurate. However, these two very close kins are inherently different on many levels. Let us look at the difference between science fiction and fantasy creations.

Science Fiction Vs. Fantasy: Identifying Major Literary Differences

Possibilities
Possibilities

1. Possibility Vs. Impossibility

Science fiction, also commonly known as Sci-fi, is a fiction literature genre whose storyline and elements are imaginary but are based on science and scientific facts. Sci-fi novels and novellas follow a logical and plausible theme and prose that has scientific backing.

Follow a logical and plausible theme means that the occurrences and events presented in sci-fi literature are possible to occur. Science fiction needs to be set in the future where technologies used may not be available but are still not beyond the realm of scientific theory. It is essential that sci-fi creations make sense within the natural laws of the universe so that the readers can connect the now and the future.

On the other hand, fantasy as a genre deals with mythical, magical, or supernatural occurrences that have no scientific backing or explanation and cannot possibly occur in our real world. Fantasy stories told in an imagined world, often entirely different from our own, which involves a mystical base.

For example, a sci-fi creation may present a space ship that travels faster than light. The writer would hope that in tomorrow’s world, such technologies can be possible owing to advancement in science and technology. On the contrary, fantasy creations might present human characters with abilities to fly or are bulletproof, something that does not and is likely not to exist in our reality.

Mythical Unicorn

Mythical Unicorn

2. Concept

Science fiction deals with scientific concepts while fantasy creations are merely written on the foundation of imaginative ideas.

Heroine Using magic

Heroine Using magic

3. Heroes And Heroines

Fantasy and sci-fi creations have different types of heroes and heroines. With fantasy creations, the heroes are usually mythical creatures or humans with supernatural powers.

The use of mythical creatures or supernatural humans is however different with Sci-fi creations which present real human heroes with unique talents and skill sets that make them formidable risk takers, valuable leaders or effective problem solvers which help them succeed in the end.

Futuristic City Skyline

Futuristic City Skyline

4. The Setting

Often, science fiction works are almost always in the future. A sci-fi story would extrapolate our world across time and explore what would happen in the advent of new futuristic technologies. Pundits maintain that today’s disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and virtual realities were envisioned and inspired by yesterday’s sci-fi works.

On the other hand, fantasy literature setting is almost always in a world so different from ours, and often in the past. This past could be ancient or medieval, and often involving magic. Fantasy works present an alternate world with mythical occurrences that would only be possible through imagination.

Science Fiction Vs. Fantasy


Science Fiction Vs. Fantasy

Conclusion

Understanding these science fiction vs. fantasy differences will help you create or choose a clarified genre that satisfies your readers. Often, readers look for specific literary identifying marks in a fantasy or sci-fi novel.

Being aware of the difference between science fiction and fantasy can help you blend and shade these two genres to create literary works that can move readers seamlessly between the possibilities and the impossibilities.

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Most Popular Themes in Science Fiction Writing

As an aspiring writer in the science fiction genre, you are presented with limitless possibilities. However, while there are so many themes that you could write on, there are some popular themes have repeatedly proven to be the most successful. Given that there are potentially hundreds of themes to choose from, I have compiled ten of the most popular science fiction themes found in modern science fiction.

End of Humanity

Sometimes referred to as post-apocalyptic or apocalyptic fiction, this genre is set in a world in which the technological civilization of the Planet Earth is collapsing either due to manmade or natural phenomenon such as depletion of resources or a nuclear holocaust, fictional happenings such as an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse, or an eschatological happening such as the Second Coming.

Life Extension

The desire to achieve immortality is a popular theme in science fiction. The major themes typically involve aspects of mind uploading where one uploads their consciousness into a computer or digital equivalent; Digital immortality where the person’s personality is uploaded on digital media including their thoughts and memories, which continue to live in perpetuity; and cryonics where a dead person is preserved until human technology develops to the point of bringing them back to life.

Alien Invasion

An Alien invasion is one of the oldest themes that has been a favorite of science fiction fans. Alien invasion typically involves the visit of extraterrestrials to Earth usually in the form of an invasion that is intended to supplant or exterminate human life. This could take the form of stealing of resources, enslavement of the human population, or in some instances the destruction of the planet.

Parallel Universe

One of the most popular sub-genres particularly in literary science fiction. A parallel universe refers to a different world where an alternate reality that may or may not be a variant of the Earth exists. Such universes may have some differences from our current reality such as having different laws of physics or biology. The parallel universe is thus a crossroads between the planet Earth and a fantasy world.

Bodily Transformation

This theme refers to several subgenres that may include genetic engineering, cloning, and biohacking. Genetic engineering themes tend to involve the creation of a super race of humans through technologies such as brain-computer interfacing, nanotechnology, and eugenics. From the opposing direction, is biohacking, in which individual person transform their bodies by introducing chemicals or cybernetic devices. Prosthetics or the use of robotics for enhanced bodily function also falls in this category

Super Powers

While closely related to bodily transformation this is a different subgenre of science fiction. The acquisition of superpowers typically encompasses aspects of teleportation, psychic phenomena, and enhanced mental function. Teleportation is the ability to transport persons or objects from one location to another without necessarily making use of the physical space between them. Psychic phenomena may include persons who have telekinetic, telepathic, precognitive and clairvoyant abilities. An enhanced mental function may include mind uploading, higher memory, mind-swap, and mind control abilities.

Time Travel

Time travel is one of the original and most popular themes popularized by novels such as “The Time Machine” by HG Wells. As a science fiction theme, it involves the movement of persons or objects between two points in space that typically has one going back to an earlier era or going forward to a future era. For instance, one could travel back in time to the Roman first century AD or go forward in time to the technologically driven world of 2100.

Military Conflicts

Military conflict is a common trope in many modern science fiction movies and literature. This will typically involve interstellar travel and combat in space between armies of antagonists from different planets or galaxies. These types of conflicts normally make use of exotic and strange weapons though some weapons used in science fiction have found use in conventional militaries.

Galactic Empires

Ever since science fiction franchise “Star Trek” became a mass phenomenon and gained acceptance even out of the science fiction community, the theme of Galactic Empires in science fiction has grown in leaps and bounds. The writing of this theme is modeled along the lines of the decline or rise of an empire that has significant technological advancement as compared to human civilizations or other civilizations in its vicinity. Given the differences in technology, social and economic advancement, there is tension between empires which usually results in conflict.

As an aspiring writer, you could write in any of the science fiction overarching themes we have discussed and been relatively successful. Nonetheless, you can always dig deeper into the subgenres of science fiction and still find success as long as you can write something that captures the imagination of the reader. This is by no means a complete listing of all the overarching themes, but rather an exposition of the most popular ones that I have found to have a higher probability of success with audiences.

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