I heard an interesting definition the other day. It had to do with the difference between fantasy and science fiction. The speaker was postulating that while Science Fiction is set on “Planets,” Fantasy is set on “Worlds.” Sort of the difference between the settings of Lord of the Rings and The Martian. One you can glance up in the sky and imagine it being there, the other you cannot.
The fantasy writer creates a setting and does not necessarily think about the whole, the sci-fi author may work out the how and why their location is different, or logical. If the sci-fi writer introduced dragons into a tale there would probably be a temptation to explain the means by which dragons can spit fire. Actually, I attempted to do that in my novel, “Alex in Wanderland.”
I’ve always felt that what sets sci-fi apart from fantasy, or any other classification of genre, is the “sci” portion of the equation. If you could remove the scientific gimmick or far future technology and setting and the story still works well, then maybe you’ve written it in the wrong genre. Fantasy suspends reality for at least a portion of the tale.
The same may also apply to world building. A magical city in the desert, an evil magician, interference by the “gods,” tend toward fantasy. A sci-fi writer might worry more about how the city’s politics and economy can actually work. Could that city support itself? (greenhouses, aquifers, trade?) How does the evil magician’s magic actually work? (high tech?) What are the gods? (Advanced aliens?)
I tend to write fantasy while downplaying the fantastical. I still like to have the how it works covered in the back of my mind or at least be aware when I have no idea. When I write science fiction I classify my tales as soft sci-fi. I throw in faster than light travel and ignore long technical passages on how it all works. I don’t really know and I don’t care. (But I’m also well aware of what I’m deliberately doing.)
I recently sat down to write a fantasy tale during a period of time between acceptance of a manuscript and editing. At least it started out as a straight fantasy tale, although it has begun sniffing around converting to sci-fi. Some days you can never tell where the unruly characters are going to lead you.
And I like it that way.
The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 8)
Alex in Wanderland,
We’re Not in Kansas
Toltec Dawn (Book 1, 2, 3)