To some of you, this will hardly be a surprising topic, or my view on it. When I was in the library the other day (okay, the latest time I was in the library), I was thinking how it could be very difficult for someone who doesn’t understand much about this subject to not see the difference.
You go to a section in the library or bookstore labeled “Science Fiction/Fantasy,” and by the covers and author names and titles alone, it’s pretty clear there’s a difference between the two. The first generally features aliens and/or outerspace, often is set in the future, or a galaxy far, far away, and focuses on science and technological advances. The latter can be contemporary or futuristic or set in the past, and often on another world, or in an alternate reality, but more often focuses on human myths and legends and otherworldly creatures/forces — or, magic.
But the differences don’t stop there. The themes, types of characters, typical plots, and messages frequently vary, too. For example, in sci-fi, there’s a whole lot of how the world may end by a man-made disaster, how to grow as a civilization through science and ideological methods, what sort of ethical quandaries we may face in the year 2345. In fantasy fiction, the main character’s personal journey or literal quest is usually most of the story, and religion or spirituality of that land/time often plays a part.
Now, I’m not trying to bash or uphold either category in itself. Do I have a preference? Yes, but it’s a personal one, and I don’t think people who like sci-fi are silly, nor do I discount sci-fi as an important genre and valid reading. And do these genres have to stay totally separate? Of course not. A lot of the modern dystopias have tried to combine elements from both. (And that actually creates an entirely new beast. But that’s another discussion.)
What I’m saying here is this: It really bothers me that the apparently ignorant booksellers/publishers/librarians of the world lump sci-fi and fantasy together on their shelves.
Before you gather the torches and pitchforks to come after me, let’s consider this reasonably. Are all people I named above ignorant of these very issues I’m espousing? No, of course not. But does it seem to be a lot? Sorry, but, yeah, it does.
More than once, I have picked up a book that was incorrectly designated, and then a few pages in, realized it was not my type of book. I just don’t have the kind of brain that does well with all the mechanical explanations and Greek/Latin scientific terms and the super-computer malarkey. (My processing of these areas equates to the simplicity of “a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff”.)
Give me magic. Give me dragons and unicorns. Give me a princess who needs to be rescued, or a cursed elf, or a monster slayer. Enchanted blade meets demon hide, I totally get. The protagonist is searching for a missing relative, or a lost love, and has 34 seconds to save the world from a rogue goblin king — yup, so on board with that.
So, that’s my big rant at the moment. We fans definitely know there’s a difference between science fiction and fantasy fiction. Personally, I feel more readers of other genres would do well to learn these things. Just saying.