The Essence of Science Fiction and Fantasy

What is fantasy? It’s a question that often gets asked. Is magic required? Or a fictional fantasy world? Or maybe new races and fictional beasts are required?

That’s what we’re talking about in this guide. I’m delighted to present a guest post by Ed White, writer of fantasy and science fiction. It’s these two genres that his article focuses on, discussing their origins, their very essence, and, as Ed puts it, ‘the legion’ of sub-genres that have developed to make these genres two of the most exciting, inspirational and forward-thinking of all. Thank you, Ed!

About Ed White

Ed White is a writer of creative and visionary fiction from the North East. He enjoys reading, hiking, yoga, and meditation. White is an organic and sustainable living enthusiast. His passion is empowering others in life, whether through volunteering, tutoring, or his written works.

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The Origins of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres

The term science fiction (SF) is rather obscure. The definitions vary, but most sources agree that SF alludes to humanity (or some other race) encountering change, usually through technological means. SF is a genre of exploration and innovation, while Fantasy focuses more on unexplainable phenomenon aka magic or gods.


Both fantasy and SF employ–what we would consider–supernatural elements. They attempt to answer the question: what if. The main difference between the two genres is that SF explains ‘magical’ phenomenon in a scientific light, whereas Fantasy leaves it open to speculation and mystery. SF rules are more set and defined; Fantasy’s laws are whimsical and abstract.

“Science Fiction is something that could happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen, though often you only wish that it could.”~ Arthur C Clarke.

A Legion of Sub-Genres

You can have a mixture of both in a setting. Science Fantasy or Science Fiction Fantasy (SFF), develops the best and worst of both genres as its own supergenre. SFF can also incorporate elements of Horror for more of a Dark Fantasy feel.

what is fantasy

A prominent example of SFF is the Star Wars series. There are spaceships and robots, but there is also the mystical Force and sword-like lightsabers, symbolic of Excaliber from the Arthurian mythos. Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi Knight, takes up the lightsaber (the sword from the stone), and embarks on a quest to save the universe. His nemesis ends up as his father, another reoccurring trope in ancient myths and modern stories alike.

(One book I highly recommend is The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joesph Cambell. In it, Campbell explains the Hero’s Journey. I wrote an older article on it if you’re curious.)

the essence of science fiction and fantasy

Subgenres of SF can be broken down into three major categories:

  1. Hard Science Fiction – Features science or tech central to the story and characters without unexplained or mysterious magic. This subgenre focuses strictly on the improbable, rather than the impossible.
  2. Soft Science Fiction – This is a similar subgenre to Hard Science Fiction, but lacks extensive explanation behind the technology. The technology, magic, and sciences may take a backseat to the drives of the character or the plot. Has emphasis on the improbable shifts to the impossible.
  3. Science Fantasy – A cocktail of the concrete sciences and the unexplained abstract. This subgenre merges the impossible (dragons and magic) with the improbable (spaceships and robots). Character and plot have free reign over the needs of the sciences and technology, often spawning whimsical magic systems.

The boundary between items two and three may not be obvious. Some consider the two interchangeable. Other people prefer a black and white classification; in other words, it’s either SF or its Fantasy. Book archivists (libraries and bookstores) may use this modality to organize their books. I’ve certainly found plenty of SFF in both sections at my local library, particularly in the YA section. Some people consider Fantasy for younger people and SF for adults due to some stigma of magic associated with childhood; we can perhaps point fingers at Harry Potter for that. I’m a kid at heart, so I enjoy both genres (and probably still will when I’m old and gray).

Here and here are additional lists of subgenres that classify SF and Fantasy by theme. As you can see, the subclasses are legion. Human creativity is boundless. We can expect new genres to appear as time goes on. Mixing and matching subgenres for writers can lead to interesting results; like when you cook in the kitchen, you never know when you might devise the next recipe of the decade. However, like cooking, writing with unusual ingredients takes trial and error (plus some good taste buds; I’ve never licked the page of a book before–okay, maybe once, but that’s beside the point).

I hope this information on Science Fiction and Fantasy has helped you in whatever creative projects you have in mind. Thank you for reading.

“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.” ~ Frank Herbert

Thank you for reading. If you found this post helpful, why not stay in touch? As well as staying up to date with more posts like this, you’ll be kept abreast of any news and articles I think you may find helpful, as well as any new resources I release.

Check Out More Guides On The Fantasy Genre

Below, I’ve included some links to more guides and resources you may find useful.

Thanks for reading this guide on what is fantasy and science fiction.


4 thoughts on “The Essence of Science Fiction and Fantasy”

  1. Reblogged this on Ethereal Seals: Dragonsoul and commented:
    Another guest post I wrote on a fantastic blog. This article focuses on what Science Fiction and Fantasy are, the differences between the two, and the myriad concepts involved. Have a read. Thanks. 🙂

    Want to stay connected with Dragonsoul updates and essays? Hit that ‘follow’ button just below. Thanks.

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