That Very Fine Line: Science Fiction or Fantasy?

When I first started my novel–the one I’m revising, right now–I thought it was Science Fiction. I mean, it had aliens and spaceships, and it was all on a different planet…. Right? Well, apparently, it’s a fine line.  It’s obviously not sword and sorcery Fantasy, but there are elements that lean toward that genre, instead of Sci Fi.

Some of the people who have read it, or parts of it, have flat out told me it’s Fantasy. And the truth is, I suspect they may be right. The “science” end of the thing isn’t really central to the story. It’s there, but I could just say “magic” and then explain it that way. I think. Plus or minus a few Faraday cages–which I’m comfortable with–in exchange for some dang spell–which I’m not.

I could go either way, for this one. I can see that.

But as part of the overall brand… Well, the science is much more integral to the next novel. For that one, it almost has to be science.

That may be what makes this one very soft science fiction as opposed to very sciency fantasy. Overall, I’m moving in the Sci-Fi direction.

So, while I’m still working out the marketing on this one… Can you define that line–the one between Science Fiction and Fantasy–in a really clear way? Or is it more of a know-it-when-you-see-it kind of arrangement?


  1. Delia


    The two novels I published were sort of science fiction because they had space travel and technology, but the technology was magic. I would say if it has any magic in it at all, SF enthusiasts would call it fantasy. But Clarke’s Third Law states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” so there you go.

    Flippant answer aside, I’d say that if you have more SF literary elements than fantasy ones, it’s SF.

    • Reply

      That makes a lot of sense. I’ll have to take another look from that perspective and see what I come up with. I think I’m probably okay either way on this one.

  2. Reply

    If the research supports the possibility, even if the science hasn’t caught up yet, the it’s Sco-Fi. Gene Roddenbury pulled the ideas for Star Trek out of his hat and yet today, much of what he wrote about is actually possible. When you’re writing in the “zone” perhaps you’re seeing the future.

  3. Reply

    I feel like the blend of science fiction and fantasy is a rising genre in and of itself. But picking one or another, I agree, depends on what themes you are working with. My standard rule is to let the setting define the primary genre. Even that guideline is fallible, if you take McCaffrey’s Pern books, set on another planet but quite fantastical with dragons. Best of luck.

  4. Reply

    I apologise for not attempting a definition. However, I wish UK bookshops would attempt to separate the two genres. If pushed, I’d say that SF is about recognisable science. I am aware that statement has great holes in it. Thank you, this made me think.

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