Let's Have A Discussion—What's The Difference Between Fantasy & Sci-Fi?

Since I have a contender in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, I've been combing through the contestants from this year and also from previous years.

One thing disturbs me, though—that some of the books are disqualified for being too 'sci-fi' for this particular contest.

That's a fair justification. After all, this is the Fantasy Blog-Off. But it makes me wonder—what is the criteria for labeling a book 'sci-fi'?

Magic Vs. Technology

The inadequate answer is that fantasy books contain magic, while sci-fi books contain technology. And it is clearly an inadequate answer, because we all know Clarke's Third Law:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

So let's take an example. What about teleportation? Is that fantasy?

Or sci-fi?

Obviously, using teleportation in a story doesn't lock it into either category. Maybe flying cars are a better example.


Or maybe not.


Okay, here's another insufficient answer: the setting determines whether the story is fantasy or sci-fi.

Because if the story takes place in a strange new world with flying beasts, it must be fantasy...

But if it takes place in a strange new world with flying beasts, it must be sci-fi...

Um, the characters, maybe?

Obviously, only fantasy stories have pointy-eared people who are physically and intellectually superior to humans.


Did I say fantasy? I mean sci-fi.


What was the point I was trying to make?

Reductio ad absurdum

It seems like the real difference, even though nobody will say it, is that fantasy takes place on flat worlds and sci-fi takes place on round planets.

Both of these shots are from Star Wars, by the way.


So What's The Real Difference?

I don't claim to have the answers. I don't write the dictionary, I have no authority to dictate the definitions.

I have some thoughtful theories, which you are welcome to check out. But I'd also like to know your thoughts.

Drop a comment below, and tell me how you tell the difference between those genres!






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