What are the differences between Fantasy vs Sci Fi? The differences between fantasy and science fiction or sci fi seem obvious on the surface. The fantasy genre deals with a made-up world that does not and could not reasonably exist and has mythical creatures and magic. A science-fiction story usually tells of a dystopian or futuristic version of our world, space, or somewhere we can readily recognize. There is a technological feel to it but no magic.
Both fantasy and science fiction have far more elements than most people think. They have more minor differences that fans of the genres cherish and similarities that can convince the average fan of the fantasy or science fiction genre to try out the other.
This article will take a deeper look at what is similar and different about these two enormously popular genres that tote authors such as Tolkien, Martin, and Rowling, and have inspired filmmakers like Spielberg and Lucas. These genres have created subgenres, subcultures, and many more.
Fantasy vs Sci Fi—Explained
In defining and explaining these two genres, we will understand the differences between fantasy and science fiction. This crossover genre of science fantasy bridges the gap between the two genres. Still, it is just a story with elements of both, just like you can have a romantic thriller, a “dramedy,” or a satirical horror story. To understand the differences and decide which type of book you think you would enjoy more, you have to break each genre down and look at it under the microscope, which we are about to do.
What is Science Fiction?
Science fiction, or “sci fi,” is a genre that has inspired culture, film, fashion, beauty, and so much more. Highly influential, highly popular, and beautifully descriptive. Some subgenres consist of hard science fiction, soft science fiction, social science fiction, cyberpunk, apocalyptic, military science fiction, time travel, and more. Like fantasy, science fiction continues to grow in its list of subgenres, and more and more writers have come up with new ideas to push the genre further.
1. Speculative Fiction
Science fiction can also be thought of as speculative fiction. It takes what we know about our natural world, and it asks, “What if?” Science fiction typically goes hard, though. It is not a question of “What if the server falls in love with the manager of the store?” It is more like, “What if books were banned so that the government could control the thoughts and education of society?” Science fiction seems to urge its readers to consider and to think. This is the entire point of the speculative fiction genre: to make the reader and the writer think about what could happen and wonder what is possible.
2. Dystopian Setting
Science fiction deals with a setting that, in some way, we can recognize. For example, in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, we can identify where the science fiction novel occurs—we just do not understand the technology. The world as we know it has ended and moved on. We are left to envision the world and what the survivors of the rapture have done with it.
Science fiction explores the use of technology and what it could become if it continues to grow at the rate that we are currently experiencing. Often advanced technologies are at the center of conflict in a science fiction book. Robots or AI are taking over. Machines that outsmart and overpower the man. Machinery or computers that reach a state of sentience. There are no fantastical elements to these stories. If the setting is somewhere we can recognize, and there is technology, the story is more than likely considered science fiction.
What is Fantasy?
Both science fiction and fantasy deal with grand settings and larger-than-life worlds, but the fantasy genre differs in that it does not try to convince the reader that anything within its pages could happen, has happened, or is happening. Fantasy stories and novels may have a moral or a deeper philosophical meaning. Still, they are not intended to be cautionary tales of dystopia, like you may see in a science fiction story.
There are subgenres of fantasy, just like in science fiction. The most commonly known are high fantasy and low fantasy. Also, there are many others, such as paranormal fantasy, young adult fantasy, urban fantasy, and more.
1. Supernatural Elements
Fantasy novels often use supernatural elements in their stories, like magic, witchcraft, sorcery, or other superpowers that do not and cannot logically exist. A fantasy story does not often worry about explaining how a character can have such powers. The character does. Gandalf is a wizard—he is very powerful and understands magic. Elves are capable of some forms of magic. The fantasy universe accepts it.
2. Supernatural Creatures
Fantasy readers love to read about mythical creatures or made-up creatures. They interact with the characters, sometimes the main characters, and they make the fantasy novel more enchanting and enticing for the imaginative reader. Harry Potter interacts with a phoenix. Daenerys Targaryen is the mother of dragons. Orcs are after the hobbits trying to burn a ring supervised by a giant eye.
These do not have to be entirely made-up creatures, either. Even talking animals qualify. Mythical creatures such as centaurs are also fantasy matters. Fantasy explores the deep recesses of the imagination of humanity, giving us outlandish and fantastical elements and asking us to accept them—and we do.
These made-up creatures make fantasy worlds even more alluring. Fantasy genres depend upon the use of magic and creatures to push their stories a step further into an adventure.
3. Fictional World
The fantasy setting is a fantasy realm that does not mirror or look at what we know of the world. The culture of fans of fantasy books has, in some cases, tried to make our world look more like the fantasy settings they read about.
Middle Earth is a fantasy world full of hobbit holes, living trees, and no rational explanation for any of it. You take it at its world, much like you do when you read fairy tales. This literary genre does not need to explain, and the fans do not ask for one because the stories do not ask for one.
Note: There is a subgenre of fantasy, known as hard fantasy, that does strive to make its settings more realistic to what we know as reality. This brings to light a fundamental difference between science fiction and fantasy and blurs the line.
4. World Building
Another difference that you see between science fiction and fantasy is that the fantasy genre dedicates an enormous effort into world-building. This does not just mean the setting.
Characters come from backgrounds and areas that are told in remarkable detail. Entire languages are invented. Some literary works of this genre pride themselves on their ability to create such detailed languages and cultures of the characters. One example is Elvish, the language spoken by the elves in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In real life, the author was a professor of languages, and he invented this entire language for the use of his saga, all about getting one ring from Point A to Point B.
Another example is Dothraki—a language invented in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. Many fans of the books and the television series took the time to learn the language in the same way that one might study Spanish, English, or French as a second language.
Settling Debates: 4 Popular Dramas
There has long raged debate for many fans who read and those who view popular science fiction. To draw a hard line between science fiction and fantasy, hard science fiction fans and mega fantasy fans have tried to claim some of the biggest known and most popular and influential stories as their own in their favorite genres.
So, where do they sit? What elements make up each of these popular dramas? Let us find out.
1. Star Wars: Science Fiction-ish
Creator George Lucas may not have set out to write science fiction, but that is just what he did. While multiple planets are featured in his work, we can recognize them as realistic-looking places. The advanced technologies of lightsabers, fighter ships, massive militaristic bases floating about outer space, and android creations such as C-3PO and R2D2 qualify as sci fi.
But now, let us look at some other parts of this saga. Chewbacca does not exist as a real creature in our world. Neither do Ewoks, Jar Jar Binks, and Yoda. “The force” is mastered only by those capable of being Jedi masters. There are also elements of fantasy in this series.
George Lucas has stated that Star Wars is not science fiction but more of a space opera. He borrowed elements from both science fiction and fantasy during his writing journey. We got what we got as slightly more sci fi than the fantasy culmination of the two, giving way for more science fantasy to be created in its wake.
2. Star Trek: Science Fiction
Another story full of space travel, aliens, and future scientific processes and technologies, Star Trek is most certainly science fiction. This saga is credited as one of the best sci fi and is about a crew in space who deal with dangerous space travel and conflict within their ranks. They would visit a different world on the show in nearly every new episode, but the world always looked like something we could recognize.
They also used advanced technology and weapons. Star Trek is some of the best sci fi created in the last century, and it has influenced many writers to delve into the genre.
3. Harry Potter: Fantasy
While we can recognize part of the world that Harry lives in, all bets are off once he goes to Hogwarts with his Muggle family members. There is magic. There are mythical creatures. There is sorcery, time travel, and a world that could only ever exist in the most vivid part of the human imagination.
This is the story of a young boy orphaned as an infant raised by his awful and hateful aunt and uncle in England. He is bullied and neglected and looks for an escape when we meet him, and he is always known to be “different.” On his eleventh birthday, he is visited by a large and magical man to come to a boarding school in a magical world to learn to be a wizard just like his parents.
A world full of magic, creatures, and some of the most brilliant imagery you can imagine is described in this drama.
4. Dune: Science Fiction
Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of those stories that is so dystopian and hopeless that you feel somewhat depressed while reading it. Until everything changes. When you can find stories like this one that feature a hopeless world that looks familiar, unlikely heroes that are a moral goal, and technology that is advanced and fascinating, you should read it.
Recently made into a move that will see its second part come out soon, Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, and Jason Momoa bring this world and storyline to life, giving even more attention to the genre. Science fiction is one of the most expensive genres of film to make, but it is also one of the most successful.