Those of you who’ve been following my blog for pretty much any amount of time will probably know that I’m a huge fan of fantasy literature – most of my favourite books are in that genre! You’ll also probably know that I’m not such a big fan of science-fiction (with the exception of books like the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout, which should probably technically be considered sci-fi, because most of the main characters are aliens, but which read more like paranormal romance novels).

So it’ll probably come as no surprise that one of my biggest bookish pet peeves is that fantasy and sci-fi are always getting lumped together as if they’re the same thing. 😡 Quite often, when I’m browsing in bookshops and libraries, I’ll have to spend a significant amount of time going through the “fantasy/sci-fi” section (1) (which – to make it even worse – is sometimes just labelled “fantasy” or “science-fiction”! 😮 ), filtering through all the books to try and find something that I’m not bound to dislike (2).

Anyway, I thought I’d let you know how I classify sci-fi and fantasy books, and I’d love to know if any of you have different ideas about the genres!

SETTING The real world, but not necessarily on Earth. Can be set in any world or universe.
PREMISE Magic does not exist. Magic exists.
RULES Science (or pretend-science) must be able to explain all unusual events. Science does not need to explain anything.
MAJOR SUB-GENRES Space-based books (e.g. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams). High fantasy, set in an entirely made-up world, usually on an epic scale, and with epic themes (e.g. The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson).
Virtual-reality books (e.g. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline), including virtual fantasy-worlds. Contemporary or low fantasy, set in the real world, but with added magic (e.g. Half Bad by Sally Green).
Super-human / superhero books (e.g. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi). Middle fantasy, where there are two distinct worlds, one magical, and the other at least resembling reality (e.g. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling).
Cyberpunk, which deals with information technology, and often robotics (e.g. Cinder by Marissa Meyer). Mythic fiction, which deals with various types of mythology (e.g. Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan).
Time-travel fiction (e.g. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon), so long as the time-travel is explained by science, not magic. Paranormal fiction, where there is little or no magic, but there are supernatural creatures (e.g. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer).
Alien books (e.g. Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout).
Steampunk and dieselpunk, which place current or futuristic technology in a historical setting (e.g. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld).

Or, as wikipedia says (much more succinctly):

In general, science fiction differs from fantasy in that the former concerns things that might someday be possible or that at least embody the pretense of realism. Supernaturalism, usually absent in science fiction, is the distinctive characteristic of fantasy literature.

As you can see, there are a lot of different types, and (in fantasy particularly) there’s often quite a lot of overlap. If you’re looking for more detailed descriptions of the various sub-genres (many of which I haven’t even mentioned), then I direct you to wikipedia’s articles on fantasy and science fiction, respectively.


1) I actually work at a second-hand bookshop, and a month or two ago my manager let me separate and re-label all the fantasy and sci-fi books, which made me happier than it probably ought to have done. 😛

2) Which is not to say that I hate all sci-fi. The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness is sci-fi, and I love what I’ve read of it so far, and so, apparently, are the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon (3)… It’s just that, for the most part, whenever I decide to try a sci-fi book, I end up confused, often frustrated, and usually unsatisfied. Needless to say, this was an unpleasant discovery to make, two or three stories into a one-thousand plus-page anthology of sci-fi short stories… 😦

3) I used to think that these were fantasy, but when I went to hear Diana Gabaldon talk about them, she said that she’d come up with a scientific theory that explained everything. Having only read the first two books in the series, however, I don’t know whether this theory is ever presented to the readers…

4 thoughts on “#FantasyNotSciFi

  1. I am also a very huge fan of fantasy literature. The mix up between fantasy and sci-fi is pretty confusing and I’ve seen many people label a clearly sci-fi novel as a fantasy and vice versa. This was a great clarification post on the differences!

    Liked by 1 person

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