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How to Tell Sci-Fi and Fantasy Apart

A lot of people confuse sci-fi and fantasy because these genres really have a lot in common.

Of course, sci-fi and fantasy are not the same thing. With 5-Minute Crafts, you will find out what the difference between them is.

Why sci-fi and fantasy are alike

  • Both fantasy and sci-fi are set in imaginary worlds, often the supposed future or past.
  • Both genres are based on certain assumptions and answer the "What if?"question.
    What if there are not only ordinary people but also wizards? (Harry Potter, Joanne Rowling)
    What if there is a ring you can use to rule the entire world? (The Lord of the Rings, John Ronald Ruel Tolkien).
    What if spice becomes the biggest value in the world? (Dune, Frank Herbert)
    What if you create a human-like monster? (Frankenstein, Mary Shelley)
  • Fantasy and sci-fi are built around similar central conflicts: an individual is in opposition to the expectations of society. The details of the conflict might be different but the base is always the same. Something individual may be against society (like in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury). The individual may be against something powerful, like fate (The Lord of the Rings by John Ronald Ruel Tolkien), against themselves (Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), or against another individual (like the Harry Potter series or A Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin).

The differences between sci-fi and fantasy

  • Even though both genres are set in imaginary worlds, sci-fi describes something that is improbable but hypothetically possible: space travel, genetic engineering, aliens.
    Fantasy talks about the impossible: magic animals, magic, imaginary things.
    For example, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is sci-fi. There, the writer talks about people researching Mars and then living on it. It’s fiction, but in reality, it’s possible.
    But The Lord of the Rings talks about a completely imaginary world inhabited by unusual and magical creatures. The events it describes revolve around a magic ring that makes people and other creatures do what the ring wants, which is unlikely to happen in the real world.
  • Sci-fi addresses the knowledge about reality and science, and abides by the laws of nature. Fantasy makes up and invents the things that don’t exist and can’t exist in our reality. There are no logical or any other limitations: anything that happens is magic or a miracle.
  • What sci-fi movies and books talk about are science and technology. The story may be set in distant worlds, robots, or unusual inventions.
    Fantasy characters are usually mythical creatures or characters with supernatural powers.
  • Fantasy worlds can be very detailed, contain special languages, rich bloodline descriptions and histories.
  • Fantasy is a far more ancient genre than sci-fi. It stars in myths, and the first fantasy might be Odyssey by Homer (8th century BCE). Even though the roots of sci-fi are also deep in the past, it started developing actively not long ago. Some researchers think that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is probably the first sci-fi novel (1818).

Can something be both fantasy and sci-fi at the same time?

Some stories are hard to categorize and say that they are one specific genre because they might contain the elements of both. For example, superhero characters often live in worlds very similar to ours. But at the same time, they have supernatural powers that can’t be scientifically explained. This is why these stories often have their own separate genre.

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