Science Fantasy (Part 1): Trending Now?

“Please engage your safety harnesses.  We must charge into the belly of the beast.”

Cliches abounding, my quote pokes fun at science fantasy, the illicit lovechild sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy.  I can do that.  I write science fantasy.  Poking fun at science fantasy is as close to being Black and saying the “N” word as I’ll ever come.  And it’s as good a place as any to start a conversation about a sub-genre that is too-little discussed and too-much maligned.

Why science fantasy instead of science fiction or fantasy?

Opinion is divided about the value of science fantasy.  On the one hand, notables like Margaret Atwood extol the hegemony-breaking virtues of genre-b(l)ending.  Not everyone agrees with Atwood’s position, however.  Some folks like their genres distinct.  For these writers/readers, science fiction is science fiction, and fantasy is fantasy, and ne’er the ‘twain shall meet . . . nor should they.

I can understand and respect both pro-blending and pro-boundary-enforcement.  However, I would also classify both positions as extremes on a spectrum of possibilities in genre definitions.  Extremes can be fun and useful in writing, but the grey area between them is the very stuff that science fantasy (and almost all great literature of all genres) is made of, particularly when one adds dimension to the grey area.

Dimension is exactly what author Randy Henderson provides in his definition of science fantasy (which he calls “the poor bastard child of science fiction”) in a 2010 article for Fantasy Magazine (Read Randy’s Article).  Henderson defines science fantasy as the third layer of science fiction, following hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi on a scale of decreasing scientific possibility and increasing non-scientific impossibility.  According to Henderson,

” . . . if the story includes a mix of possible science fiction (i.e. scientifically possible future or alternate events or technology) and something that is impossible (no matter how plausible the author makes it sound), then it is science fantasy.”

***As a side note with delectable paranoia potential, Fantasy Magazine merged with Lightspeed in 2012.  Following the joint-genre bookstore categorization Henderson mentions in his article, the resulting online magazine (Lightspeed) includes material from and about both genres in roughly equal proportions in each issue.  One wonders which category a science fantasy story would fall under for purposes of balancing an issue’s content.

What kind of recognition does science fantasy get today?

Not much, and not much that’s been positive.  That’s not to say science fantasy hasn’t had some press recently, and it hasn’t all been the kind that sends science fantasy writers into dark places.  At the October 2012 International Festival of Authors, this sub-genre was the topic of a roundtable discussion, “From Science to Fiction.”  (Read the synopsis and panel member bios)  It’s actually quite an honor for the sub-genre to be chosen for a Roundtable Discussion at all, given the huge number of topics falling under the conference theme of “the fantastical.”

I take that as an encouraging sign for science fantasy.  I feel similarly encouraged by the film adaptations and box-office success of science-fantasy novels like Cloud Atlas and The Life of Pi.

What do you think?

Serendipitous writing!



  1. Is publishing starting to pay more attention to science fantasy?  If so, why do you think that is?  If not, why not?

  2. Is science fantasy trending now?  
  3. What genre-b(l)enders stand out for you?

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