Difference Between Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative

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Difference Between Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative

Postby mikemacdee » June 9th, 2015, 2:19 am

What are the defining characteristics of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction? That is, what sets them apart from one-another? Often the three seem to cross each other's borders, to the point where it's not always clear if a sci-fi story is really fantasy, or vice-versa. Curious if the older generation of smackjeevers has something to say on the subject.
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Re: Difference Between Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative

Postby Guest » June 9th, 2015, 11:57 am

mikemacdee wrote:What are the defining characteristics of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction? That is, what sets them apart from one-another? Often the three seem to cross each other's borders, to the point where it's not always clear if a sci-fi story is really fantasy, or vice-versa. Curious if the older generation of smackjeevers has something to say on the subject.

Definitions are fluid, aren't they? Things change. Rock and Roll used to be a 4/4 with minimal chord changes, and now...(?)

But as an "older generation" I will weigh in - SF when I was an impressionable tadpole was spaceships, rayguns, aliens - y'know, Isaac Asimov stuff. Fantasy was dragons and swords and elves and shit, as defined most clearly by JRR Tolkein. Speculative fiction wasn't a thing in my world except in the pages of my beloved "What If?" comic books, until I read "The Difference Engine" by Sterling and Gibson, but I was quite the adult by then.

Of course, what did or did not fall into those categories also changed as my reading habits changed - Russell Hoban's "Riddley Walker", for example, is considered something of a classic in the dystopian future-themed science fiction genre, but incorporates a number of elements that more properly belonged in the 'fantasy' genre as defined for that time. And as I became a more sophisticated consumer, the more human themes in all genres were the main selling points - "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman was much more fascinating to me for the emotional journey taken by it's protagonist than for the hard sci-fi elements. "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever" were very interesting to me because the main character was a self-absorbed, self-pitying, wreck of a human - NOT because he fights against evil demons or whatnot in a land that defies rational explanation. I'm not sure I "get" the genre of speculative fiction.

But why limit one's self to artificial genre boundaries when telling a story? Should "A Wrinkle In Time" be considered SF, Fantasy, Coming-Of-Age, or Adolescent literature? Does it matter? I dunno.

So, MY two cents, FWIW.
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Re: Difference Between Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative

Postby mikemacdee » June 9th, 2015, 11:57 pm

Well, certainly, for the purposes of writing your story, you shouldn't restrict yourself with labels too much. But if it's a matter of a contest, like the Webtoon sci-fi comic contest I posted about in another thread, it helps to better understand what is and is not sci-fi. In theory.

For example, if you have a science gizmo as a central plot element, but the story takes place on another world entirely populated by alien critters, is it sci-fi or fantasy? would it be sci-fi because of the gizmo and how it affects the plot? would it be fantasy because the setting is not of this earth? or would it be both?

Also my understanding of speculative fiction is exactly that: "what if?" But that's a pretty vague definition...
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Re: Difference Between Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative

Postby hestia.edwards » June 14th, 2015, 1:23 am

In my mind, the biggest difference between fantasy and science fiction is the time period. Sci-fi I always associate with the present or the future, and with fantasy, the past. Another major difference is the "source of energy": in sci-fi it's technology or something science related, something plausible, whereas fantasy often focuses on magic.

I always thought that speculative fiction was general term for fantasy, horror, sci-fi, etc. Perhaps not. ;)
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Re: Difference Between Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative

Postby darkenergy » August 16th, 2015, 9:36 pm

Speculative includes both sci-fi and fantasy, as well as stuff that doesn't neatly fit into one or the other (e.g. steampunk and other alternative history + magical or pseudo-futuristic tech). The only thing I'd call 'speculation' that I haven't seen under the umbrella is straight alternate history - i.e. a real world setting where Hitler won, or that kind of thing.

Sci-fi to me needs to center on the use of technology which does not currently exist. And by center I don't mean only be about, but it needs to be a central, driving element.

Fantasy to me needs to center on the use of magic, which I'd like to define as anything that is impossible, but time travel (under current physics) is also impossible, so I guess I would have to say not just impossible but inexplicable.

There's also this fun term "slipstream" which as far as I can make out is stuff that goes between the two, like the dragons of Pern (fantasy creatures with a sci-fi basis).
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