Why Science-Fiction and Fantasy are Not the Same Genre

Defining Science-Fiction and Fantasy scifi-fantasy

Science-Fiction and Fantasy are both two great genres.  However, they are not the exact same genre as many book listings would have you believe.

Often in bookstores you will find a science-fiction/fantasy section which holds books that fall under both of these categories.  There are also bookstores that simply mark a science-fiction section and then proceed to dump both science-fiction and fantasy under it confusing the issue more.

Now don’t get me wrong there can be quite a bit of overlap between the two genres, and there are parts of them that are similar.  For instance the fact that they both are fictional and thus are stories about things that have not occurred.  Despite certain similarities, though, science-fiction and fantasy have certain key differences.

There are many different ways of defining these two genres, and debates have been raging about what makes a book science-fiction or fantasy for a long time.  Here is a basic definition of each genre:

  • Science-Fiction: a story that, although has not happened, has a possibility of happening based on current real scientific facts.  These stories often take place in the future and/or show a certain phenomenon that is now possible such as time travel.
  • Fantasy: a story that is completely invented and could not (most likely) ever actually occur.  These stories usually have some element of magic to them such as supernatural creatures, people with some kind of supernatural ability, and/or take place in a completely made up world.

Separating the Two

Fantasy books are places where fantastical creatures are real, and people find out they have great supernatural powers and have to save the world.  It’s the land where the totally impossible is possible. Think things like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Science-fiction on the other hand, and I cannot stress this enough, is a story about something that could actually happen.  Sure you hear “time travel” in a book’s summary and you automatically think, “that could never happen.”  The truth is it could, just not with what we currently have at our disposal.

The possibility is there.  That’s where science-fiction comes in.  As Ray Bradbury, who has written some awesome science-fiction such as Fahrenheit 451, stated “science-fiction is a sociological look at the future.”

Some parts of science-fiction that were written previously are actually starting to show up in current science.  It is currently possible to genetically modify a body before it’s born.  Most of this research is to help prevent birth defects and diseases, but the possibility now exists to choose genes for things like personality and physical appearance.

This eerily mirrors a character in Orson Scott Card’s book Ender’s Shadow who was part of an experiment which genetically modified babies in the womb giving them super intelligence.   This may be only one part of the story, but it does show how science-fiction stories, while not real, have the possibility of at least somewhat becoming a reality where as fantasy stories do not.

Science Fantasy?

There are some stories where the realms of science-fiction and fantasy overlap so much it’s hard to tell which genre the story belongs in.  One of the biggest examples of this is Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels.

Although they have dragons, leading many to think of them as fantasy, they are based on and use a lot of science within them.  Anne McCaffrey herself saw them more as science-fiction as she always took great care to craft the science into her dragons.

There are those who put books like this into the newer genre of science fantasy, but explaining that would take a whole other post!  So for now just know that while it is possible for science-fiction and fantasy to overlap on occasion there are still certain key things about each genre which separate it from the other.

Why I feel I need to Tell You This

The other day I saw Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief labeled as science-fiction.  Granted this was the movie not the book, but seriously?  In what world is Percy Jackson science-fiction?  How is a story about demigods, and Greek gods, and magical this, and supernatural that anything other than fantasy?  When I saw that my pet peeve about science-fiction and fantasy always getting mixed up rose to the surface, and I just had to help spread the word.

The Mostly True Story of Jack Review

Summary mostly true story of jack

It’s fantasy meets real life in Kelly Barnhill’s debut children’s novel The Mostly True Story of Jack.  When Jack’s parents get divorced and send him to spend the summer with an aunt and uncle he’s never heard of in the town of Hazelwood, Iowa, Jack figures it’ll be boring and the same as everywhere else where no one pays any notice to him.  No one ever has before; his own parents didn’t even pay him much attention not even having any pictures of him in the house.  But in Hazelwood that is all about to change.

Jack is astonished to realize people actually do notice him here.  His mysterious aunt and uncle have pictures of him all over their house and Jack makes friends for the first time in his life.  But not all is as it seems in Hazelwood, and Jack realizes that being noticed can be dangerous.  Especially when you are noticed by the mayor of the town and he is planning your immediate demise.

Jack soon discovers that Hazelwood is hiding a dark secret.  A secret it seems that Jack may be the key to unlocking.  Jack has no idea how he could possibly be related to anything going on in Hazelwood, or why all of a sudden everyone seems to notice him.  But Jack soon realizes he’ll have to figure out those answers if he wants to survive.

Jack and his new friends delve into the mysterious past of Hazelwood to discover exactly what it hides, and why Jack is so important to this town.  Through all the mystery and magic surrounding the town one thing is very clear, someone or something in Hazelwood has been waiting for Jack for a long time…

Thoughts on The Mostly True Story of Jack

When I first saw this book I thought the title was intriguing.  What did the author mean by mostly true?  After I started reading it I couldn’t put it down.  This is one of those books that you are constantly searching for but never find until you’re not looking.  A book you find at random when you are just browsing through the shelves of a bookstore not looking for anything in particular until it jumps out at you.  This book draws you in from the first page and actually makes you salivate for more.

From the very beginning I had to know who Jack was.  Why was his story mostly true?  Then I absolutely had to find out what was going on in Hazelwood, and how Jack who had felt he was invisible (and maybe was) fit into all this.

Jack I felt was a very solid main character.  He’s the kind of kid who is unobtrusive and feels lonely and neglected so you instantly feel emotionally attached him, but you can also tell that there is something about him resting just below the surface that could make him a hero even if he doesn’t want to be.  In many ways this is a coming of age story with some magic thrown in.  Jack who had always felt invisible is now noticed by everyone, and must make decisions that would be hard for an adult let alone a child.

The story had a fairy tale quality to it that I thoroughly enjoyed.  It was truer to the original form of fairy tales with its darker undertones and magic affecting the lives of people not always for the better.  This tied in with the element of Green Man mythology made Hazelwood the perfect setting for a fairy tale adventure.

A whole new take was given to the Green Man figure which I thought was excellently done.  Adding that piece of magic to the secrets of Hazelwood really brought the story together, especially with Jack’s final showdown.  I won’t give too much away about that here though.  I’d hate to spoil the surprise!

This book was a whirlwind of fantasy, fairy tale, mystery, and reality all thrown together to create a story that you’ll want to read again and again.  Through it all Jack is the guiding light you follow.  From his days of feeling lonely and invisible, to making friends and getting maybe a little too noticed.  You follow him through the maze of Hazelwood as he discovers just who he is, figures out the secret of Hazelwood, and what he’ll have to sacrifice in order to save the people he cares for and ultimately find what he’s always been looking for: a place where he belongs.

Other Details

My Recommendation: I know that this book is listed for ages 8-12, but I personally think it’s more for the older range of that.  Younger children might not grasp certain parts of it, and there are parts that I can see might be too scary or upsetting for a young child.  This book is good for children around eleven and up as well as adults who feel a need for a little magic and adventure in their lives.  It is especially good for children and adults to read together.

Author: Kelly Barnhill

Genre(s):  Fantasy, mystery, adventure

Pages: 323

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company a division of Hachette Book Group Inc.

First Released: August 2011