One-Minute Book Reviews

September 12, 2007

What’s the Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy? Quote of the Day (Michael Crichton)

Filed under: Fantasy,Quotes of the Day,Science Fiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:10 pm
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One of the major literary changes of recent decades has been the shifting of boundaries between genres, such as the novel and memoirs. Some of the borders have all but disappeared. More than three decades ago, Michael Crichton made this comment in a review of Slaughterhouse Five:

“As a category, the borders of science fiction have always been poorly defined, and they are getting worse. The old distinction between science fiction and fantasy – that science fiction went from the known to the probable, and fantasy dealt with the impossible – is now wholly ignored. The new writing is heavily and unabashedly fantastical.

“The breakdown is also seen in the authors themselves, who now cross the border, back and forth, with impunity. At one time this was dangerous and heretical; the only person who could consistently get away with it was Ray Bradbury. Science fiction addicts politely looked the other way when he did books such as Dandelion Wine and the screenplay for John Huston’s Moby Dick. It was assumed he needed the money.”

Michael Crichton in “Slaughterhouse Five” in The Critic As Artist: Essays on Books 1920–1970 With Some Preliminary Ruminations by H.L. Mencken (Liveright, 1972), edited by Gilbert A. Harrison.

Comment by Janice Harayda:

The trend Crichton describes has become stronger since made his comment. What do you think of the change? Have science fiction and fantasy benefited from it? What about the opening up of the borders between the novel and memoirs or other genres?

Other links: Ray Bradbury, Slaughterhouse Five and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America For information on John Huston’s Moby Dick, search the Internet Movie Database for “Moby Dick (1956).” You can also search IMDb for the names of Michael Crichton, Ray Brabury and Kurt Vonnegut to learn about the films of their books.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. This is so interesting. I’m not a fan of either sci-fi or fantasy, but my husband likes the former and my son the latter. My husband has also complained that there is no good science fiction being written any more.

    I think this blending of genres has also occured in children’s fiction. I work with a children’s literature class in my role as a university librarian, and the class has to read across a number of genres: fantasy, historical fic, contemporary realistic fic, traditional lit (fairy tales, fables, myths, legends), bio/autobio/memoir, poetry, and “informational” (nonfic) books. Note that sci fi isn’t even given a separate category; it’s considered part of fantasy in their textbook (Donna Norton’s Through the Eyes of a Child, 7th edition).

    So many of the books are multi-genre (a fairy tale version told in verse, for example). In other cases, it can be hard to distinguish the genre; for example, a book that was contemporary realistic fiction when it was written 60 years ago might be considered historical fiction today.

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — September 14, 2007 @ 8:56 am | Reply

  2. What’s the Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy? And the truth was …What?

    Comment by writerjack — September 15, 2007 @ 8:32 pm | Reply

  3. Fiction genres don’t blend as much as people think. If you define them using the content of the narrative – instead of style or symbolism or form – they are usually easily divisible. Using content-reasoned techniques fundamentally based around the difference between science (the arguably possible) and the supernatural (the arguably impossible), deciding genre boundfaries for a book or story is easy once one accepts that the twains of magic and science never really meet. There are some books (Notably those that comprise subgenres like Planetary Romance and Dying Wearth scenarios) which defy easy categorisation, but that’s becuase the author is playing games with us around the exact nature of his or her novelty elements in a story. These kind of stories really are pretty few in number.

    William Hjortsberg’s ‘Fallen Angel’ may read like – and be structured like – a crime novel, but its supernatural elements confirm it as a Fantasy.

    Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books may feature dragons and archaic-seeming societies (common Fantasy tropes), but they feature no magic – justb disguised genetic engineering, exoplanetary colonisation and so on – so they are Science Fiction.

    ‘Red Dragon’ by Thomas Harris may be gory, frightening and so on – but it’s a crime novel. It has no supernatural or SF elements to it. Crime novels are Realism, not Romances.

    Horror is not a genre, but an approach or bricolage – SF, Fantasy and Crime stories all get packaged and marketed as Horror. Publishers do this because of the approach the author uses – is his/her fundamental concern with the fear of death and the frailty of our bodies ? If so, we’re talking Horror. Books can be simultaneously Horror and SF, Horror and Fantasy or Horror and Crime.

    Stephen E. Andrews, 100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels/ 100 Must Read Books For Men

    Comment by jackprussia — August 12, 2008 @ 3:38 pm | Reply

  4. “Content vs. form” is a useful distinction. So many people, then they try to define SF or fantasy or any other genre, have content or form in mind. But they aren’t spelling that out. Thanks for mentioning this.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — August 17, 2008 @ 11:06 am | Reply

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