I had a conversation with an author friend of mine about this yesterday.  There are differences between science fiction and fantasy, but few understand how to explain those differences.


Dictionary.com defines Science Fiction as “a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc.”

Meanwhile, Wikipedia states that “Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting.”

Both definitions are adequate enough.  However, the most important factor in distinguishing the difference between the two is also the simplest.

The (Overly Simple) Explanation

It is all in how the author explains the characters and the situations.

Don’t believe me?  Try this…

519a0-hulk-scatena-la-sua-rabbia-in-una-scena-del-film-l-incredibile-hulk-61199Hulk steps out onto a street and throws a car.  He can do this because his cells are juiced with gamma radiation.  He’s a science fiction character.

Thor_Lifts_BoulderThor steps out onto the same street and throws an equally heavy boulder.  He can do this because he is a powerful god of thunder.  As long as he is a god, he is a fantasy character.  If you start calling him an alien, he’ll slip into science fiction just as easily.

wondy_car_lift_by_georgel_mcawesomeWonder Woman follows the two of them out and throws a different car.  Depending on which origin you are reading, she is either a clay baby made by Hippolyta and blessed by Hera or the demigod child of Hippolyta and Zeus.  Either way, she’s a fantasy character doing the same work as the boys.

In Conclusion

There is no real difference, not in storytelling or in the abilities of the characters themselves.  The line between Fantasy and Science Fiction takes place in the author’s explanation of why his or her characters can do the things that are beyond our abilities.

More Posts By Cynical Sci-Fi

7 thoughts on “An (Overly Simple) Explanation of the Difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. You found a Wonder Woman/Yotsuba&! crossover pic! That’s amazing . . . I’m seeing it play out in my head right now, and it’s absolutely hilarious! 😀

  2. Sorry … but I DON’T agree!

    ‘Science Fiction’ must be based on at least a plausible explanation that is either scientifically correct, or COULD be. Everyone should know that ‘gamma radiation’ kills cells. So being ‘juiced’ by gamma radiation is totally non-scientific – something that is IMPOSSIBLE. Therefore, it cannot be science fiction. The best science fiction comes up with ideas that even scientists cannot disprove … and much of it actually PREDICTS the future (just look at the Jules Verne novels). For example, talking about a ‘time warp’ could be science fiction, as there is nothing in physics to prevent this (it might be possible in the future).

    Fantasy, on the other hand, is “fantastic” – which is defined as ‘fanciful, irrational, wild, absurd, far-fetched, nonsensical,, unbelievable, unthinkable, or implausible. If it is irrational or absurd, it can never actually happen in the real world (at least, in OUR universe), and therefore CANNOT be ‘science fiction’.

    I hope that people reading this comment will understand that there IS a difference – between something that is logical and possible (but perhaps beyond today’s limits of science), and something that is irrational and absurd – i.e., NEVER possible in the real world.

    I’m sure that any science fiction writers who are reading this will agree that science fiction is totally different than ‘fantasy’ – the only thing connecting the two is the “good imagination” of the writer.


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