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Ser Scot A Ellison

Speculative fiction sub-genres: Sci-Fi v Fantasy

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I was a big reader of fantasy novels for a long time. As I've gotten older I've enjoyed them less and less and prefer science fiction to fantasy. Honestly, I'm reading a lot less spec fic generally and read a lot more non-fiction than I used to. Perhaps, because science fiction has some loose associations with reality I'm prefering it to fantasy because of the random drop in of "magic".

Discuss, which do you prefer and why?

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I prefer fantasy to sci-fi. I'm left-brained leaning towards liberal arts as opposed to the sciences. Out of the speculative fiction I read, about 75% is fantasy as opposed to sci-fi. However, like you, I find myself reading more "classics" and non-fiction, especially history.


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For the most part, I try to split my time between reading fantasy and reading ''classics'' (anything old with a good reputation). Fantasy has always served more as escapism to me, whereas the classics require a bit more thought.



And as an extension of that, a lot of those ''classics'' are Sci-fi - which I agree with Ser Scot, tends to have some relationship with reality. Books like Brave New World, The Man In the High Castle, Cat's Cradle etc.




In terms of page numbers, I probably read more Fantasy than anything else. There's a lot of it out there, and I really enjoy burying myself in it. In terms of quality and arguably some deeper sense of engagement, I'd throw my hat in with Sci-fi. Although again, that's my very loose interpretation of ''sci-fi'' which very specifically only refers to books already acknowledged as great.


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I came rather late to both. As a teenager I preferred crime/mystery/adventure including some old-fashioned SciFi like Jules Verne and a very corny German SciFi writer named Hans Dominik (and 1984 and Brave New World which were considered classics or obligatory in school).


Read LotR with about 20 and then quite a bit of fantasy (including rather crappy stuff like Salvatore) for a few years. Sci-Fi sporadically. I read a few by Heinlein (Stranger in a strange land, Starship Troopers) in my mid-twenties. Later a bunch of PK Dick and Asimov. (I never cared about either StarWars nor StarTrek, in fact I find both fairly ridiculous.)



Without really knowing enough about either genre, I think there is more good SciFi than Fantasy, especially including short stories and novellas. A writer like Asimov might have had only average style and characterization, he was extremely smart and witty and is rarely boring. PK Dick was quite crazy and some of his novels don't really hold their promise (they peter out after a while) but he is also fascinating in the exploration of all kinds of challenging ideas about mind, reality, the human condition etc.



OTOH while I have not yet read e.g. "Dune" (as one of the few full scale SciFi epics), I think I prefer fantasy for "epic grandeur", emotions and escapism. Unfortunately a lot is badly written, clicheed or boring without redeeming features...



So the best fantasy (e.g. Tolkien) I like better than most SciFi, but I'd probably pick 10 randomly chosen SciFi books over 10 randomly chosen Fantasy because there is so much poorly written fantasy.

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I've just gotten to the point that most fantasy novels are so generic. I feel like I've read them a dozen times over but for rare exceptions.

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Ser Scot,


Up until this point I have been reading a lot more fantasy than sci-fi, probably because fantasy tends to offer easier reads. Both sub-genres feature elements I like. On one hand I like medieval history, especially warfare, but on the other hand, I also like space travel, and learning about the Universe. I do agree with you that there is a point one may reach and see that most fantasy novels are generic. I think I'm close to that point, and I have started to reach out more towards sci-fi, not that sci-fi is not without its generic stuff.

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Corvinous,

No argument. There is boring generic sci-fi and intersting unique fantasy. I simply seeing, in my opinion, much more genric fantasy than sci-fi.

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I seem to have moved off in the other direction to a lot of people, because while I do still read a lot more fantasy than SF (though I read a fair bit of SF too), my recent reads are a lot more dominated by odder, non-medieval stuff, like Mieville and Okorafor. Much of which also deals with more 'real' issues than most (though not all) medieval fantasy, even if it's not pretending to be possibly plausible.


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Rather than pick one I am going to once again make the argument that our notions on what make up Fantasy and Sci Fi right now are heavenly influenced by what we are sold; specifically I am going to target the notion that fantasy is medieval in nature and feels more generic.



No matter what is actually out there right now it seems that sci-fi that gets a big blogger/publisher/reviewer push right now and makes the biggest waves comes from that from the genre that dares to be different. So Ancillary Justice gets huge play for playing with gender ideas and the concept of a new type of immortality. Three Body Problem (which I have not read) also seemed to push into new territory. The 'generic' lasers and spaceships and alien scifi is currently occupied by the writers that those hoping to keep some type of status quo are pushing (sad puppies?).



On the other hand Fantasy, diverse as it has been at anytime (Three Parts Dead, Mirror Empire, Unwrapped Skies, anything by NK Jemisen, and Karen Memory are all nominally fantasy but not one is anything like the other) is dominated by sales and publisher push by the more traditional sword and axe stories. Martin, Lynch, Abercrombie, Lawrence, Sanderson. Low magic or high, grimdark or not, each has been successful and the publishers search for books that will scratch the same itch (so we get Orbit pushing hard on Dance of Shadows, Ragnarok picking up The Heresy Within -both pale imitations of the feel the pubs are hoping to recatch).



I come to this argument not from extensive research, so feel free to tear holes in it. But the fantasy I have read the last three years and what is talked about on the various forums I frequent don't match up and I feel the need to defend the genre I have enjoyed so much of.


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I don't really know if I prefer one to the other. Depends what I am in the mood for, what I just read, who has new books out, etc. But looking at my Kindle collections and Goodreads shelves, I have more fantasy than sci-fi. Part of that is probably due to series length, as fantasy tends to have longer series and so I might read a 3-book fantasy series and follow it up with a standalone sci-fi. For example, in 2015 I have read more sci-fi, and that is because I am in the middle of a long sci-fi series.



As a writer, I like to alternate between sci-fi and fantasy to help keep a nice variety in my ideas and such, but I find that I usually have more sci-fi ideas and things I want to write. Fantasy is a little harder for me.


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I read more Fantasy but I tend to think that's because more good fantasy is being released (at least according to my tastes). I think I'm inclined to SF if I was asked to pick one over the other but I think I'm in the wrong era for being a SF fan. A quick thought experiment reveals that while I probably read at least 3 fantasy books for every SF - I'd say that they are evenly split when thinking of favourite books/series.



My pros/cons/prejudices are as follows;



SF - tend to have more done-in-one books. But they also tend to have phone-books and while this is true of fantasy I find the world building in SF can be very inaccessible in the thick tomes with a tendency to info-dump. I'm a scientist too so I'm probably more critical than I am of a fantasy setting. That said, I love a SF book that throws you into a world and slowly unravels as you go along - Richard Morgan is great at this but Grimwood and Rajanemmi are also good (the latter having the most complicated SF concepts too).



Fantasy - there's a lot of generic "crap" out there (although this is gold to folk who like it). But there's that much Fantasy out there, there's always a niche to have fun in. That said, it does feel like the marketing of fantasy almost dictates a format as even "grim or inverted fantasy" has a recognisable format these days. I do think it's harder to find an original Fantasy book than an SF book.



Then there's the growing field of SFF where it's actually hard to say which is which. Urban Fantasy can often just as easily be urban SF - especially with viral zombies/vampires, etc. Star Wars shows how successful playing with both genres can be as well. I'd argue superheros fall into the same category as well. There's also a lot of fantasy books of late melding SFF - usually with the trick of heavily hinting the fantasy world is our world or another planet in our future. I know if Richard Morgan were reading the thread he'd be inclined to say the labels aren't that useful anyhow and that by placing them on stories you're creating bias and pigeon-holing creators. I guess his "land fit for heroes" was his way of pointing this out.


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I read a lot of SF when I was a wee lad -- Dan Simmons' Hyperion still has a special place in my heart, as well as LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness -- but for one reason or another I barely touch it anymore. Tried reading Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space, but it didn't hold my attention. These days, I'm more into fantasy. I found Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind excellent, though its sequel isn't exactly on the same level; still, Kvothe is one of the better protagonists I had the pleasure of reading about. Sanderson, on the other hand, is a bit too... I don't know, gimmicky, maybe?



Scot, you didn't mention horror in your OP; it belongs here, doesn't it? I haven't really read that much horror, though I sort of went back to the roots to find out what I missed. I'm slowly making my way through Lovecraft's short stories.



I do want to go back to SF again, but I'm a bit unsure where to start after all these years. Can anyone recommend new-ish SF that might be worth checking out? ETA: I just remembered having Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon on my bookshelf. Maybe I should start there.


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Mr. Fixit,

Sure, Horror is a subgenre of Spec Fic. I simply don't read Horror so I didn't mention it in the OP.

I started The Three Body Problem over the weekend. It's quite good. The opening showing what the Chinese Cultural Revolution was like for scientists is scary.

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There are some really great fantasy writers but trying to find them is hard as you have to wade through so much derivative dreck. I pick books by writer. GRRM was a SF writer before he did fantasy (ok, not by much) and so was Roger Zelazny and Richard Morgan. All three managed to reinvent what fantasy could do and really stretched the genre. Another great source of fantasy with a dark edge was Thieves World. Again, the envelope was pushed about as far as it could go.


For me, if I want to read fantasy, I find that writers who travel between genres do a much better job and make me want more. BTW, can't forget Fritz Leiber as he practically invented modern fantasy.


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Sure, Horror is a subgenre of Spec Fic.

Well, it overlaps; I wouldn't call it a subgenre. Something like Stephen King's Misery isn't at all Spec Fic, while Carrie obviously is.

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There are some really great fantasy writers but trying to find them is hard as you have to wade through so much derivative dreck.

In which genre, fiction or non-fiction, is this not a problem?

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I do want to go back to SF again, but I'm a bit unsure where to start after all these years. Can anyone recommend new-ish SF that might be worth checking out? ETA: I just remembered having Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon on my bookshelf. Maybe I should start there.

I’ve tried this every few years in my life. I’m in the target demographic (clever, science fetishist, lacks empathy), but for some reason I always failed — it’s a genre where people somewhere in the autism spectrum write books for other people somewhere in the autism spectrum, the highlight of which seems to be “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” and it never connected. (I am a professional scientist, so maybe it’s just because I have plenty of cerebral mindfucks in my daily life.

But the last attempt actually worked. Here’s the list: Morgan’s Altered Carbon and, even better: Black Man (sold as Thirteen in the US). Banks’ Use of Weapons. And recently, for sheer mind-blowing fun: S A Corey’s The Expanse series.

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I’ve tried this every few years in my life. I’m in the target demographic (clever, science fetishist, lacks empathy), but for some reason I always failed — it’s a genre where people somewhere in the autism spectrum write books for other people somewhere in the autism spectrum, the highlight of which seems to be “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” and it never connected. (I am a professional scientist, so maybe it’s just because I have plenty of cerebral mindfucks in my daily life.

But the last attempt actually worked. Here’s the list: Morgan’s Altered Carbon and, even better: Black Man (sold as Thirteen in the US). Banks’ Use of Weapons. And recently, for sheer mind-blowing fun: S A Corey’s The Expanse series.

That's a great theory for why SF can be hard to enjoy. The examples you mention probably work because the authors don't fall into that demographic either. All those authors are in the small group of SF I've enjoyed of late.

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