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Cover of the April/May 1931 issue of Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories. Artwork is by Elliott Dold.

Science fantasy is a hybrid genre within speculative fiction that simultaneously draws upon or combines tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy.[1] In a conventional science fiction story, the world is presented as being scientifically logical, while a conventional fantasy story contains mostly supernatural and artistic elements that disregard the scientific laws of the real world. The world of science fantasy, however, is laid out to be scientifically logical and often supplied with hard science-like explanations of any supernatural elements.[2][3]

During the Golden Age of Science Fiction, science fantasy stories were seen in sharp contrast to the terse, scientifically plausible material that came to dominate mainstream science fiction, typified by the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Although science fantasy stories at that time were often relegated to the status of children's entertainment, their freedom of imagination and romance proved to be an early major influence on the "New Wave" writers of the 1960s, who became exasperated by the limitations of "Hard Science Fiction".[4]

Historical view

The term "science fantasy" was coined in 1935 by critic Forrest J. Ackerman as a synonym for science fiction. In the 1950s, the British journalist Walter Gillings considered science fantasy as a part of science fiction that was not plausible from the point of view of the science of the time (for example, the use of nuclear weapons in H.G. Wells' novel The World Set Free was a science fantasy from the point of view of Newtonian physics and a work of science fiction from the point of view of Einstein's theory). In 1948, writer Marion Zimmer (later known as Zimmer Bradley) called "science fantasy" a mixture of science fiction and fantasy in Startling Stories magazine. Critic Judith Murry considered science fantasy as works of fantasy in which magic has a natural scientific basis. Science fiction critic John Clute chose the narrower term "technological fantasy" from the broader concept of "science fiction". The label first came into wide use after many science fantasy stories were published in the American pulp magazines, such as Robert A. Heinlein's Magic, Inc., L. Ron Hubbard's Slaves of Sleep, and Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp's Harold Shea series. All were relatively rationalistic stories published in John W. Campbell Jr.'s Unknown magazine. These were a deliberate attempt to apply the techniques and attitudes of science fiction to traditional fantasy subjects.

Distinguishing between pure science fiction and pure fantasy, Rod Serling argued that the former was "the improbable made possible" while the latter was "the impossible made probable".[5] As a combination of the two, science fantasy gives a scientific veneer of realism to things that simply could not happen in the real world under any circumstances. Where science fiction does not permit the existence of fantastical or supernatural elements, science fantasy explicitly relies upon them to complement the scientific elements.

In explaining the intrigue of science fantasy, Carl D. Malmgren provides an intro regarding C. S. Lewis's speculation on the emotional needs at work in the subgenre: "In the counternatural worlds of science fantasy, the imaginary and the actual, the magical and the prosaic, the mythical and the scientific, meet and interanimate. In so doing, these worlds inspire us with new sensations and experiences, with [quoting C. S. Lewis] 'such beauty, awe, or terror as the actual world does not supply', with the stuff of desires, dreams, and dread."[2]

Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore published novels in Startling Stories, alone and together, which were far more romantic. These were closely related to the work that they and others were doing for outlets like Weird Tales, such as Moore's Northwest Smith stories.[citation needed]

Ace Books published a number of books as science fantasy during the 1950s and 1960s.[citation needed]

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction points out that as a genre, science fantasy "has never been clearly defined", and was most commonly used in the period between 1950 and 1966.[6]

The Star Trek franchise created by Gene Roddenberry is sometimes cited as an example of science fantasy. Writer James F. Broderick describes Star Trek as science fantasy because it includes semi-futuristic as well as supernatural/fantasy elements such as The Q.[7] According to the late science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, many purists argue that Star Trek is science fantasy rather than science fiction because of its scientifically improbable elements, which he partially agreed with.[8]

The status of Star Wars as a science fantasy franchise has been debated. In 2015, George Lucas stated that "Star Wars isn't a science-fiction film, it's a fantasy film and a space opera".[9][10]

See also


  1. ^ Slusser, George Edgar; Rabkin, Eric S., eds. (1987). Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction. SIU Press. ISBN 978-0-8093-1374-7.
  2. ^ a b Malmgren, Carl D. (1988). "Towards a Definition of Science Fantasy (Vers une définition de la fantaisie scientifique)". Science Fiction Studies. 15 (3): 259–281. JSTOR 4239897.
  3. ^ Eric R. Williams, The Screenwriters Taxonomy: A Collaborative Approach to Creative Storytelling, p. 121
  4. ^ Moorcock, Michael (13 June 2002). "Queen of the Martian Mysteries: An Appreciation of Leigh Brackett". Fantastic Metropolis. Archived from the original on 18 February 2012. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  5. ^ "The Fugitive". The Twilight Zone. Season 3. Episode 25. March 9, 1962. CBS.
  6. ^ Nussbaum, Abigail (April 2, 2015). "Science Fantasy". In Nicholas, Peter (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
  7. ^ Broderick, James F. (2006). "Chapter Sixteen: Fantasy Versus Reality". The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek: An Analysis of References and Themes in the Television Series and Films. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. pp. 135–144. ISBN 9780786425716. OCLC 475148033.
  8. ^ Clarke, Arthur C. (October 2006). "Forty Years of Star Trek". Locus. No. 549 (Vol. 57, No. 4). Retrieved May 25, 2017 – via the website Star Trek: Of Gods and Men. Issue table of contents link.
  9. ^ "Is Star Wars sci-fi or fantasy? How George Lucas changed "science fiction"". 15 February 2021.
  10. ^ "Star Wars vs. Science Fiction". 16 December 2015.

Further reading