Science Fiction – which is shortened to SF, not “Sci Fi” – is used to describe hard- to medium-core science-based fiction. The science forming the background of the book can be hard science, such as nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, chemistry, biology, geology, genetics, robotics, etc – or it could be a soft science like psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.
Whatever the science discipline referenced, it forms a large part of the plot process. The current laws of the discipline must be followed, or, if broken, there must be an explanation for the fictional possibility of breaking or bending the laws.
Sci-Fi is the fun version of Science Fiction. Sci-Fi can play with concepts that would never be possible based on our laws of physics and other sciences. Hollywood also played a big role in developing Sci-Fi by requiring anomalies such as special sound effects in the vacuum of space. Some hard core Science Fiction writers refuse to be associated with “Sci-Fi”; hence SF as the abbreviation for pure Science Fiction.
Futuristic fiction is often used to describe fiction that has little scientific reference, but is set in the future. Many soft-science-based novels are categorised as Futuristic possibly to avoid intimidating a target audience with the Science Fiction label. Urban Fantasy sometimes falls into this category if the setting is a modern city.
Speculative Fiction and Magical Realism
Speculative Fiction is philosophical rather than scientific, taking a “What if?” contemplation and exploring the scenario that develops. This category tends to have a literary reputation, so, depending on the target market, a speculative book might be bumped into a genre category instead. Speculative literary fiction that uses a fantastical twist as a plot device is often called Magical Realism.
Simplistically, Urban Fantasy is fantasy where the city setting plays a role in the plot. The setting can be contemporary, futuristic, or a period setting, but remains fantasy due to breaking of the laws of science (eg, X-Men, Buffy, Charmed). Urban fantasy could be referred to as Sci Fi (or even “Science Fiction/Fantasy”), but generally makes no mention even of pseudo-science or “techno babble”.
Urban fantasy is sometimes called “Contemporary Fantasy”, usually when the modern setting doesn’t feature in the plot or doesn’t include a cityscape. The Harry Potter books are contemporary fantasy.
Science Fiction/Fantasy Blend
Labelling a book as Science Fiction/Fantasy, or SciFi/Fantasy, is simply an easier way for bookstores and libraries to categorise a lot of books in one section. Often bookstores cannot read enough of each book to tell whether it is true Science Fiction or possibly Urban Fantasy. A broader category makes books more accessable to readers looking for either genre rather than missing the target by being too specific.
What about you? Do you read or write Urban Fantasy or Science Fiction? Or do you avoid these genres?
|Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com|