Guest Post: An Ode to Science Fantasy

The awesome Heather Massey runs the awesome science fiction romance site, The Galaxy Express. Is it any surprise that she writes science fiction romance as well? Here she is writing about her favorite blends of science fiction and fantasy.

An Ode To Science Fantasy

On occasion, there’s nothing more exhilarating than being a fan of both science fiction and fantasy. The former involves mind-boggling stories driven by technology and explores the impact thereof. The latter involves mind-boggling stories driven by magic and explores the impact thereof. Either way, my mind is boggled and entertained.

Naturally, there’s a difference between the two in the level of realism I expect. With SF, I can have fun speculating about and also anticipating the real possibilities implied by technology-flavored scenarios, even if I won’t live to see all of it unfold. Fantasy allows me to vicariously experience phenomena that I know will never happen, but that I want to imagine as possible anyway. Screw the laws of reality!

Part of the time, I crave a “pure” SF experience; other times nothing other than a “pure” fantasy experience will do. However, many stories don’t work that way. Historically, science fiction and fantasy have been so entwined that it’s been nigh impossible for authors/filmmakers to keep them separate. While a “pure” reading experience in either genre can be had any day of the week, there are probably thousands of stories straining mightily against the SF and fantasy genre conventions.

So what’s a gal to do? One solution, of course, is to become a fan of science fantasy!

Science fantasy is that nebulous, ever-shifting realm between SF and fantasy. In addition to SF elements, the genre includes but is not limited to things like magic, spiritual worlds, alternate dimensions, paranormal elements, mythology, planetary romance…basically anything beyond the ordinary that’s not accounted for by science and/or the technology of the setting. Impossible, implausible, illogical…you name it, science fantasy’s got it.

Why science fantasy rocks the casbah

Ironically, because of its hybrid nature, science fantasy is a very accessible genre whether we’re talking hardcore or casual SF/F fans. Is it any wonder that films and books with the widest mainstream appeal tend to fall under the science fantasy label rather than, say, traditional military SF or cyberpunk?

Many of these stories deliver a good old fashioned flight of fancy that make our imaginations catch fire. Plus, science fantasy lends itself to action-adventure and romance elements, not to mention just plain fun, weird stuff. Sometimes the fantasy aspect is a small slice; in other stories it takes up nearly the whole pie. Either way, there’s a little something for everyone.

Finally, science fantasy delivers the ultimate speculative adventure: worlds where technology and extraordinary phenomena like magic or the supernatural co-exist. Combining SF and fantasy validates the best of what both genres have to offer. Chocolate and peanut butter taste great separately, but put them together if you want your taste buds to really sing.

What’s wrong with science fantasy?

Yes, there are the heated arguments stipulating that many science fantasy tales are simply straight-up fantasy stories masquerading as science fiction (STAR WARS is the most oft-cited film example, and I daresay we can now throw AVATAR into the mix as well). OMG how dare they! It’s not real science fiction if it doesn’t stick to the real-science formula, right? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Each answer you get will have you running around in circles.

Sure, many science fantasy stories induce serious suspension of disbelief issues. The science in them, or lack thereof, can’t be bothered with things like plausibility and the laws of physics. The idea of mixing magic and technology is fantastical in and of itself. Frankly, you either buy into the concepts or you don’t.

Also, science fantasy muddies the waters, especially concerning reader expectations. Nothing beats entering a story that begins like a military SF novel and BAM! wraps you up in a big bear hug of fantastical elements. It certainly helps to have a clue going in as to which path a story will take. SF/F readers are constantly faced with the decision of whether or not they should adjust their expectations.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with science fantasy—nothing at all!

Science fantasy has been around a long time, and as long as the stories are entertaining—not to mention out of this world—it will be around for years to come.

Let’s keep the conversation going. What’s your favorite science fantasy story (books, films, TV shows, etc.)? How do you envision the genre evolving over the next 5-10 years?


Heather Massey searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She also blogs about the the subgenre for Germany’s premier romance magazine, LoveLetter.

Heather’s debut erotic sci-fi romance novel, Once Upon a Time in Space (Red Sage Publishing), features the last living descendant of Christopher Columbus on a desperate quest to find a new world. Standing in his way is Raquel, the deadliest space pirate in the galaxy.

Visit her author Web site at

11 Thoughts to “Guest Post: An Ode to Science Fantasy”

  1. One recent trend is the rejuvination of religions and mythologies in the midst of space opera. I’ve seen Australian religions, Gaia worship, and religions that the author invented outright. Whether you consider it mythology or theology, it can bring a sense of wonder to a story. And its a welcome break from the cold athiest/agnostic space operas of the past.

    I guess the original Star Trek would be my favorite! I liked the followup series as well, but I never followed the episodes as closely.

    As for where it’s going, I really can’t say. I’m not any good at predicting the future. Do you have any guesses, Heather?

  2. Tia, thanks again for hosting me!

    I agree, many science fantasy stories have intriguing mystical elements. Authors and filmmakers have taken so many interesting risks in mixing the SF and fantasy elements.

    One prediction I’d like to make is that there won’t be such a strong bias against science fantasy stories, especially if AVATAR is any indication of the genre’s acceptance by mainstream audiences. In books, my hope is that authors can announce their science fantasy stories without fear of backlash/snubbing in certain circles.

    I think we’ll continue to see more science fantasy titles in the coming years, even if they’re called something else.

  3. I was a pretty big Star Trek fan from teenage into my thirties. However, that was all years after I read Andre Norton’s Forerunner series, and the Maria Looney books for children. Her brother Matthew was supposed to be more popular, but I could not identify with a grownup gy as well as with a young girl. {Smile, wink}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  4. This is a good clarifying perception about SF/F. It isn’t always easy to understand the separation. Honestly, I think a mixing of the two subgenres is fantastic. I like a balance. That’s not to say that pure SFR or pure fantasy isn’t appealing. If the author has the ability to blend well, then I am going to go after that book/story/film for sure. As for the future, it is hard to say. But I would love to see more books/films emerging in all of SF/SFR/SFF.

  5. I was sitting on a steampunk panel last summer and the guy next to me (who was surprised to find he’d written a steampunk story and to be on the panel) said he liked his SF “real.” I had to tweak him a bit, because its FICTION. LOL! What he should have said, is that it needs to FEEL real and when its well done, it does FEEL real. IMHO

    What I love is a great story that makes me forget I’m reading a story. SF/SFR/Fantasy, all of it takes you to such fun places. I can have adventures all snuggled in my chair with chocolate close at hand. I LOVE IT. (grin)

    I suspect that my soon-to-be released novel, STEAMROLLED, tips a bit into the fantasy zone and will make those who need “reality” in their fiction get eye twitches and such. But I’m okay with that, because it was dang fun to write. (grin)

  6. Robert Appleton

    Sometimes it’s a tricky distinction. The perceived fantasy concepts might be more far-seeing as SF than some of the harder SF. On the other hand, Deepak Chopra says he’s using science to support his mumbo-jumbo.

    For me, Arthur C. Clarke’s great observation about far-future science being indistinguishable from magic really opens up the playing field between hard SF and science fantasy in storytelling. But it doesn’t mean you can get away with anything. I think you have to pick your ground and stay on it.

    The original Stars Wars trilogy was pure space fantasy, but Lucas tampered with that when he included the Midichlorians in the prequels. They’re the microscopic life-forms responsible for what we know as “the Force”. So it’s not quite as mystical anymore. Still doesn’t explain the precognition and the Jedi ghosts, but I think it was Lucas’s attempt to nudge Star Wars back into the science fiction camp.

    Epic fail. Apart from the camp part, perhaps (Meesa Jar-Jar…:beheads Binks with red lightsabre:)

  7. I’d have to say Firefly (Serenity) and Babylon 5 rank high on my favorites list. When I was a kid, I devoured Anne McCaffery’s Pern series, which starts out more fantasy and gets a bit more science-y later when we learn of the dragons’ origins.

    But honestly, I’ll read or watch just about anything with SF/F or H elements. I’m not a fan of reality.

  8. I say, if it is well written and entertaining, it’s all good!

  9. It’s been a while since I read C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine novels, but I remember loving them, so I’ll have to list them as my fave science fantasy. I did really enjoy Firefly/Serenity, but somehow I always thought of it more as pure SF than science fantasy.

    I have no idea where the genre’s going, but I hear there’s an Avatar sequel in the making…

    I tend to think the people least open to science fantasy are, ironically, the ones who read/watch the most SF or F. I think people who don’t tend to read/watch in the genre, but who might watch something like Star Wars or Avatar, are less likely to care about the conventions (or even know them) or the “purity” of the genre. But that’s just my opinion based on gut feeling rather than any facts. 🙂

  10. @Anne I always made a beeline for female characters like that (hadn’t read that series, but what you said resonated).

    Kaye said: “It isn’t always easy to understand the separation.”

    Right, which is why tagging & good metadata these days can help readers find the blends they enjoy, and other readers avoid the frustration they don’t want.

    @Pauline Exactly, because the very fact that it’s fiction makes it all fantasy anyway, LOL!

    @Robert To echo your comments, plausibility is key. Unlike, say, Jar Jar. *shudders*

    @P. Kirby The impact of Anne McCaffrey’s books on my imagination is huge, let me show you it.

    @Charlie Exactly. That scenario means the author/filmmaker did a good job because the SF-fantasy mix didn’t jolt the reader/viewer out of the story.

    @Raven I’ve suspected that, too, or at least as regards SF/F readers with certain preferences. One wonders how the avid SF/F readers/watchers can avoid science fantasy, given its prevalence in various mediums. It’s possible, of course, but personally, I’d hate the thought of missing out on good stories.

    There’s an interesting Mind Meld at SF Signal that dovetails with the discussion here: How Important is Plausible Science In Science Fiction?, particularly author Peter Watts’ response.

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