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The Genres Of Science Fiction & Fantasy - Part 3

Updated on September 30, 2009

Science Fiction is distinguished primarily by the fact that it is driven, plot-wise, by science and technology. Fantasy, on the other hand, is focused more on the quest or adventure of the characters in the story. To what degree each of the genres follow these primary guidelines, determines which sub-genre the story might fall into.

Outside of this very broad definition, Science Fiction has many other recognizable qualities. As well as being driven by science and technology, the stories focus must more on plot than on character. While there are examples to the contrary, this is the general observation. Aside from this fundamental property, most of the rules tend to create the various sub-genres that will be explained later. However, there are some that still apply to the genre as a whole. The use of a single protagonist and single antagonist is common; auxiliary, or secondary, characters are then used to further the story's plot. These secondary characters tend to be sparsely developed or archetypal in nature; this allows for in-depth development of the primary characters.

Visual descriptions or special effects are abundant in Science Fiction (as they also tend to be in Fantasy), as the world the writer is presenting is one that, typically, is not our own. Visualization, therefore, is a necessity in order to allow the reader to see what the author wishes to portray or to create a special effect onscreen in order to make that imaginative concept become a reality to the audience. Aside from this type of description, dialogue as the most subtle type of character description is generally a focal point of many stories, allowing for dialects, euphemisms, and idioms of the society in the story to come alive without blatant, and generally boring, descriptions utilizing exposition.

Fantasy is a literature of similar style but with a focus altogether different. Because of its origin, fantasy typically, if not for the majority of its works, incorporates different cultures and races on an entirely new world. With this very heavy reliance on worldly descriptions, focusing on plot seems almost counter-productive. So characters become the focus, each being representatives, whether exemplary or not, of their respective cultures.

Another general observation about Fantasy is the focus of conflict on the clash between people: at times it manifests itself as war, other times it is the oft-times cliched battle of good versus evil.

Science Fiction

As the older of the two genres of Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction has, in the past, been used to describe both its own genre, with all of its sub-classes, and that of Fantasy. Most would agree, though, that contemporary works of Fantasy have far escaped the boundaries of Science Fiction.

Critics throughout the past century have pinpointed Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the origin of the Science Fiction genre, with authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe adding to the repertoire of early Science Fiction before Jules Verne came around. These early authors had one intention with their works: to take a look at science in the world and question its true intent. In other words, how far can science go before it becomes dangerous or destructive? With new arrivals like Verne and H.G. Wells in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Science Fiction began to take a turn into both psychological and commentary works, looking at what impact contemporary science and especially technology might have on society, both now and in the future.

These authors, along with many others, began to turn science in Science Fiction into a more focused topic: technology; everything from time machines to artificial intelligence became common in mainstream Science Fiction. And while Science Fiction has changed dramatically over the past two centuries, there are still qualities that quickly identify a story as being Science Fiction.

Continued In: The Genres Of Science Fiction & Fantasy - Part 4

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