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The Genres Of Science Fiction & Fantasy - Part 8

Updated on September 30, 2009

Mixed Genre

Used as the broad term for any piece of fiction that utilizes the characteristics of two distinct types of fiction, mixed genre does well in telling exactly what the final genre of Speculative Fiction is. What it does not do, however, is explain just how much of each of those two genres is being used. The term Hybrid has to be used to describe the specific use of both Science Fiction and Fantasy.

To describe the type of Science Fiction that seeks to present a world(s) in the future and with technology superior to ours, while retaining the ideas and qualities of Fantasy style, the term Galactic Fiction was used once in an interview with Margaret Weis. The use of the word "galactic" is obviously the focus of the title. One can easily see what the connection to Science Fiction is, but how does "galactic" resemble Fantasy in any way?

Analyzing the word rather loosely, one thinks of galaxies as containing multitudes of stars and planets: planets which, in Science Fiction, typically contain many varied peoples. So the focus, then, is the people and the worlds, rather than the science and technology. The best, and probably most lasting, example of this particular hybrid is "Star Wars" in all of its many forms. As a movie focused on the people and their struggles rather than their blaster rifles, the story utilizes obvious science and technology, as well as some not-so-blatant allusions to myth and legend.

The more uncommon counterpart to Galactic Fiction, is the hybrid that seeks to write a Fantasy story with a particular Science Fiction twist to it. As a sort of loose description, the term Trace Fantasy can be applied to it, implying that, while almost entirely Fantasy, the story still has traces of Science Fiction that give it a very different feel.

There are few examples of this, the Death's Gate Cycle series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman and even Terry Brooks' Shannara series, to some extent. Take this all with a grain of salt, however, as most of the stories that fall within this very limited category would generally be classified as High Fantasy, as their true intentions lie within that genre, rather than trying to do something truly different or out of the ordinary.

Other stories seek to find a closer balance of the two genres, creating the true hybrid of magic and gunpowder. Those stories in this category that work do so quite well; those that come short of their goal, sometimes seem to have never had a goal in mind from the beginning.

It is obvious that there is an exclusion (and a very deliberate one) of the Horror genre. While many are quick to include Horror along with Fantasy (indeed, there is an anthology each year that combines the two genres), there is a very distinct difference between the two that keeps them apart. Science and technology are the focus of Science Fiction; characters and cultures are the focus of Fantasy. Horror, on the other hand, uses the structural device of suspense as the focus of its stories. While characters may be well-developed, the author's intention of keeping vital information from the reader until the crucial moment is more remnant of Mysteries than it is of either Science Fiction or Fantasy.

This does not mean, thought, that there are not works that mix the two. Quite the opposite. The broad category of Mixed Genre easily includes stories that blend both Science Fiction and Horror, as well as Fantasy and Horror. Some notable works are Stephen King's Dark Tower series and novel The Eye of the Dragon (exemplifying the two hybrids respectively). But both of these works have a focus entirely different from that described throughout this essay as being Science Fiction or Fantasy. Thus I have intentionally omitted Horror, as I'll be glad to leave that for others to detail as they please.

From the treasure room to the trade station, the span of Speculative and Imaginative Fiction is grand, encompassing all those fantastical things that any number of brilliant minds seems to be able to conjure. The stories themselves are without bounds; but there are those out there who wish to put a bit of constraint on the wild beast so that the casual observer doesn't simply see an unorganized pile of lasers and dueling daggers lying about in the brainstorm.

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