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Science Fantasy

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Theme.

In the Terminology of sf readers, and more especially publishers, this term in its usual sense of something distinct or partly distinct from science fiction has never been clearly defined, though Joseph M Crawford, James J Donahue and Donald M Grant, in their "333": A Bibliography of the Science-Fantasy Novel (1953 chap), attempted without much luck to establish it as an umbrella term covering sf and fantasy. In early usage it often seems to have been synonymous or interchangeable with science fiction: the October 1931 Author & Journalist describes Argosy as "an excellent market for science fantasy", and the first issue of the UK Fanzine Science-Fantasy Review launched in May 1939 was surtitled "The Science-Fiction Newsletter" and subtitled "Science-Fiction: Seeker of a Better To-morrow". The Los Angeles Science Fiction League (a chapter of the Science Fiction League) changed its name without other significant alteration to the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1940.

The term was also the title of a well known UK magazine 1950-1966 (see Science Fantasy), which was also the period when the term was most in general use as a designation theoretically distinct from either sf or fantasy. More recently it was partially superseded by the terms Sword and Sorcery and Heroic Fantasy, but it differs from these two categories in that Science Fantasy does not necessarily contain Magic, Gods and Demons, Heroes, Mythology or Supernatural Creatures, though these may be present, often in a quasirationalized form [for more sustained examination of these terms and others, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Science Fantasy is normally considered a bastard genre blending elements of sf and fantasy; it is usually colourful and often bizarre, sometimes with elements of Horror (see Horror in SF), though never centrally in the horror genre. Certain sf themes are especially common in Science Fantasy – Parallel Worlds, other Dimensions, ESP, Monsters, Parallel Worlds, Psi Powers and Supermen – but no single one of these ingredients is essential. Many Science Fantasies are also Planetary Romances (many of the books so described in this volume can be regarded as Science Fantasy), and many Dying Earth tales, where magic and science frequently meld together.

A good discussion of the term, which very nearly builds to a definition through the accretion of examples, is "Science Fantasy" by Brian Attebery in Dictionary of Literary Biography: Volume Eight: Twentieth-Century American Science-Fiction Writers: Part 2: M-Z (1981) edited by David Cowart and Thomas L Wymer. Attebery cites the following as among the more important US authors of Science Fantasy: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Edgar Rice Burroughs, L Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, Samuel R Delany, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Jack Vance, John Varley, Roger Zelazny and Gene Wolfe (indeed, in the 1980s Wolfe practically resuscitated the genre single-handedly), to which list should certainly be added Joan D Vinge and (especially the former) C L Moore and Henry Kuttner. Attebery also makes special mention of The Deep (1975) by John Crowley. Twenty-first century texts are rarely described as Science Fantasy in this encyclopedia, where tales that blend genres together are more likely to be thought of as Equipoisal, or seen as unchallenging examples of Fantastika. Revivals of the term in this century seem harmless, though perhaps unduly nostalgic. [PN/DRL]

see also: Gamma World; Science and Sorcery; Skyrealms of Jorune.


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