The Difference Between Fantasy and Science Fiction by Julie Czerneda (#againstthedark)

Dear Bob,

I wish to make a personal response to your post about my work during Little Red Reviewer’s “Julie Appreciation Party” blog, to help launch Book #2 of Reunification, #8 in the Clan Chronicles, and my latest work of SF.

You wrote: “I know that Julie is best known for her Clan Chronicles (which I have thoroughly enjoyed, and appreciated on a number of different levels), but I have always been a fantasy fan first, and a science-fiction fan second…”


I’ll admit, I stopped there. Was I insulted? Hardly. Was I surprised? Not at all, you’ve told me - and the world - of your love for my fantasy novels which is something I treasure.

Still? Really. What’s the big deal? Fantasy. SF. I can see you shaking your head and you’re right. It is a big deal. When I thought what to do for my guest blog for you this year (thank you for hosting, by the way), I realized there was only one response.

Here, for you, Bob, is my original take on the difference between fantasy and science fiction, first posted December 29, 2011, on my SFF newsgroup. I wrote it because someone asked me then what I thought was that difference. What was the big deal? Why was I continually saying I was now writing one, not the other? I answered as I did because I was in the early stages of writing my first work of fantasy, A Turn of Light, having deliberately postponed Reunification.

I did it, to ease my heart.

The difference between fantasy and science fiction?
What's that expression? You know what's porn to you when you see it?
Silly aside, to me it's like this. There's literature that is fantastic, aka, insists on an imaginative leap by the reader from what the reader believes to be real and known about the world. (Covering the fact that advancements in knowledge constantly modify that worldview. For some, anyway.)
Within fantastic literature thus falls a vast amount of stuff--in fact, more than isn't, I'd venture. And it's not read by folks who have lost or numbed their imaginations. Kudos to us.
Horror fiction is interesting. You can argue that since horror is about how the reader feels--that dread, the scare, the twist on what's safe--anything can be horror, as anything can be romance. Yet horror writers do have their tropes and subgenres. So I'd define horror as that literature in which horror is the goal, regardless of setting. I'd define romance and mystery and humour lit the same way.
Fantasy and SF, however, are vast sprawling beasts, gobbling up all they can. Within each, there are works that wouldn't suit readers of the other. I think those are the only ones where a good definition becomes useful and certainly more helpful to booksellers, librarians, and marketing folks. There are many who will gobble up Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Twilight who will not, EVER, be interested in watching Moon, Star Trek, or Inception. (Author Note: Proof this was written in 2011.) And vice versa. Nothing wrong with that.
But why? Because of what the story does to the reader. It's always about that.
For me, the very best fantasy takes hold of my heart and conscience. My imagination soars wild and free, yet I care, intensely, for the characters working through that fantastic landscape and their choices. Once I put the book down, I've been changed in a fundamental way. Whether it's a renewed passion for life or an awareness that even a small person can change the world, I am different and love it.
The very best SF? Oh, it demands I use my mind and awareness of this world, and that I'm open to new ideas and consequences about it. It can, absolutely, engage my emotions, but--and this is key--SF can still work brilliantly without that engagement, so long as the idea itself is powerful or cool enough to come with me from the story and make me look at my world differently forever. What if. I can't be satisfied by science fiction that doesn't pose that question and answer it in a way I hadn't imagined.
How fantasy and SF accomplish the above is where we start talking about world-building and character and underlying ideas and credibility. But to me, it's about what I take away from the story. Have I been renewed inside or has the outside world taken on a new shape?
So the question of which is which does matter. When I write, I consciously choose to aim for my reader's heart or mind. The story I'm telling in TURN is about love, honour, family, and sacrifice. It's about making a new life and forgiveness for the old. To tell that story, fantasy offers the intimate power and scope I need. I hope readers put it down, cry a bit, and go hug their family. The story I'm telling in the Clan Chronicles is what if a species bred for power despite ultimate cost. It goes into the fragility of bonds among species of intensely divergent goals and will lead to consequences that destroy civilizations. SF gives me the tools I need to set this scenario in motion and to explore those ideas in a way I hope will make readers walk away and think. Okay, there could be tears there too.
Which goes back to the very beginning. A great story grabs heart and mind, no matter its genre. But not everyone enjoys or understands the same story-telling approaches. Fair enough. There are too many books for any one lifetime, so you have to pick on some level. You know what's for you when you read it.
My take on the question.

So, Bob, you can see why your post last year not only made me smile, but made me remember something precious. Why I wrote fantasy when I did, and how I did. It was to take a breath, stretch my writerly wings, and put off what was coming in Reunification until I was ready. Renewed. House toads and Jenn Nalynn gave me the strength to plunge into the final chapter of Sira and Morgan’s story, to give the past three years to the Clan Chronicles, and to complete the scenario I’d begun so long ago. They are connected, you see, despite being different.


Yours in story,
Julie Czerneda

PS. Yes, Bob, I promise there’ll be more Night’s Edge. (Three more, in fact.)
PPS. Not next, Bob. It’s Esen’s turn to shine. Or explode, depending on the moment.
PPPS. And thank you, Bob, for being a reader who “gets” the difference yet loves them both.


About the Author

For twenty years, Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction, published by DAW Books, NY. Julie’s also written fantasy, the first installments of her Night’s Edge series (DAW) A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, winning consecutive Aurora Awards (Canada’s Hugo) for Best English Novel. Julie’s edited/co-edited sixteen anthologies of SF/F, two Aurora winners, the latest being SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase. Next out will be an anthology of original stories set in her Clan Chronicles series: Tales from Plexis, out in 2018. Her new SF novel, finale to that series, To Guard Against the Dark, lands in stores October 2017.

When not jumping between wonderful blogs, Julie’s at work on something very special: her highly anticipated new Esen novel, Search Image (Fall 2018). Visit for more.


About the Series

The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future where a mutual Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, himself a talented telepath, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification concludes the series, answering these question at last. Who are the Clan? 
And what will be the fate of all?


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  1. Have followed and loved all Julie's stories since I picked up "A Thousand Words for Stranger" in paperback, 20 years ago. Wept in stunned denial over the ending of book 8, "The Gate to Futures Past". Eagerly anticipating the series conclusion!!

    1. Thanks, Sheri! While tears were necessary, I hope you'll smile after GUARD. Cheers!

  2. I'll freely admit I'm also more of a "Fantasy" reader than typical hard sci-fi. But I love your books. You make the science something I can read and not feel lost in. I've picked up other famous sci-fi books and just felt like it was all going so far over my head it wasn't even funny. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not over smart in sciency ways, not from lack of interest, it just never "took" for me in school. So thank you for writing both Sci-fi I can read and love and also for giving me so much happiness with your fantasy world too.

  3. Most appreciated! I've always believed science should be accessible, interesting, and wildly fun--as it is to me--and am glad my SF works for you. Whoo!! And glad you love the fantasy too. ::happydance::

  4. "The story I'm telling in TURN is about love, honour, family, and sacrifice. It's about making a new life and forgiveness for the old. To tell that story, fantasy offers the intimate power and scope I need."
    You accomplished this with The Clan Chronicles as well, Julie. ��

  5. The difference between the hard SF and swords and sorcery is easy to see and I think that when people say they don't like SF or they don't like fantasy that is what they are talking about and I can understand that. But many books these days straddle the line between SF and fantasy, SF is not all quantum mechanic and not all fantasy is about elves and wizards. The most important in any genre is that the story be original and engages my head and heart in equal parts and your books, wether SF or fantasy always manage to do just that.

    1. Very true, and both are insanely diverse. There's something for everyone--if not always the time to find it.

  6. I read something similar to this recently, but I can't remember where I read it..... Basically it was an argument that Star Wars is technically fantasy, and not SciFi. I've always figured both are usually stories of some kind of quest, the difference being in fantasy they're riding horses and in scifi they're riding spaceships.

    Definitely checking your books out on Amazon, Turn of Light sounds intriguing.

    1. Thanks! Star Wars could be retold as a fantasy, and the story would work as well: castles for planets, horses for starships. Though it wouldn't have that far future look and imagined species we all love so much!
      Hope you enjoy TURN!

  7. There was a time in the book store and way back when at the library, that fantasy and sci fi were shelved together. I worked at both the school library and at the public library in high school, so as I shelved books, I was introduced to authors who set me on my path to being an avid SF reader - Norton, Zimmer Bradley, Heinlein and Asimov. Along the way I picked up fantasy books also. There is a fine line at times in what catches my eye, either fantasy or SF. Be it fantasy or sci fi, I enjoy Julie's books and can't wait to see what is in store in the new book.

  8. Thank you!! And yes, I love them both. Hope you enjoy the latest, Jueles!

  9. I've always loved both sci-fi and fantasy, because they do encompass some different themes and have a different feel, though I don't mind stories that could be easily told as either genre. I often go through binges of reading one style or the other, or particular subgenres of each. Sometimes I favor space opera, maybe another day a romance-heavy fantasy, another day some "hard" sci-fi, another day maybe ones with interesting political or social themes or whatever. I love that both sci-fi and fantasy can have "what if" elements to them, and can encompass basically all the other genres of fiction within them.

    1. Nodnodnod. I do the same, although time to read is something I find difficult at the moment. Part of that is being in the midst of writing myself, but also I've some manuscripts and new books to read and perhaps blurb. I know, not exactly a problem, although not everything I'm sent is what I'd normally read.


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