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Author Topic: What IS fantasy exactly?
babygears81
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I am currently editing my first draft of my first novel and I want to know whether it would be considered fantasy or not. It is about a Cherokee girl who travels to alternate universes and literally lives the myths and legends of her people. I have studied Cherokee mythology and incorporated some of the figures from their legends in my story. There are many fantastical elements to my story, but is that enough to classify it as fantasy? I haven't read much in the genre, but to me fantasy is wizards and dragons. There are novels like Twilight and the Hunger Games that have fantastical elements but aren't considered fantasy per say, so does anyone have some insight into this? [Confused]

Thanks!

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extrinsic
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An underlying feature of fantasy generally in a contemporary defintion is wish fulfillment surrogacy, seeking fantastical powers to fulfill one's need for assuring one's desired place in society.

A traditional definition of fantasy was fantastical cultural belief systems, spiritual and temporal, paranormal and supernatural phenomena part of a culture's zeitgeist that taught object and moral lessons. Aesop's Fables, Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales, and One Thousand and One Nights are traditional fantasy classics.

[ March 17, 2012, 10:41 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Meredith
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I would call what you describe as fantasy.

There are many subgenres of fantasy.

Myth and fairy tale retellings are quite common in YA fantasy.

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rcmann
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The old fashioned definition is that if it is currently impossible, but it doesn';t actually violate any known natural law, then its science fiction. If it violates natural law, then its fantasy. Except that parallel universes with alternate natural laws are now an acknowledged part of quantum theory, so all bets are off.
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MartinV
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People take the parallel universe thing way too literally. Mathematics describes space by a group of vectors, which are in essence numbers. Take a hundred groups of vectors and you have a hundred universes. The rest was the scientists playing D&D.
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rcmann
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LOL.
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GreatNovus
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Sounds very interesting. Hope one day I'll have a chance to read your fantasy.
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Robert Nowall
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I would take it as fantasy...but the difference between the marketing category of "fantasy" and the actual genre of the piece can be confusing. There are lots of fantasies out there that just aren't marketed as such. (I haven't read it, but I took "Hunger Games" to be SF / fantasy...in the way, say, one might take the James Bond books and movies to be SF.)
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babygears81
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Thanks Everyone! I guess I will call it fantasy then, until someone gives me a reason not too. [Smile]
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Tiergan
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Fantasy.
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Pyre Dynasty
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What else could it be? Fantasy is a broad genre. (Yes sometimes it seems like the fantasy section is filled with Tolkein clones, but hey, there's a market for those)

You might consider magic realism, since many of the masters of magic realism are found among Native American writers. Off the top of my head I'm thinking of Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie.

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MartinV
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I took Hunger Games for science fiction. It has elements of hard sci-fi (advanced science) and soft sci-fi (sociological, political meaning). The author doesn't tell us how the technology works which would imply fantasy but it's clear this story was written for people not into hard core science fiction. Therefore, the explanations had to be dropped or it would be a book for geeks.
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babygears81
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Pyre Dynasty- I have considered magical realism and I love both the authors you mention. I don't think it falls under that though for several reasons, one of them being the whole parallel dimensions thing. That's not very realistic.

MartinV- Touche.

So yes, fantasy it is. [Smile]

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MattLeo
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Your manuscript is what it is. It's a marketing decision which shelf to put it on, and for the most part the criteria are shallow.

I'm more interested in what a fantasy manuscript *should* be.

In the briefest terms, and leaving aside for the moment any question of what each category *is*, I'd say that science fiction should be thought provoking, and fantasy should be beautiful. Both of course should be entertaining.

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Foste
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Fantasy? Fantasy is a genre.

...

I think I might have screwed up here.

@MattLeo

I have to disagree with you, fantasy can be thought provoking too. Name of The Wind, Assassin's Apprentice, Malazan, American Gods and pretty much most of what Gene Wolfe has written.

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MattLeo
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@Foste -- I didn't say that fantasy *couldn't* be thought provoking; nor did I say sci-fi couldn't be beautiful. In any case these two modes of enjoyment are closely interrelated. But I expect a certain grandeur to fantasy that's a happy bonus when found in sci-fi; likewise I expect a certain perspicacity in sci-fi that's admirable when it shows up in fantasy.

I consider Asimov's Foundation series to be quintessential sci-fi. Certainly the series had an epic sweep, but it's fundamentally about an idea (how social order could arise out of underlying chaos) and the limitations of that idea (the Mule).

American Gods is not nearly so logical; in fact it has a kind of excess to it that borders on incoherence, a rambling, overstuffed structure that Gaiman later outgrew. But what it has going for it are images that pack a serious psychological wallop, and that is quintessential fantasy.

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extrinsic
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Travels to alternate universes is probably science fiction from fantastical science and technology premises, if technology and science based. Rivets and chrome and gadgets traditionally characterize science fiction.

Cherokee mythology may be fantasy, may be magic realism. Traditional fantasy incorporates exotic milieus. Magic realism blurs boundary distinctions between the metaphysical realms and the mundane, earthly realms, particularly supernatural cultural zeitgeists and belief systems. Where fantasy's core is paranormal cultural zeitgeists and belief systems.

If the central character's culture believes in the supernatural phenomena, then magic realism. If the central character's culture believes in the paranormal phenomena, then fantsay. If either is practiced as superstitions and per se accepted as genuine but ineffectual, then magical thinking.

Using Cherokee mythology poses one challenge for writers not as versed in its meanings as Natives. Identity appropriation for creative writing purposes potentially malappropriates cultural identity and objects and might be offensive if artless. For example, what does it mean that the Cherokee people self-identified as the Real People? And that outsiders called them the Cave People? That the Cherokee nation prior to Old World culture contact practiced matrilineal succession? That the Cherokee are an Iroquian culture group?

One of my documented ancestral lines is Cherokee, by the way.

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redux
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I take it your family has Southern roots, extrinsic?
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extrinsic
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My immediate family's recent Cherokee heritage comes from outside the South.
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babooher
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I was watching the finale of Face Off and thinking about this. One designer was tasked with creating 3 horror looks. He had Satan and 2 demons that were very Hellraiser-ish. That made me think, isn't Hellraiser and it's ilk really more fantasy (albeit gory and scary) than horror? These lines blur so much.
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babygears81
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extrinsic,
I am well aware of the perils of writing about Native Americans when the writer is outside the cultural group. It's something that has been stressing me out a lot lately actually. I have done a lot of research and intend fully to approach this respectfully. I am depicting modern day Cherokee in my story. Do you mind if I email you to discuss some of my concerns privately? And if so, exactly how do I go about finding your email address? I'm new here and not quite sure how this all works yet.

Thanks

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extrinsic
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Visceral horror is blood and gore. Metaphysical horror can be paranormal or supernatural or overlap. Psychological horror may draw on visceral or metaphysical horror and on its own conventions of fear of mundane horrific outcomes.

John Grisham's legal thriller fiction relies on psychological horror based on mundane, primal fears of social guilt and fears that we deserve punishment for our seven deadly faults conflicted by fears that our innocence can be easily discounted by warped social forces.

John Le Carre's spy thriller fiction is also psychological horror, fears based on war and particularly Cold War nightmares. Tom Clancy's fiction also relies on Cold War fears, though his Cold War slant has become largely irrelevant since the end of the Cold War. The new war most on people's minds is, of course, religious radicalist and fundamentalist terrorism, homegrown less so than foreign based.

Satan and demons are supernatural horror. Hellraiser some supernatural, some paranormal, some visceral, some psychological. Fantasy horror.

A campfire horror story making the rounds in my childhood told the tale from the perspective of a religiously devout teenage babysitter. She was called on to watch the mischievous children of diplomats. The family's home was decorated with curios from their travels across the globe. Heathen and pagan idols, fertility fetishes, exotic weapons and implements of torture, etc. The children told the babysitter all that was nothing. There is a portrait of the devil in the basement. The teenager wanted to see it. After she'd seen it, she ran hysterically screaming from the home and was never right in the head again. Most of the times I heard the story, that was the ending. Once, the story ended by revealing the portrait was actually a mirror.

[ March 17, 2012, 12:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by babygears81:
extrinsic,
I am well aware of the perils of writing about Native Americans when the writer is outside the cultural group. It's something that has been stressing me out a lot lately actually. I have done a lot of research and intend fully to approach this respectfully. I am depicting modern day Cherokee in my story. Do you mind if I email you to discuss some of my concerns privately? And if so, exactly how do I go about finding your email address? I'm new here and not quite sure how this all works yet.

Thanks

Thank you for asking, babygears81, before e-mailing. That's a courteous practice I respect. To e-mail a Hatracker, click the e-mail button above a user's post, if there is one. If not, the user's e-mail isn't public. Clciking the button will pull a new page with a mailto link listed. Clicking the link will pull up your POP e-mail client, like Outlook Express or another. If you use Web mail, then copy the e-mail address from the mailto link and paste it into the To: line.

I don't mind you e-mailing me to discuss your concerns. The issues of identity appropriation are much on my mind and I've dug in deeply. However, discussing them on the Hatrack writing forum might be beneficial for the membership, who also might contribute to the discussion. Writing the other is a popular topic and subject matter yet an incitement for a contentious debate going on in the literary culture.

Go ahead, wade into the deep end, start a thread on the topic of writing the other, concerns and issues and related benefits from identity appropriation and malappropriation.

[ March 17, 2012, 01:01 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Foste
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
@Foste -- I didn't say that fantasy *couldn't* be thought provoking; nor did I say sci-fi couldn't be beautiful. In any case these two modes of enjoyment are closely interrelated. But I expect a certain grandeur to fantasy that's a happy bonus when found in sci-fi; likewise I expect a certain perspicacity in sci-fi that's admirable when it shows up in fantasy.

I consider Asimov's Foundation series to be quintessential sci-fi. Certainly the series had an epic sweep, but it's fundamentally about an idea (how social order could arise out of underlying chaos) and the limitations of that idea (the Mule).

American Gods is not nearly so logical; in fact it has a kind of excess to it that borders on incoherence, a rambling, overstuffed structure that Gaiman later outgrew. But what it has going for it are images that pack a serious psychological wallop, and that is quintessential fantasy.

Sorry, MattLeo, that explanation doesn't quite work for me. Considering the current trend of "gritty" fantasy you could even argue that a lot of fantasy nowadays is pretty bleak, and runs counter to some of the genre's qualities that you have listed.

A few examples:

Malazan, Abercrombie's books, Song of Ice and Fire, Steel Remains, Prince of Thorns... And many more.

Now, you could say that these books were written with trope subversion in mind, but that doesn't change the fact that Robert E. Howard's Conan made me think about civilization and its faults and that I found Rothfuss's Name of the Wind an apt introspection into the forging of a legend (a story about stories, if you will).

I recall a statement that said "Science Fiction appeals to the mind and Fantasy to the emotions."

There is nothing inherently wrong with that statement, but upon further scrutinization it seems that it implies that you aren't required to think while reading fantasy, which, in my humble opinion, is nothing short of absurd.

Of course I am not implying that you said anything like that MattLeo. If your definition works for you - more power to you I say. Everyone will take something different away after reading a book, so in the end there is no right or wrong way to go about defining a genre except for mere aesthetics.

That being said, no matter much I sit and ponder what genre my WIP is, the fact of the matter is that the publisher will shelf it wherever they think it is appropriate.

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extrinsic
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"I recall a statement that said 'Science Fiction appeals to the mind and Fantasy to the emotions.' "

One of science fiction's tension drivers is awe and wonder. They're a cluster of intellectual emotional stimuli that influences tension's empathy stimuli and suspense's curiosity stimuli. Conversely, fantasy also has awe and wonder emotion drivers.

A distinction, if there is one, is how science fiction's emotional stimuli depends on fantastical science and technology for hard science fiction, fantastical social stimuli for soft (sociological) science fiction, and exotic, fantastical milieu for fantasy science fiction.

Where fantasy's awe and wonder stimuli depends on exotic, fantastical milieu almost exclusively.

Milieu is the M in Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E., and the S for setting in my S.P.I.C.E.D. writing mnenonic. Tension's empathy and suspense, empathy's emotional stimuli and suspense's curiosity stimuli relate to P for plot and C for character.

What a writer labels a novel indicates a degree of understanding what the novel is about, At most, a query should contain three terms describing its genre. Fantasy horror, paranormal fantasy, hard science fiction, Native American magic realism, which though four words is only two terms, for examples.

A third term might describe the target audience age group: middle grade, young adult, early adult, middle adult, late adult, for example. Other identity markers given in the query body should signal other audience targeting, like gender, lifestyle, social status, etc.

[ March 17, 2012, 03:03 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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quote:

I recall a statement that said "Science Fiction appeals to the mind and Fantasy to the emotions."
...
upon further scrutinization it seems that it implies that you aren't required to think while reading fantasy...

Sure, if you presume the people who are putting that distinction forward are incredibly obtuse. I don't think anyone really believes that enjoying a story one way precludes getting other kinds of enjoyment out of it. There's a more straightforward refutation of this view: it's absurd to expect a science fiction story to succeed without giving the reader some kind emotional satisfaction (albeit possibly *ironic* satisfaction).

So what about logic in fantasy? It turns out to be just as important as in sci-fi. In fantasy you have the freedom to inject the impossible into the story; from there the consequences must be plausible. C.S.Lewis calls this emergence of mundane consequences from miraculous causes "naturalizing" the miraculous, much like naturalizing an immigrant in a new country [C.S. Lewis Miracles. London & Glasgow: Collins/Fontana, 1947. Revised 1960. Fount, 2002.]

Injecting the impossible into the story is a freedom you don't get in sci-fi, but while you can inject the *impossible*, that's not the same as saying you can inject *anything*. For example you cannot inject anything which frees a character from the consequences of his actions. Logically, once you admit the impossible into the world, *everything* ought to becomes possible, so it's clear that there's something other than mundane logic which limits what is possible in fantasy. That thing is aesthetics. A story in which the logical consequences of a character's action are erased offends our aesthetic sensibilities.

So beauty underpins the logic of fantasy in a way it does *not* rule the logic of sci-fi.

Beauty and grittiness are not mutually exclusive by the way. That's very apparent if you follow art photography, where often sublime beauty is coaxed from something that on superficial examination seems ugly.

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Foste
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
quote:

I recall a statement that said "Science Fiction appeals to the mind and Fantasy to the emotions."
...
upon further scrutinization it seems that it implies that you aren't required to think while reading fantasy...

Sure, if you presume the people who are putting that distinction forward are incredibly obtuse. I don't think anyone really believes that enjoying a story one way precludes getting other kinds of enjoyment out of it. There's a more straightforward refutation of this view: it's absurd to expect a science fiction story to succeed without giving the reader some kind emotional satisfaction (albeit possibly *ironic* satisfaction).

So what about logic in fantasy? It turns out to be just as important as in sci-fi. In fantasy you have the freedom to inject the impossible into the story; from there the consequences must be plausible. C.S.Lewis calls this emergence of mundane consequences from miraculous causes "naturalizing" the miraculous, much like naturalizing an immigrant in a new country [C.S. Lewis Miracles. London & Glasgow: Collins/Fontana, 1947. Revised 1960. Fount, 2002.]

Injecting the impossible into the story is a freedom you don't get in sci-fi, but while you can inject the *impossible*, that's not the same as saying you can inject *anything*. For example you cannot inject anything which frees a character from the consequences of his actions. Logically, once you admit the impossible into the world, *everything* ought to becomes possible, so it's clear that there's something other than mundane logic which limits what is possible in fantasy. That thing is aesthetics. A story in which the logical consequences of a character's action are erased offends our aesthetic sensibilities.

So beauty underpins the logic of fantasy in a way it does *not* rule the logic of sci-fi.

Beauty and grittiness are not mutually exclusive by the way. That's very apparent if you follow art photography, where often sublime beauty is coaxed from something that on superficial examination seems ugly.

When did this turn into a pi... *ahem* micturating contest?

Ah, well. I don't necessarily agree with some points you put forward (especially the one about photography - apples and oranges.)

So I'll let xkcd speak for me:
http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/duty_calls.png

(Not saying that you are wrong, just adding this for comic relief *pun intended*, we mostly share the same viewpoint save for a few minor differences. Have a nice day [Smile] )

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redux
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Science Fiction & Fantasy:
A Genre With Many Faces
by Amy Goldschlager, Avon Eos

http://www.sfsite.com/columns/amy26.htm

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MattLeo
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Foste --
quote:
When did this turn into a pi... *ahem* micturating contest?
It hasn't, as far as I'm concerned.

If you reread the post in question you'll see I'm making a serious effort to address the question of what makes fantasy different from something that has fantastic elements. I've also tried to clarify my earlier remarks, which I think you have somehow misconstrued to be far more extreme than anything I'm actually likely to believe.

You'll also see that I actually agree that the "Fantasy=emotion,sci-fi=logic" idea is false, although it's worth examining how these factors differ between the genres.

I'm sorry this has degenerated into personal mockery. It wasn't necessary.

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Meredith
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I've recently remembered two definitions, both paraphrased.

I think this one is OSC (if I remember correctly):

If it has sheet metal and rivets, it's science fiction. If it has trees, it's fantasy.

Also, from an the foreward to my old copy of the Mabinogian (which I can't find so I can't tell you wrote the foreward):

The central conflict in a fantasy has its basis in the use, misuse, disuse, or abuse of magic.

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LDWriter2
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I can see that definition but the problem is when it's both or has both.

Star Wars has been called space fantasy.

And the current ever popular UF.

And a couple of others that seem to combine aspects of both.

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Zippo44
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One classical definition of the fantasy genre I recall as: If it's got elfs (or other cultural equivalents) its fantasy.

A somewhat looser description defines fantasy as the larger set excluding Science Fiction where SF is narrowly defined as remaining within the bounds of physics and chemistry as we understand it, or a reasonable extrapolation of possible new understandings of same.

The more important consideration is "Is it a good story?"

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MattLeo
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No scheme of defining genres has any claim to objective authority; genre definitions have only *utility for some purpose*.

The great merit of the "rivets vs. trees" dichotomy (what I call the "story furniture") is that it characterizes something important to a reader in the market for buying a book. He knows whether he's looking for elves and magic wands, or aliens and ray guns. So this way of making the distinction has enormous economic importance to editors and writers.

The problem with the "story furniture" approach is that it doesn't tell you the difference between what makes a *good* fantasy and what makes a *good* sci-fi story. Naturally there's a lot in common, but there are differences, particularly for stories that have ambitions beyond being an adventure yarn. There might not be much difference between sword and sorcery and space opera, but there's a huge difference between genuine sci-fi like Asimov's Foundation and C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy which conforms more to the logic and aesthetics of fantasy.

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