But first, I feel like we need to define ‘sci fi’ and ‘fantasy.’

I know, I know. Can open, worms *all* over the floor.

Arthur C. Clarke said that “…science fiction is something that could happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though often you only wish that it could.”

That’s not a bad definition to start with. This is probably why, if you ask me, Star Wars falls closer to the realm of fantasy than sci fi. (I do not pretend to be the first to say this.) The force is amazing, but it’s fantastical rather than scientific. (No matter what the fan wikis will have you believe.) (Don’t yell at me.)

Couldn’t happen, check. Wish that it could? Definitely check. (Don’t bother claiming you’ve never tried to use it. I already know you have.)

Sci fi, as I see it, tends to present a scenario that places technology at the center. Hard sci fi, like Andy Weir’s the Martian or On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis, or even Wool by Hugh Howey, sets up the most believable circumstances. Something like the Expanse takes it a step further, acknowledging real scientific problems (like, say, the need to traverse the solar system a bit more quickly than we truly can) involved in, uh, expanding our footprint in the universe.

Soft sci fi takes, well, a few more liberties. With respect to Mr. Clarke, this is where the line gets a little… blurry. Let’s take your typical Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero. Lots of people shuffle Marvel into sci fi. Captain America? Created with a serum. Thor? Alien.

It’s pseudo science. Dare I say… fantastical science? Because how is it really all that different from a magic system where, say, mages in a secondary world swallow metal to influence emotions and soar through the air? (That would be Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.) It’s science in their world, but pure fantasy in ours.

To take another example, zombies on Earth tend to come from viruses–science!–while their secondary-world cousins are considered fantasy (White Walkers, right?).

Unless we’re talking about Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Krisoff, of course, which takes place in space.

Can space count as a secondary world? Can fantasy worlds have space programs? If a fantasy world has a space program, does that make it science fiction?

Is Star Wars actually set in a secondary fantasy world that developed a space program??


So, you see my dilemma. Thankfully, this is why we have subgenres. Much love to space opera and science fantasy. In the end, I’m glad for space-tastic rescues and laser guns that go ‘pew pew,’ even if the story doesn’t provide a scientific explanation for a handgun that carries that kind of a kick.

For the sake of not making this a 300-word treatise, let’s say that the books on this list incorporate sci fi and fantasy elements that we typically don’t see mashed together. Magic in space, etc.

Let’s say, too, that superheroes claim their own brands of sci fi and fantasy, with scientific powers explained away with cure-all words like “serum” and “genes” and “energy.” (Listen, I do it, too.) The less the powers are explained, the more it veers toward fantasy. In theory.

While we’re at it, though, please feel free to answer the short question below the list on how you define sci fi versus fantasy. I’d be curious to know. Or if you’d like to suggest your favorites, please drop the titles there as well!

Books That Blend Sci Fi & Fantasy

(Finally, jeez.)

A Big Ship on the Edge of the Universe by Alex White. Magic system using runes, but with spaceships.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. Necromancy (fantasy) but there are spaceships.

Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre. Spaceships, but they’re… whales, essentially.

Resistor by C.E. Clayton. She’s a magical girl in a cyberpunk world.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab. Near death experiences result in superpowers. Cool. (Literally, in certain cases.)

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana. The contemplative feel of this book makes me say sci fi, but the speculative elements are so light that it veers gently toward contemporary fantasy.

Relic of Sorrows (and the whole Fallen Empire series) by Lindsay Buroker. While rooted in space battles and cyborgs, this series involves a subset of humanity who developed powers of ESP and… well, throwing things around using their brain matter. So yeah, that’s pretty fantastical. Plus powerful relics and stuff. Which is why I chose to feature book 4.

Tech Mage by Chris Fox. I mean, it’s kind of literally in the title.

About Kate Sheeran Swed

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