Thoughtful Thursday: What’s the difference?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsArthur C. Clarke has claimed that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In a book about elves who use magic to create race cars, Mercedes Lackey wrote that “any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology,” quoting the author Larry Niven. Which leaves me with the question: is there really a difference between fantasy and science fiction? When it comes to a story, is there a fundamental difference between a spaceship with a teleporter device and a mage with a portal spell? What is the difference between an alien and an elf?

So readers, help me sort this out:  What is the difference between fantasy and science fiction?  Do they serve different purposes? Do you read both genres?


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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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42 comments

  1. The difference between scifi and fantasy is more of a stylistic difference, a difference in attitude if you will. In terms of the stories told, precious few scifi novels follow the heroic journey formula, which is more common in fantasy. Star Wars, some might argue, is scifi – but do space ships scifi make? I would argue not. The central plot elements deal with defeating the dark lord (that’s even Vader’s official title!), and the hero’s magic powers learned from his elderly mentor are the tool by which the day is won. As such, I would venture that Star Wars is fantasy in scifi’s clothing, in a way. :-)

    Scifi’s subgenres differ a lot from fantasy’s: Classic scifi (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke et al.) is often centered around a very specific scenario in which future technology plays a crucial part. Space opera has a scale unmatched by any other genre in existence – often enough, battles or intrigues take place across entire star systems and decide the fates of billions. Military scifi tends toward either Horatio-Hornblower-esque derring-do or gritty, messy, horrid realism with a basis in the author’s own war experiences often enough. Fantasy really doesn’t have anything similar to these, although a fantasy spin on such themes might be very interesting.

    In principle, I’m not a great believer in genre. Genre is a label applied after the fact by others, if they can. By way of example: Is the RPG Shadowrun scifi or fantasy? It has elves and orcs and magic and dragons, but also rapacious megacorporations, cybernetic implants, high technology, guns and cars. It blends the genres of cyberpunk (a scifi subgenre) and fantasy of the grittier, darker variety. What does one name such an animal?

  2. This is a really interesting question, and unfortunately I don’t have any insight to add to it…

  3. That’s a very thoughtful response. Shadowrun sounds a little bit like a higher tech variation on steampunk, but you’re right, it defies easy categorization.

    I hadn’t thought about the heroic journey being the defining element of fantasy, though I think there is a lot of validity to that statement. Of course, that characterization applies to some of fantasies sub-genres better than others. Epic fantasy, yes. Urban fantasy, not so much.

    I’m wondering if you think that science fiction lends itself better to the “scenario” type of stories that you mentioned: let’s take a specific aspect of modern society or technology, magnify it to its extreme, and see what happens? Most of those types of stories that I have read tend to be categorized as science fiction, and I’m wondering if I’m just missing the fantasy authors that are doing that, or if fantasy doesn’t lend itself to the same sort of social commentary.

  4. I tend to agree with Gert’s statement that it’s more of a stylistic difference, especially in modern fiction.

    I think what used to be called science fiction, exempting a lot of cheesy B-movies or pulps, was more based on technology and futuristic advances. Now the demarcation has become very blurred, but that’s the case with most all genres. I still tend to think of sci-fi using technology or true science where fantasy uses magic.

    The book I’m currently reading is perfect example of the blurring; Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover. This story takes place in a Phillip K. Dick -like future, where inter-dimensional travel to a traditional fantasy-setting world is possible. Unknowingly to denizens of this fantasy world, Earth Studio corporations send “Actors” for a reality TV/gladiatorial-type form of entertainment.

  5. This is an interesting question. I was thinking about this the other day when I was reading a Science Fiction novel that has elements that could be considered magic – telepathy, bonding with an animal, but it’s all been done through gene engineering and nano-tech. Which got me thinking about books like the MageWorld or Liaden series. Which have both magic and technology. Is it cross-genre? Is it just allowed in Space Opera? I loved Andre Norton, her books like Catseye or Zero Stone have the psychic abilities and bonded animals along with the technology. In a fantasy, it would be magic, in Science Fiction it’s just another sense/ability. The biggest difference I see in Fantasy vs Fiction is One world or Two? Fantasy is almost always confined to a single planet – most often with medieval levels of technology. Science Fiction is multiple worlds and futuristic technology.

  6. This is a really interesting question, but I don’t think I’ve read enough science fiction to make much of a contribution to this topic! I’ll be over here with Suzie, listening to all the interesting things you folks have to say. :)

    Kelly

  7. Is there a reason you avoid science fiction? Maybe knowing those reasons could help us determine the difference between the genres.

  8. I love fantasy but avoid sci-fi, primarily because I read several sci-fi books as a teen and they didn’t do a thing for me. Maybe I just had bad luck and ran across lousy books, but the driving interest-factor of these books seemed to be the technology, with plot and especially character much less important. I don’t read fiction for a science (or mechanics) lesson, much less for a speculative, invented science lesson on technology or foreign planets that don’t actually exist, so these books dragged. Also, I have little interest in space or space travel, and don’t really enjoy futuristic books. I’m a fan of historical fiction, though, which explains the fantasy affinity.

    At any rate, oddly enough, I like my books to be as realistic as possible–I don’t read fantasy for the magic–so I’m willing to accept magical powers when they’re subjugated to plot and character (as they are in fantasy), but have no interest in reading a book that’s ABOUT these powers (as has been the case in much of the sci fi I’ve read).

  9. Well, it’s hard to say for sure why I don’t read much science fiction. I do know that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed some of the sci-fi that I have read, especially when it’s character-driven and not so much technology-driven. I absolutely adore Elisabeth Vonarburg’s In the Mothers’ Land, which is this post-apocalyptic feminist novel that deals a lot with character, politics, and how myths and legends evolve over time. I’d love to stumble across more books like it. It’s not “gadgety” at all and that’s part of what I like about it.
    (I have an inexplicable aversion to what I’ve started calling “gadgety prose.” It’s not exclusive to sci-fi. I’ve seen it in fantasy, and I saw a ton of it back when I was reading more thrillers than I do now. My fancy gizmos, let me show you them!)
    Another part of it is that I have a bit of an obsession with history and the past. A lot of the fantasy I read evokes interesting periods in real history, even if the countries and kings get superficially renamed. Obviously, this isn’t the only thing I like, since I enjoy a lot of urban fantasy, which is set in the present or sometimes, as in the case of Ilona Andrews, in the near future. But I do think my history-geekishness is a factor.
    I think there’s also an aspect of just feeling daunted by all that’s out there. I’ve been reading fantasy for a while now, and often I’ll end up reading some new author because an old favorite author praised their work, or because a friend who knows my taste recommended the book to me. I’d feel daunted by all the fantasy out there if I didn’t feel like I had sort of a piece of ground to stand on. It’s like…”Here are my favorite books. I know what I like and what I don’t, and I can branch out from there.”
    With sci-fi, I don’t feel like I have a point of reference, if that makes any sense, just because I don’t have the background. (Vicious cycle, true.) I see sci-fi books on the shelves, look at the cover art, read the back blurbs, etc….but beyond a few huge classic names, I don’t know who’s good, who’s awful, who’s overrated, who writes character-driven stuff and who writes more about gizmos. I always figure I’ll dip my toes a little deeper into the SF pool one of these days, but always end up feeling daunted, and besides, there’s tons of fantasy just waiting for me to read it. So I end up staying within my comfort zone almost by default.
    Kelly

  10. Kelly, you might want to try some Sheri S. Tepper. She sits on the fence between fantasy and science fiction, and is very character driven while addressing a lot of political issues. I would recommend starting with The Family Tree or Gate to Women’s Country.

    I agree with you about gadget driven science fiction, it doesn’t do much for me. I’d much rather watch a James Bond movie. :)

  11. I used to read a lot of SF when I was a kid — Heinlein especially. I still like SF, but I prefer fantasy because, like Emma and Kelly, I love the historical aspect. I prefer books with a European-like setting ranging from Bronze Age to Victorian partly because I like to learn about and imagine living in those kinds of societies.

    Another part is that after the Victorian era, personal firearms became a great leveler. Before then, armies and individuals had to rely more on strength and wits (characteristics that I admire in heroes). After people started carrying guns around, it was anyone’s game. When I read the first book of Stephen King’s fantasy epic (The Dark Tower), I was put off by The Gunslinger’s ability to walk into a town and just kill everyone from a safe distance away. What kind of hero is that?

  12. I’m currently reading Reality Disfunction by Peter F Hamilton. 1st time with this author. He does have a lot of astronomy detail that I don’t know much about but it works in the context of the book. He has an interesting cast of characters, and the storyline has sucked me in. This is the 1st part of a 3000 plus page trilogy. I hope it holds up. There is so much out there it gets overwhelming at times. I think mostly I stay in the Space Opera end of Science Fiction since that seems to be more character and story than technotoys.

  13. This is an interesting question and there is definitely an overlap in appeal and thematic content. Style is definitely one distinguishing feature. From the style point of view, I’d say that fantasy tends to look back in time for it’s world dressing while sci-fi tends to look to a possible future. Not particularly helpful.

    Having said that I’d definitely say that the basic definition of Sci-Fi is that it takes a technological, scientific, sociological or political possibility takes it to a possible future and explores the impact on the human condition. While Fantasy takes the human condition and tells mythic scale stories that comment on society and the individual from a comfortable distance.

    Some reach deeper, some steal the trappings of the other. Some are plain garbage dressed up in a fake world. But the best in both streams have great character development, a stirring story, and a believable world.

  14. Someone on another site was kind enough to share this link with me after reading an exchange I had on this same topic with another member of the site. Having been through this exercise on several occasions it seems to be pointless. Here are two reasons why:

    First, there seems to be no distinction or set of distinctions that all or even most people will agree on.

    Second, I have the very strong impression that sci-fi types (like myself) are far more willing to draw hard and fast distinctions between the two genres than fantasy types. I have no scientific proof for this assertion; it is only my impression – a very distinct impression.

  15. Matt,
    Why do science fiction types draw harder distinctions than fantasy fans? My experience is that when exclusions are made it is done out of a sense of superiority – that the exclusion is a way to preserve the elite status of the excluders. Do you think that science fiction is considered a better/more serious/more advanced genre than fantasy?

  16. That’s my guess, too, Ruth.

  17. Or is it just a case of scientific types like to catergorize things and have nice neat boundaries and the fantasy types don’t? Or does that go down the slippery slope of SciFi is for boys and girls can’t do math?
    I think my dividing lines are style and setting as others have pointed out. It’s been an interesting topic and there have been some great points made that have helped me gain some insight into what I read and why.

  18. Ladies, ladies, ladies!

    The object of this entire discussion was to make distinctions between the two genres – remember? My post was merely meant to explain why I thought it was a pointless exercise. I certainly never meant to insult any genre or anyone.
    That being said, I think your responses do a marvelous job of demonstrating my second point.

  19. Ruth, thank you for the rec! I’ve been meaning to get to Tepper for some time.

    As for the alien vs. elf question in the original post, get me yammering sometime about how aliens occupy roughly the same place in today’s urban legends as elves/faeries did in medieval folklore. :)

  20. It wasn’t a matter of insult, I’m just wondering what makes you think science fiction readers are more willing to draw distinctions than fantasy readers. I was positing a hypothesis as to why that may be so. I teach research methods for the social sciences at a university, so I’m interested in quantifying some of these unstated assumptions. My response was an honest attempt to apply sociological theories of group maintenance to genre readers.

  21. Yeah, the problem with these kind of discussion formats is that you can’t interpret tone — especially if you don’t know someone well. Actually BOTH Ruth and I teach research methods and enjoy these types of discussions, so I knew her intent with the question — not an attack, but wondering about your thoughts.
    I am a scientist, so I do think like one, but mostly I’m interested in categorization of speculative fiction because I’m the one who mainly decides which authors and books we add to FantasyLiterature.com.

  22. Matt,
    Few questions are pointless. I would think anyone with a scientific mind would agree what you’ll never have an answer if you don’t ask the question.
    You say you think you’re more willing to make hard and fast distinctions; well, please do. We genuinely want to know. That’s why we asked. Of course, we may respond to your opinions, even challenge them, but that is the point of a discussion, yes? It’s just not much fun otherwise. :)

  23. Matt, you’re more than likely right that scifi-readers tend to want the distinction more than fantasy-readers. There’s somewhat more of a chauvinism inherent to scifi-readers – a tendency to see their chosen genre as ‘better’, when in reality, scifi shares a lot of flaws with fantasy, but has some entirely its own. I see much fewer technobabble infodumps in fantasy, as an example. (Especially the ones where the author clearly has no clue as to how the universe really works annoy me. Star Trek is renowned for those.) And mind you, I say this as a die-hard scifi-fan.

    I believe, myself, that it’s a mistake to view any one genre as superior to another. It means you miss out on good books. I also believe that a willingness to make pointless distinctions is harmful to your mindset, and leads to over-categorization. Genres aren’t distinct sets. They overlap, and have grey areas between them, and attempting to ram rigid boundaries through these grey areas is doing a disservice to genres and readers both.

    Also, allow me as a scientifically educated person to add my complete agreement to Beth, above: There are no pointless questions.

  24. I hope I can provide a little insight. My father reads science fiction, but not just any science fiction. He reads “hard” science fiction. “Hard” doesn’t refer to the tone of the novel; it refers to “hard science”. Or science fiction based on plausible science. Voyages between the stars takes centuries; time travel involves approaching the speed of light; that sort of thing. He got me into science fiction, and hard science fiction was the only kind I read until someone pressured me into reading Piers Anthony.

    My father almost never reads fantasy. And he never reads space opera.

    The reason for his particular distinction? He’s looking for books at least partially based on reality. His suspension of disbelief only goes so far. Lots of people are like this. Science Fiction has a subgenre – hard science fiction – that can accommodate those who will not suspend disbelief enough to believe in anything outside the realm of reality. Fantasy does not.

  25. I like hard science fiction for the same reason Tia’s dad does. As far as fantasy goes, there are different levels of suspending belief (I’m struggling with whether or not I can agree with Tia’s last statement :) ) I have a limited ability for belief suspension and I find that I mostly enjoy fantasy in which the magic system is somewhat grounded in reality and has consistent unbendable rules that make sense.

    I suppose Tia’s point is that any magic at all requires belief suspension, but I think I can come up with some examples of magic systems that really might work if there were a few tweaks in our genetics (perhaps that could possibly evolve?). How about Brandon Sanderson’s allomancy and metalurgy systems? Most of what I loved about his story was how realistic that was (or possibly could be).

  26. Tia, Does your dad read Catherine Asaro? I know one of the things that really stood out to a lot of people when they read her debut novel Primary Inversion was that, because of her training as a physicist, all the science made sense. And I know that when she made the crossover to fantasy, our reviewer had severe problems with her attempt. Of course, that’s not a hard and fast distinction because a lot of authors cross back and forth or blend the two with absolutely no problems.

    And as to magic requiring a suspension of disbelief, one of the things I love about Charles deLint’s better books is that it doesn’t seem to require a suspension of disbelief, as much as an ability to look at the world sideways. A little piece of me still hopes to find a gemmin if I keep looking for them. My problem with magical systems isn’t whether or not they require a suspension of disbelief, but whether or not, once I suspend disbelief, the system is internally consistent.

    Then of course, there is this cartoon: http://www.partiallyclips.com/storage/20090203_RabbitsRockinghorse_sm.png which I should have posted with the original question probably.

  27. Usually, I prefer it authors don’t get too deep into the rules of their magic — mainly because I find they’re prone to contradicting those rules later. I’d prefer consistency in general.
    Frankly, even with magic I can deal with a lack of realism (for lack of a better word) much easier than a lack of realism in the world itself. That’s where I have real problems with fantasy (and sci fi at times, too). It’s astonishing how many fantasy authors lack a fundamental understanding of how society works. Politics are too often built on straw man fallacies and just plain awful logic. That’ll make me put down a book way quicker than most magic systems.

  28. Beth, I so agree with you! Sometimes, the magic system is just fine, but then I think, “Why on earth would he do that!!!” And I get far more frustrated. I can suspend disbelief on magic, but not on unrealistic character motivations.

    I’m not sure what Dad’s reading these days. He reads lots of thrillers and political suspense as well. However, you reminded me to get him to read William Drinkard’s Elom. The science is not as hard as he usually likes it, but I think he could bend this far.

    Even the title “Primary Inversion” sounds like something he would like.

  29. I think genre differentiation has its merits to a point. For one thing–it makes it easier to find your books at the store or library. And it’s also easy to make recommendations or find similar books. But like many distinctions, lines get blurred and so one always has to take the differentiation with a grain of salt. Most sci-fi has a hard science kernel and the story spins out of the extrapolation of that kernel. Fantasy I’d argue is less confined by the parameters of real-world physics. But the two quotes offered up are absolutely right and thus the blurring. When matter can be created by a wave of a hand, whether that hand is gesturing for a spell or turning on a machine–how does one distinguish? Maybe fantasy relies more on internal forces while sci-fi more on external ones? But at that point, I’m not sure the merits of making a distinction hold much anymore.
    Is McCaffery’s Pern fantasy or sci-fi? Depends which books you read, even though it’s all the same world. Same with Tepper’s Necromancer Nine series (one of my favorites). Are there stylistic/thematic differences? Sure. I’d probably argue sci-fi’s deeper focus looks more at social/cultural analysis while fantasy looks more at the individual (how does one deal with power, fear, etc) but I can cite opposing examples pretty easily.
    It’s all a generalization and like all generalizations, it
    a) has its uses up to the breaking point and
    b) should never be taken as absolutist

  30. After discussing this last night with my child, she said it all comes down to cover art. If there is a spaceship on the cover or someone in a spacesuit. It’s science fiction. Probably doesn’t help much, but it was amusing.

  31. Or gun/laser = sci-fi and sword/fireball = fantasy. I think you may be on to something important, Sarah. :D

  32. Actually, that’s the first thing I look for if I’m wondering if a book belongs on this website. If there’s a spaceship on the cover, it doesn’t belong and I don’t have to investigate any further. :) (I’m serious here.)

  33. Sarah,

    Your daughter might have a point. That may not be a major distinction between the two, but it still is one. A cover really can say a lot about a book, after all.
    And well, we over here in the fantasy genre can take some comfort that romance isn’t the only genre that gets worse covers than we do. :P

  34. I came across this article on the subject:

    http://www.intergalacticmedicineshow.com/cgi-bin/mag.cgi?do=columns&vol=guest_columns&article=002

    I found it very interesting, and wanted to share.

  35. Gert,
    That was a terrific article and right on.
    I teach a class called “Human Sensory Perception” and occasionally (like once last week) I go off on a tangent while explaining how one of our sensory systems works. For example, the way the eye codes color: the light that enters the eye is not actually colored, rather activity in the receptors in the retina cause the brain to perceive color based on the wavelength of the light. If we had different receptors (or additional ones) like some animals do, we would perceive the world differently (bees can see UV light). Much of how we perceive the environment is really constructed by our brains, which explains why some people hear voices that don’t exist or don’t understand what they are looking at (there are some really creepy visual agnosias caused by brain damage).

    It’s not such a far step then to consider what it would be like if we evolved receptors that could see other forms of light waves outside the visible spectrum, or auditory receptors that could “hear” air waves outside of our normal frequency range. I love to speculate about this in class and that’s the only time I ever mention that this is one of the reasons I love to read speculative fiction.

  36. Gert, that was a great article, and touched on a lot of the same themes that we have been returning to time and again in this discussion. I keep meaning to read Butler. Maybe I finally should get around to it.

  37. Bingo billcap!

    The first three sentences of your 9/13 post sums it up nicely. I know what I like (I’ve been reading it since I was 12 – way back in the day!), and I know what I don’t, and it’s got nothing to do with chauvinism, exclusion, which one is better or any of the other suggestions that have been made. If it’s got spaceships, aliens, robots/holograms (what we’d call AI today), or any advanced (plausible) technology – count me in. If it’s got magic, mages, wizards or demons – count me out. It’s that simple.

  38. Hoping this is ok…
    Matt, can you point me in the direction of a site that does for Science Fiction what this one does for Fantasy? Reviews and such? I read both, but I’m just getting my feet wet in the SF side again. Or do you have some authors you recommend?
    This has been a fun discussion. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next Ruth.

  39. Hello Sarah,
    I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you on two counts. First, you’re talking to someone who is just now learning the full power of google! Suffice it to say, I’m not exactly web savvy so, no I don’t know of any sci-fi readers’ sites.
    Second, as a middle aged guy I’ve stuck through the years with the old masters – you know: Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Anderson, etc. I don’t know how much of this you’ve read, but I highly reccomend it as a way to get you grounded in the genre. Hey, I may be an idiot, but I still think Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is the greatest story I’ve ever read – and I’ve read it three times.
    Michael Chricton is (was) my favorite contemporary writer. He wrote what some describe as techno-thriller. His stories take place now or in the very near future with technology that is just beyond us. One of his best stories is Timeline. The technology involves alternate universes and time travel, but the bulk of the story takes place in 14th century France. Needless to say, my fantasy loving relatives loved it.
    Go figure.
    About 12 years ago I dabbled in some of C.J. Cherryh’s work. She writes tough, gritty stuff that is quite good. Just writing this makes we want to go back to her. She’s got quite a body of work including – heaven forbid – some fantasy! Her depictions of life in space prompted NASA to name an asteroid after her.
    Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of shorts from sources such as Analog, Asimov’s and Apex magazines. Some of it’s OK, some of it – not so much. They just don’t seem as good as the mags of old.
    That’s about all I have for you, Sarah. I’m afraid my knowledge of the up and coming hot shots in the genre is woefully inadequate. You know what they say: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

  40. Matt, you write: “If it’s got spaceships, aliens, robots/holograms (what we’d call AI today), or any advanced (plausible) technology – count me in. If it’s got magic, mages, wizards or demons – count me out. It’s that simple.”

    But it is not that simple, often enough. Not unless you stick to the twin fallacies of scifi-is-hard-scifi and fantasy-is-high-fantasy. Neither of those situations obtain. A cyberpunk story that features a virtual world might well have wizards, dragons and demons play a central part. And a lot of scifi technology only hangs on to the ‘plausible’ label by the outermost skin of the very tips of its teeth. Asimov et al. are as guilty of this as anyone, too.

    For that matter, there’s plenty of fantasy out there where the only ‘fantastic’ element is the world itself, and the rest of the story is just as human-centred and, if you’ll forgive the expression, mundane as any scifi story.

    As for recommendations of scifi, my own tastes run somewhat towards the military scifi side. I enjoy reading authors such as David Weber and David Drake, even if I disagree with their politics. I thoroughly enjoyed Ian Douglas’ Inheritance trilogy, and am strongly considering reading the previous two trilogies that go with it. But also, do read the classics: Heinlein, Asimov, et al. And finally, I have much enjoyed most of Catherine Asaro’s work in the scifi genre. She has a very good grasp of possible new technologies and science, and writes a pretty good story to go with it, with some really strong characterization and believable interactions. She tends to include romantic aspects in her plots, so anyone who is afraid of cooties should perhaps give her a pass, though they’ll miss out on some good books for it.

  41. Think I’ll stick with my “fallacy”. The term “hard” sci-fi is a fairly recent contrivance. Many of the folks that prattle on about it (present company excluded of course) believe that “true” or “hard” sci-fi should be basesd soley on the state of science as we know it today: faster than light travel – out, time machines – out, etc., etc. Baloney! The topics I described were all called science fiction when I was 12. I see no reason to change it. Call me stubborn.
    The constant desire to blur the lines is why I said the discussion was pointless. Not that it isn’t interesting or fun, but it simply never resolves anything. All such discussions between sci-fi and fantasy folks inevitably turn out the same.
    With that being said, I think I’ll bow out at this point. As I mentioned in my first post, I’ve been in more than my share of these. I enjoyed the discussion, and be assured that I shall continue to check in from time to time and read all future posts.

  42. While I’ve been more into fantasy than sci-fi the latter part of my reading life, I’d highly recommend Scott Westerfeld’s sci-fi The Risen Empire–tight, compelling, literate sci-fi.

    I grew up on the “masters” and enjoy re-reading them to this day–sometimes for the story and sometimes for the echo one gets from recapturing at least a little of that youthful magic when one first discovered them (the end of Andre Norton’s Space Rangers gives me a lump every time, including about two years ago, 35 years after I’d first read it).

    But I wonder if a lot of that old sci-fi might now be termed fantasy? After all, we all know there are no canals on Mars for schoolboys to skate down (anyone? anyone? Buehler?), no frogs in the “oceans” on Venus (anyone?) etc. Do those still qualify as science-fiction? Hmmm. And the blurring just keeps coming . . .

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