SFF is the genre for all Ages and for all ages. It is timeless, and it reaches across generational boundaries.
One way the latter occurs is through the various types apparent within the general classification. In reality as the name Science Fiction and Fantasy implies, the genre is a combination of two distinct, and in some ways opposite, areas. Science Fiction extrapolates on some aspect of real life and stretches to the limits of “what if.” What if computers could think for themselves, what if mankind could travel to other planets in moments, what if there is intelligent life that visits earth, what if dinosaurs still existed—these kinds of questions drive SF.
I am a fantasy writer, so I know only the major divisions of SF and even less of the distinctives. One SF author identified two overarching categories: space opera and hard core science, with space opera emphasizing character development and hard core emphasizing the science. I’ll rely on other SF writers to give any further explanation of the varieties within that portion of the genre.
I’ll primarily highlight various types of fantasy, though of course this list is not exhaustive. Much of my thoughts come from The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature, edited by Philip Martin (published by The Writer Books, 2002).
Fantasy, opposed to SF, is not plausible. No matter how long a person searches, he will never find the Shire or the Misty Mountains or Rivendell. He can try on any number of gold rings and never disappear, seek out a dragon’s lair and never find it, hunt for the home of elves and never discover it. To truly appreciate fantasy, a reader must suspend assumptions of “the way the world works.” The substance for a fantasy is the imagination built upon a writer’s beliefs.
But why look at the types of fantasy? What can we gain? From Philip Martin:
Despite the variety, fantasy takes shape in clusters of style. There are categories in fantasy—although everyone might not agree on exactly what to call them, or where one stops and another begins. To help fathom the secrets of successful books, we can begin by looking at fantasy as a set of five main styles—five golden rings of tradition. These rings are often interlinked. They are also elastic and flexible. They can be stretched to far limits, or they can be folded back on themselves, nested in any combination. It is always risky to categorize creativity. Yet to the craftsperson, knowledge of traditional form is important. A quilter works inside a square frame, but has a nearly infinite choice of combinations of patters, colors, and textures. In the same way, a writer never needs to feel restrained by fantasy’s heritage—just informed by its time-tested success.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at some of the categories that give fantasy its rich variety and make it truly the genre for the ages.