What is the difference? Excerpts from David D. Levine
“People have been arguing about where the line between fantasy and science fiction falls as long as the two labels have existed, and I’m not pretending to have the single answer that will work for everyone….
Science fiction, in my opinion, is based on an Enlightenment worldview: the universe is logical, predictable and understandable, governed by rules that are impersonal and have no moral dimension…. Even if the rules of the universe are not currently completely understood, the expectation is that with further observation and experimentation, and perhaps better math, they can eventually be worked out.
Fantasy, on the other hand, is based on a pre-Enlightenment worldview: the universe has a moral compass, and is governed by rules that, though they may be understandable, are not necessarily always consistent, logical, or predictable in their application….The fantasy universe is luminous, mysterious, and full of wonder. Most important, the fantasy universe is personal. It is aware of, and cares about, humans and human concerns, and outcomes of actions are at least partly determined by the actor’s attitudes, personalities, and heritage….
The science fiction world is a collection of physical processes that have no consciousness or personality and cannot be influenced by human moral codes….But in a fantasy story, the characters can expect that immoral or ungodly action will eventually be punished by a just universe….
The fantasy universe is full of swords that may be drawn only by the pure of heart, unicorns that can be ridden only by virgins, and doors that open only for the rightful king…. magic systems in which the magic behaves like a technology—predictable and repeatable—are sometimes found in fiction, though many readers feel they lack a sense of “wonder”….
Speaking of “sense of wonder” … I feel that both SF and fantasy are capable of delivering this ineffable feeling…. But, to me, the assertion that either genre is morally superior to the other is a fundamentally anti-Enlightenment stance, requiring an imposition of moral order upon a literary universe that ought to be governed by humanistic rational principles. And isn’t a humanistic, rational worldview what science fiction is all about?”
There you have it. Science fiction and fantasy are two genres that provide a sense of wonder, are often intertwined, and neither one is superior to the other. Which one do you prefer?