Just As I Thought

The difference between sci fi and fantasy

I enjoy science fiction — from Star Trek to Doctor Who to Battlestar Galactica — but I really don’t like fantasy. My aversion to the fantasy genre is pronounced, I just can’t stand the likes of Lord of the Rings or Dungeons and Dragons. And now Russel T Davies, the writer behind the revival of Doctor Who, finally explains why:

I have always loved science fiction. As a child, I absolutely adored Doctor Who. It’s a passion that’s never left me. But I understand why there’s still a taboo around it. I’ve never liked fantasy. I get very put off by elves and dwarves and any sort of Middle-earth fantasy land. I can’t stand The Lord of the Rings. Science fiction, to me, is quite different. More rational, closer to the real world. My homemade definition of science fiction is that it deals in rational, scientific rules, rather than fantasy’s world of magic. That’s my distinction.
If there was a Doctor Who story in which magic occurred, I simply wouldn’t allow it. I’d rather it be alien technology than magic. Because I always want there to be some ordinariness in there; some mundanity with the extraordinary.

One of the real hallmarks of the new Doctor Who is that the viewer can easily imagine the events therein because of the characters — the every day people caught up in the Doctor’s wake. Who can relate to any of the events or people in Lord of the Rings?
The same applies to the characters and situations in Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, although with a little less realism. Still, these shows tend to portray the science fictiony elements as realistic and believable. When Adama picks up the clunky telephone on the Galactica bridge, no further explanation is needed as to how the technology works, we move directly to the character interaction. Star Trek has a more checkered history on this sort of thing, they strive for believability in the technology but tend to spend too much time marveling at it rather than just using it to further the character action.
Anyway. I’m not interested in magical elves and faeries and rings and wizards and ogres and the like. I’m interested in people like me in extraordinary circumstances.


  • You make a compelling argument that these genres are so similar that we may never really figure out why they tend to capture two different audiences, but you did manage to make a point on my side of the argument: the difference between a lightsabre and a magic sword is obvious. The lightsaber is not magical. It’s just a sword.

  • That’s an interesting comparison, but I don’t agree.

    Your comment, “Who can relate to any of the events or people in Lord of the Rings?” is particularly ironic, because in fact Lord of the Rings in particular has everyday people built-in from start to finish: the hobbits.

    In any case, while I respect your right to dislike fantasy, I don’t think you have quite put your finger on the reason yet. It could be that your dislike prevents you from seeing past the superficial magical stuff to see the very human stuff going on behind it; some people have the same problem with science fiction, being unable to see past what they consider to be ridiculous stretches of the imagination.

    Happily for me, I devour both voraciously.

    In closing: it may be that science fiction and fantasy are not as different as you may think. You only need to look at the number of authors who write both to see that they often go hand in hand. (Orson Scott Card has written some interesting articles and books about defining the genres.)

    In the end, is there any real difference between a lightsabre and a magic sword?

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