I wrote a short story this weekend. It was on a call-for-submissions to a fantasy mag, and it got me thinking about the SF&F genre.[1] Specifically, it got me worried about whether my (somewhat peculiar but not unheard of) setting was actually fantasy. I think it fits, and my musings led me to today’s blog post. (Note: most of what I am saying here has probably been written before by smarter people than me. It’s less of an authoritative essay and more of a brain dump, so I have something to go back to later.)

I am currently reading Orson Scott Card’s “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy“. Even though it was published in 1990, it’s still a great and helpful book, so naturally I went there first. He has what he calls a “good, simple, semi-accurate rule of thumb”: if the story is about what could be but isn’t, it’s SF, if it’s about what couldn’t be, it’s fantasy.

Sounds clear enough. He has another definition, though, which he calls “the real boundary between fantasy and science fiction”: if it has sheet metal and plastic, it’s SF, otherwise it’s fantasy.

But what about the MCU? It has gods running around, doing magic, and it has Tony Stark doing tech. For me (and by the first definition), it’s clearly fantasy, and not SF. But in a reader’s (and editor’s?) mind it might inhabit an in between space, both one and the other genre, or neither.

My story has gods, and I intentionally left out sheet metal and plastic. I considered having time travel, which tends to be a staple of SF, so I left it out, too. Was I overcautious in that? [2] And a lot of people would argue with me when I say gods are something that cannot be – even atheists generally don’t call religious texts “fantasy novels”.

I am not a big fan of the term ‘supernatural” – if it exists, it’s per definition natural, even it it’s outside of the currently known laws.

Last week, somebody asked on Twitter whether the MCU would have atheists. We’ve had that discussion years ago in our D&D groups, too. You’d think having gods that walk around with demonstrably superhuman powers would preclude atheists, right? Especially if said god can (and does) just smite the unbeliever for everyone to see. But the pro-atheists just tend to say “ah, but they are not actual gods, they are aliens/monsters/xyz”. It’s a very modern/Western way of thinking – if they are gods, they can’t exist, if they exist, they can’t be gods.[3] Would that way of thinking even have evolved in a world where these beings exist? Unlikely, but some functional equivalent might.

In a fantasy world, can somebody write a fantasy novel? Probably yes, by OSC’s first definition: if it’s outside of the possible in that world, it would still be fantasy. If the local laws of magic disallow necromancy, then vampire or zombie stories could be urban(-ish) fantasy.[5]

All not very helpful to my question whether my story is fantasy, and my query on Twitter didn’t get any answers either. (Question was too generic, I guess). So in the end I just looked up the Wikipedia article on the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman as the closest setting I could think of. It lists the book as fantasy, yay! That means I will stop worrying and just submit my story this week.

Super rambly post, sorry about that. Final side note: what genre is this story? And what age group?[6]

[1] The story IMO turned out nicely, but I have to cut 25%. 1230 words for a 1000-word-limit flash fiction piece is a bit much… 😉
[2] It wouldn’t have survived the revision I have to do anyway.
[3] The term “extranatural” for some reason hasn’t caught on.
[4] Which I am sympathetic to, see my view on the term supernatural.
[5] Although Charles Stross’ Laundryverse has vampires, and it still counts as SF, afaik.
[6] Personally, I settled on adult contemporary.

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