Speculative fiction can be divided into three branches: science fiction, which uses science and technology to explain things that are unique to a story; fantasy, which explains things that don’t exist in our world using magic, or the supernatural; and alternate history, which includes descriptions of events, or objects, that are possible in our world but haven’t occurred yet. Science fantasy is a sub-genre of speculative fiction which combines elements of science fiction and fantasy, mainly the supernatural, to create a unique storyline. These stories also frequently have elements of horror, as a part of the plot. The percentage of each genre in the combination does not matter, if there are elements of both it is considered science fantasy.
Science fantasy uses magic, or the supernatural, to explain many of the plots in a story, where hard core sci-fi excludes them. These stories often create a unique mix of characters, such as robots, aliens and scientists with warriors, dragons and wizards. During the first Golden Age of Science Fiction, from 1938 – 1946, science fantasy stories were written predominantly for children. The sub-genre became more popular during the ‘New Wave’ science fiction, of the 1960s and 1970s. The freedom and romance of the stories appealed to writers, who were trying to avoid the limitations of science fiction. Rod Sterling made the best distinction between sci-fi and science fantasy, stating that sci-fi was ‘the improbable made possible’ and science fantasy is ‘the impossible made probable.’
Although science fantasy most often contains elements of magic, they are not necessary for the story to remain a part of the sub-genre. Elements of sci-fi, such as parallel worlds, dimensions, PSI powers and supermen can all be manipulated to veer towards fantasy. Themes frequently used to create the combination of genres include: scientifically understandable sorcery, functional magic, magic from technology and analysed magic. There is also the possibility that as our technology advances, many stories that fall into the science fantasy category will be determined as sci-fi. This is because current science and technological abilities are used to determine what belongs in the sub-genre.
Regardless of how real the author can make the supernatural elements feel, or sound, they are still considered science fantasy. One of the best examples of science fantasy is Star Wars which combines alien elements, and technology, with other scientific improbable ones, such as ‘the force.’ Stephen King also delves deeply into science fantasy with The Dark Tower, in which one world has ‘moved on,’ but merges into others that are parallel with added magic, mystery and mayhem to pull the reader deep into the genre.