So. In my string of posts about Fantasy as an overarching genre that covers all things magic and not yet technologically possible, I pose that Science Fiction is but a subgenre of Fantasy. Oh dear! What has happened? How could I possibly say that?!? Well, it really depends on your point of view and how you define certain things.
If you argue that Science Fiction covers fictive narratives that have a possibility of becoming possible in our reality of experience, and that Fantasy covers fictive narratives that have no possibility of becoming possible in our reality of experience…then, I guess it really depends on what you, as an individual, find plausibly possible.
All in all, I see it like this: The real difference between pure Science Fiction and pure Fantasy is magic. In Science Fiction, there is no magic. In Fantasy, there is magic.
But, like I have said in other posts, these genres just won’t stay in their own play pens. Does Steampunk fall under Science Fiction or Fantasy? A lot of the gadgets in Steampunk are actually possible to manufacture right now…so, is it still Science Fiction? It certainly isn’t factual history. I guess it could depart these shores and head off to become Historical Fiction…but, you can ask almost any Steampunk fan and they would tell you that Steampunk falls under the Science Fiction/Fantasy banner. Sooooo….
This is why I put all the piggies in one pen. Sometimes they want to play together, sometimes they don’t.
As a subgenre of fantasy, Science Fiction (or SciFi, as most of us call it,) is actually a broad genre on its own. There are very few hard and fast rules for this subgenre. It can be far in the future, like Battle Star Galactica, or even a “long, long time ago”, like Star Wars. The only real factor is technology or a not-yet-realised scientific future.
Some SciFi is very pointedly a story that takes place in space (any space that’s beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, really) – think Star Trek or Alien – but others may use Earth or a planet like Earth to give the story a more subtle SciFi angle – Æon Flux and Real Steel can give you a bit of insight on this angle.
If you have looked at some of the older SciFi, you will even see that some of the elements that were Science Fiction in those days, are now a reality – like the Internet and nano-machines.
Intergalactic politics with alien races
Reviving extinct species (think Jurassic Park)
Colonisation of other planets/solar systems
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Domination of the human race by aliens/machines
Mystical forces from space (2001: A Space Odessy, Avatar, Star Wars and many more)
And lots, lots more…
It’s really so broad, one could write volumes about this subgenre. But, for me, it is important to note that it can easily be used as a flavour in the other fantasy subgenres. Examples of fantasy that typically contain SciFi elements are: Steam Punk, Cyberpunk, Dying Earth and Other Planet.
Never for a moment think that subgenres are mostly found in their pure forms. The very way they have found their way into existence is by developing from other forms of the main genre. The rules are hardly ever set in stone.
So, Steam Punk…I must admit that I have little exposure in this specific subgenre literature-wise. The general gist is: It is usually set in the Edwardian and/or Victorian eras or in a reality similar to that, buta few individuals in this setting possess technology is not quite historically…um, there. This technology is generally steam-based and is heavily associated with cogs and wheels and nuts and bolts. You can expect brassy finishes and mad scientists or loony inventors.
How can I so happily rant on about this without having read much on it? Well…there are a lot of movies and even some TV shows that feed you Steam Punk without you even noticing. In Wild Wild West, a movie featuring Will Smith and a few others, you encounter a giant mechanical spider that may have taken you by surprise. In Hellboy, there is the clockwork german assassin. In Warehouse 13, there is the inventor lady, HG Wells, with her freaky corset thinger and all kinds of other inventions… In the new Sherlock Holmes movies, you get a taste of the tech again. In an episode of Castle, there is a whole murder mystery revolving around a Steam Punk society (in modern times, of course).
In short, it’s a fantastic flavour that adds glam, whimsy and general awesome to an otherwise dull or normal background.