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If you think about it, the two genres are often lumped together, as in “Science
Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.” In fact, right now as I was writing this
chapter, I Googled “famous science fiction authors,” and the top hit was a list of
mixed-genre authors (Heinlein, Hubbard, Orwell, Bradbury, King, Herbert, Card,
Vonnegut, Adams, and Tolkien all graced the list; I wonder if all those were gathered
at the same cocktail party they would have much in common to talk about; oh, wait,
I'm sure that Vonnegut would). However, I believe they are often lumped together
not because they are similar genres but rather that the audience who reads fantasy
is very, very close, demographically, to the audience that reads science fiction. This
leads to some people concluding these two genres are just “the same” in theme and
structure but parade around wearing a different set of clothing. I believe this isn't
true, and I set out to illustrate the differences in those two genres. I believe that not
only are the underpinnings of the two genres very different indeed, but also the two
are best suited for very different types of stories. And, if they are better suited for dif-
ferent types of stories, the genres are better suited as settings for very different types of
However, as I began to dig deeper into this idea, I became much more interested
in why and when these two genres became intermingled. There was a singular wa-
tershed event and a particular singular piece of fictional invention where these two
very different “streams” were crossed, and while not the intention of that particular
author, caused the very problem I discuss herein.
In any event, my observation is that today's young writer tends, on average,
to read much more fantasy than science fiction. The proof for this observation
is in the marketplace. Fantasy outsells science fiction today by a fairly large mar-
gin. If you doubt this, there's an easy way to check my supposition: just wan-
der down to your local bookstore and measure the shelf-inches devoted to fantasy
and then measure the shelf-inches devoted to science fiction. Bookstores stock what
It wasn't always this way. In fact, before J. R. R. Tolkien revolutionized the
fantasy market in the drug-heavy 1960s, there were hardly any successful fantasy
writers at all. I remember searching for these writers, because I was a voracious
reader of fantasy in the early 1970s and I scoured the bookstores in the summers of
1973, 1974, and 1975. What I found were scant few, including: Michael Moor-
cock (most famous for the Elric series, but those were just one of his many Eter-
nal Champion books), Fritz Leiber (inventor of the wonderful duo of Fafhrd and
the Gray Mouser), Robert E. Howard (Conan, of course), and the master him-
self, Tolkien. These were wonderful writers all, and many of my fantasy-reading
friends and I devoured every word. We would scour through bookstores together
and recommend authors we found. But there wasn't much besides those noted
As an example, I vividly remember when Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara
came out, because it was a new fantasy novel ! Brooks' new work came out in 1977,
and its success helped show publishers that fantasy was ready to become more main-
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