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What Defines Sci-Fi?
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In relation to HBO's Station 11 series based on the Arthur C. Clarke award winning book of the same name, we posed the question, when is sci-fi not sci-fi?

We agreed with the author's view that simply being set at any point in the future - even a very near one - doesn't make a work sci-fi. Her view is that it's simply drama.

But it's not always an easy one to pin down.

For example, if we were to pose the question, "Is Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica reboot sci-fi?" that could spark hellishly heated debate.

It's set in the future and space and there are robots. Looks very much like sci-fi.

On the other hand, the answer to all of the show's mysteries is "God - the real world Christian one - did it." Many sci-fi fans would regard that as fundamentally not sci-fi.

Plus a range of other issues.

Perhaps less contentiously there are two currently very popular Netflix shows which are sometimes labelled as sci-fi, Arcane and Hellbound.

We've previously commented on Hellbound and shared our view that this one is unclear but not sci-fi yet. What will decide it for us is if the nature of these otherworldly beings is revealed or in what methods are used by the show's protagonists to combat them.

In the absence of clarity we'll treat it as a maybe.

Though the reason some might be defining it as sci-fi could be another point of contention.

Sci-Fi Versus Fantasy

When Amazon announced the imminent deal to make a TV series based on the Mass Effect sci-fi roleplaying series, there was an interesting remark which we didn't critique but others did.

One of the company’s newest hopefuls in the arena is Mass Effect. Amazon Studios is nearing a deal to develop a series based on the best-selling sci-fi video game franchise from Electronic Arts.

“You will see us continuing to invest in fantasy genre of all kinds, we have a genre-focused team on the ground in Studios who work tirelessly with our creative partners on those slates, and you can look forward to more,” Salke said.

It looks like the Amazon exec identified sci-fi as a type of fantasy.

Perhaps mainstream audiences regard them as belonging to the same niche and perhaps it's also not a completely invalid view. Both sci-fi and fantasy are "unreal" in setting or key elements.

However many sci-fi fans see a sharp distinction between sci-fi and fantasy and it boils down to two closely related factors: sci-fi is more realistically "unreal" than fantasy and sci-fi typically doesn't require naked suspension of disbelief, whereas fantasy often does because "magic" etc.

That's not to disparage fantasy authors or readers. There are many brilliant works in that genre. We're just trying to identify the line between one and the other.

Certainly by name Arcane is clearly in fantasy territory.

Content-wise that's less clear.

There are some obviously technological components but that is steampunk type technology which is powered by magic.

It is a brilliant and enjoyable show - we've watched it and are extremely impressed - but it didn't strike us as sci-fi.

Though as with Station 11 it's worth considering the view of its creators. Radio Times shared the thoughts of Arcane co-creator Christian Linke about the League of Legends property, to which Arcane belongs.

What’s so interesting about League to me as a creative is that there’s so many different genres and so many different tonalities and styles in our game with the different characters that we have. It goes from super whimsical, super quirky and cartoony to really grim and serious and from kind of high fantasy medieval to super sci-fi.

Not just sci-fi but super sci-fi?

To be fair he is speaking about the broader property which we have no experience with or knowledge of. That view may be completely valid.

We have to concede that this one might belong in the line straddling sci-fi / fantasy group.

[ Main Image: Arcane. Credit: Netflix via ]


Andreeva, Nellie (November 23, 2021). ‘The Wheel Of Time’ Makes Strong Debut As Amazon Prime Video Doubles Down On Genre With ‘Mass Effect’ Adaptation & Prepares To Usher In ‘LOTR’. Deadline.

Craig, David (November 25, 2021). Arcane co-creator teases live-action League of Legends adaptations. Radio Times.