Are Science Fiction And Fantasy Actually Kissing Cousins?

Nikki VanRy

Contributing Editor

Nikki VanRy is a proud resident of Arizona, where she gets to indulge her love of tacos, desert storms, and tank tops. She also writes for the Tucson Festival of Books, loves anything sci-fi/fantasy/historical, drinks too much chai, and will spend all day in bed reading thankyouverymuch. Follow her on Instagram @nikki.vanry.

“I LOVE science fiction, but I can never really get into fantasy novels.”

Having just come off a year re-readathon with only one science fiction novel, I could understand my friend’s sentiment. I can read fantasy books all day, but give me science fiction and they don’t feel cozy. I’ll read and enjoy some of them of course, but they’re not my jive.

Science fiction is, simply, not my book comfort food.

Now, I’m not sure if every reader of the two feels the same, but I’m finding that the readers I know lean more towards one side of the fence than the other. And yet, at every book store online and off, there they are together.

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Science Fiction/Fantasy


SFF even.

The kissing cousins of the literary world.

And so I researched, expecting that there must be some reason for this genre mashup–a peer-reviewed etymological study perhaps (*nerd tingling). I was worried to find that a Goodreads book club discussion from 2009 was the top link for the search, but I soldiered on.

The next was from a Goodreads 2010 discussion.

The next an About.com article, clearly the internet’s more trusted submitter…

And the fourth, an awkward Cracked piece from 2012 wherein the author began to promote his self-pubbed science fiction series two paragraphs in (giving it the glowing review that it read like a “mental orgasm,” erm…) and then continued on not even discussing anything related to the SFF coupling.

Goodreads it was.

Some of the contributors argued that science fiction and fantasy readers will inherently be more interested in other books in that genre mashup. Others wrote that science fiction and fantasy authors often cross genres, resulting in much overlap between the genres. Quite simply, some noted that it was just easier to influence impulse buys when the two subgenres were stacked next to each other.

Valid arguments all, but.


They got me onto another line of thinking. We don’t assume that readers of the Fiction genre necessarily have similar likes, do we? What is one reader’s Pride and Prejudice is another’s Infinite Jest. We organize these books according to author name and they encompass a wide variety of subjects and topic areas. Nor can we assume that crossing genres doesn’t occur there (doesn’t Pride and Prejudice have elements of Romance, Infinite Jest of Humor?).

So, why break out these genres based on their perceived kissing cousin qualities at all? Qualities they share with any work of fiction.

And, if you go on the majority of a bookseller’s lists, you’ll see that other genres are just as mashed up–Romance & Erotica, Mystery & Thriller. Goodreads was the only book site that I could find that had each of these separate–all standing alone and proud.

Is it genreshaming to separate them out, yet keep them tied together? And, if so, does it matter? Do these subdivisions still work as-in they help booksellers get the most appropriate books into the hands of readers?

Or do these genre divisions belittle genre titles? Should we just scrap the whole damn thing and settle everything into Fiction by the last name of the author without segmenting out the genres?

Or, hell, for my original point of contention should we take out the SFF mashup and name that area of the bookstore Speculative Fiction? A decent strategy, perhaps, as it’s simple. But, c’mon, would people even know what to do with that jumbly of a word?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m the one with the problem here. It could be totally okay for Science Fiction & Fantasy to continue canoodling over there in the corner of the bookstore.

It just feels a little wrong to me.

What do you think?