Hi friends! I hope you’re doing well, and having a great day so far. Can you believe we’re in June, now?
For today’s post, I decided to whip out the ol’ magnifying glass and both my Sherlock deerstalker hat and my Crows hat.
Like I said, we’ll be going over 6 genres—but I promise it won’t be too much! Plus, I’ll have some book and film recs up!!
Today, we will compare Fantasy and Magical Realism, see the differences between Historical Fiction and Alternate Reality, and examine the meaning of Hard and Soft Sci-fi.
So please, sit back, relax, and enjoy my little analyses 😀
Fantasy and magical realism share many traits—magic being the most prominent, of course. But there are some key differences.
While fantasy generally means that magic shapes the world, and if the character doesn’t possess magic (yet) they at least know of its existence, magical realism weaves elements of magic into the otherwise oblivious modern world. Think Shadow and Bone vs Stranger Things (I know, Stranger Things is more sci-fi but it is a great example of otherworldly elements seeping into our world int he form of literal terrifying aliens). With Shadow and Bone, Alina Starkov starts out as a lowly cartographer in Ravka’s First Army, and while she knows of the Grisha—wielders of the Small Science—she wouldn’t have dreamed she was one all along, let alone their fabled Sun Summoner.
In Stranger Things Season 1, we are introduced to the Upside Down, a parallel dimension that was opened by Eleven, one of the main characters with telepathic abilities. The show’s antagonists are all from the Upside Down, as it is a mysterious place haunted by monsters. While the show is set in 1980s Indiana, these creatures cause all kinds of intrigue and horror in the “small town” of Hawkins.
I find that magical realism may not necessarily explain supernatural occurrences to the degree that fantasy does. Magical realism will highlight what is most important to the characters and plot, but fantasy will include more explanations that are more like supplements for worldbuilding. Both genres make you feel immersed in the setting, but in different ways—magical realism lures you in through its mystery while you gravitate towards fantasy for those detailed and seemingly realistic worlds of fiction.
I personally want to read more magical realism, but they do feel like a more niche genre. If you have recommendations, make sure to leave them in the comments below!!
Historical fiction and alternate reality are fascinating genres. Historical fiction takes place in the past, and should reveal the time period (1600s, for example) and usually the historical event that the characters’ lives correspond to (the Renaissance, for example). While the characters are fictional, the setting will be chock full of historical details and the characters’ external journey can be somewhat linked to the historical event.
Examples of this include: Luck of the Titanic, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Clues to the Universe.
Alternate reality is different. It can also take place in the past, or it can run parallel to the present—even the future. For the sakes of easier comparison, I’m going to talk about alternate reality in terms of the past. Examples of these are The Gilded Wolves and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
Wait…why do both have “wolves” in the title?
Sorry, couldn’t help it 😂 But back to the point.
The Gilded Wolves is set in 1889 Paris, but it’s not your typical picture of France. No, in this 1889, magic rules the city, and there are several players to keep track of—the Order of Babel, Houses Vanth and Nyx, and the Fallen House to name just a few. Obviously the “real” 1889 never had these organizations, but Chokshi creates her own version of 1889 Paris. The diversity in The Gilded Wolves was written really well, which makes me wonder if one of the reasons Chokshi decided to set her book in 1889 Paris was to provide commentary on how different ethnicities and sexualities would have been seen back then compared to now…if that makes sense. Anyways, if someone knows the answer, definitely let me know, because I’m very curious! 😀
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is very sad, but very good—following cousins Bonnie and Sylvia when Bonnie’s parents go away and their governess (who proves to be evil) is put in charge. While I read this book, I don’t think I paid attention to the historical context a lot—so I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was indeed classified as alternate reality. Wikipedia’s page informs us, “The novel is the first in the Wolves Chronicles, a series of books set during the fictional early-19th century reign of King James the third. A large number of wolves have migrated from the bitter cold of Europe and Russia into Britain via a new “channel tunnel”, and terrorise the inhabitants of rural areas.”
Ah yes. Hard science fiction and soft science fiction *rubs hands together gleefully*.
Hard sci-fi is generally more traditionally scientific, and while the basics are used to shoot for dizzying levels of scientific wonder, the authors do try and get their facts right. So hard sci-fi uses more technical jargon and references real scientific principles and theories to add credibility. Examples of this are Dune, The Three Body Problem, and Interstellar.
Soft sci-fi sometimes isn’t appreciated as “real” sci-fi, but I disagree. If you were to put it into a picture, I think of hard sci-fi as these high slanted peaks while soft sci-fi is more gentle and like sloping valleys. It’s about balance.
Soft sci-fi may not explain their concepts to the same technical degree as hard sci-fi, but you are given the impression that the ideas are carefully written and probable. Soft sci-fi has also been categorized as appealing to more social sciences. Examples of soft sci-fi are This is How You Lose the Time War and possibly the film Arrival. This Book Riot article names 15 soft sci-fi titles if you’re interested!
But I think the line between hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi can be blurred and should be blurred more often! To me, The Bone Shard Daughter does this beautifully. With the system of animal constructs, we learn that you can etc a kind of code into their bones to get them to follow your commands (hard sci-fi) but how the animals understand the language seems more intuitive and “built into their nature” (soft sci-fi).
I know I was really just going over the basics of the differences between these genres, but I hope you found it interesting nevertheless! When inspiration struck for this post idea, I literally opened a draft as soon as I could and began brainstorming and typing away 😅