Science fantasy, also known as sci fi fantasy, is a genre of books, games, films and other fictional media that continues to grow in popularity since its emergence as a distinct genre 100 years ago. A working definition of science fantasy could be fiction that blends advanced technology with supernatural magic. These aspects are opposites; one assumes a radically developed science, while the other defies the understanding of science. Crossing these styles allows for more freedom of expression on a wider scope.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars, published in serial format in 1912, is one of the earliest known works of science fantasy. Burroughs, who worked for a pencil sharpening company at the time, had no formal training, deciding he could do at least as good as other contemporary pulp writers when he began in 1911.
Most science fantasy content leans more toward one genre or the other. Recall the Humongous, the steampunk mecha Goblin champion from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. The Star Wars franchise setting is mainly sci fi, but ranks as science fantasy because of the The Force and it’s similarity to magic and mysticism. Recall the Sith Lord Darth Vader in A New Hope speaking about the Death Star, “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force“.
The opposite is true in the case of Michael Moorcock’s 1970’s series of mainly-fantasy novels known as the Elric Saga. At one point Elric encounters a time and space travelling pig-like monster who changes back to it’s original self, calling itself the contemporary sounding ‘Frank’ before being destroyed. Another sci fi encounter in the saga involves two alien giants known as Agak and Gagak who appear to be enchanted towers in the eyes of the characters. Their scheme to consume the universe is thwarted by a unified version of three different warrior-mage aspects of Elric from other dimensions. These sci fi touches prove to be very satisfying raising the Elric Saga above the level of pure fantasy literature.
Some content has an even balance of both genres, such as the Saga graphic novel from Image First and Vampire Hunter D videos and manga. These examples weave a tight assimilation of both genres which makes them more engaging than if the stories were purely sci fi OR fantasy. The rising popularity of sci fi fantasy may be due to creators of strictly science fiction or fantasy finally running out of ideas for original material inside the stylistic boundaries of each genre. Maybe audiences really like the idea of adventure that weaves starships and spells, and content creators are simply producing what they want.
Obviously, not all content is benefitted by crossing genres all of the time. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are perfect just as they are; adding sci fi would seem gimmicky and forced. But as more and more derivative, formulaic content falls flat on bookshelves, Netflix and app stores, the innovative allure of sci fi fantasy will continue its steady expansion into the popular mind.