SF&F Books

Forbidden Planet International

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Welcome to our Frequently Asked Questions section, where we can hopefully illuminate some of the more common enquiries we receive – sometimes we forget that not everyone is familiar with terms we use regularly, so hopefully this will help fill in any gaps. If you don’t see the answer to your own particular question here then please feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to answer it. For regular updates of new and forthcoming releases, reviews and interviews don’t forget to check out our FPI blog.

What is SF&F?

SF&F is a shorthand term often used among genre fans and is basically a quicker way of saying Science Fiction and Fantasy; it is most commonly used in the context of novels. The terms ‘SF’ or ‘Sci-Fi’ are also often used, but many fans find the term ‘Sci-Fi’ to be a little insulting and juvenile, while ‘SF’ doesn’t adequately describe a novel which may be predominantly Fantasy, hence SF&F becoming more common as a handy, catch-all short description for fantastic fiction. The term ‘speculative fiction’ is also becoming more common and tends to be applied to fiction which may have some fantastical elements but is not entirely SF&F. The excellent 2006 Scottish anthology Nova Scotia is a good example of speculative fiction.

What’s the difference between SF and Fantasy then?

Ah, glad you asked me that… Many books – often the best ones – defy easy categorising. For example Shakespeare uses magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – does that make it a part of the Fantasy genre? Actually Neil Gaiman explored that idea in his Sandman collection, mixing Shakespeare and his play with a ‘real’ Titania and Oberon watching his performance in the Dream Country collection.

Take that in mind any definitions here are very loose, but at the most basic level the SF side of the genre deals mostly with technology and science – computers going mad like HAL 9000 in 2001 or spacecraft landing to invade as in War of the Worlds are SF, for example. Some SF will be very solidly based on real science with a little extrapolation added in, with Arthur C Clarke being the most famous example of this. This is often referred to as ‘hard’ SF.

Other SF may use purely imaginary technology and this is common is a lot of ‘space opera’ SF where the writer creates fantastic technology well beyond anything that can be realistically based on our current science, although it will normally still follow logical rules because, imaginary or not, it is technology and not magic. Iain M Banks is a great example of this.

Fantasy tends to deal more with magic and myth – Tolkien would be a prime example of the Fantasy writer, as would the Harry Potter novels. There is not attempt to explain the fantastical elements in terms of science, with powers or amazing creatures such as dragons, being simply presented as part of the world being described. Of course, neither category is set in stone and authors can and do borrow elements from both sides of the fence with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series using motifs from both fantasy and SF.

To add further complexity more mainstream authors may appropriate some small elements of SF or Fantasy into their work, such as Margaret Atwood, Kafka or Alasdair Gray – whether this then makes their work SF&F is highly debated. As with any artistic label they are only loosely defined and applied – good writing crosses all confinements and you should only use the categories as a rough guide to let you know where to find a book. At the end of the day, any good writer in any genre, SF&F or otherwise, uses the props of their tale, be they warp drives, intelligent computers, warlocks or dragons, to advance a story about people.

What’s the difference between your SF&F novels and your Tie-in novels?

The basic difference is that the books we list in our SF&F section are usually original works with original characters. The Tie-in novels, such as our Stargate range, are also original works by authors but using pre-existing characters and scenarios, often from a TV show or film. For example, a Star Trek novel may be an original storyline but the characters – Kirk, Spock etc – and the setting – the 23rd century with the Federation – are drawn from an existing scenario.

Some readers can be very snobbish about Tie-ins, seeing them as a lesser relative to ‘proper’ novels, but for many fans they provide a way to continue the adventures of beloved characters. A sub-set of the Tie-in book is the Novelization, which is literally (no pun intended) a prose novel interpretation of an existing work, usually a film (for example, a novel version of the V For Vendetta film).

Are there awards for SF&F books?

A great many – with mainstream literary awards generally snubbing genre fiction such as SF&F, horror or crime, awards have sprung up dedicated to them. In Britain the two most prestigious are the BSFA (British Science Fiction Association) and the Arthur C Clarke Awards. There are many other awards from around the world, including the Aurealis Awards in Australia, the World Fantasy awards, the Philip K Dick award and the internationally respected Hugo and Nebula awards.

This is not counting awards selected by readers of genre journals and magazines, such as Locus or SFX. With the international nature of modern publishing it is common to see overseas editions of books appearing on other awards shortlists some time after their UK publication (and vice versa).