Tag Archives: Reader Questions

Reader Question: Should I Read Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Someone recently found this blog by googling the following question:

Should I read science fiction or fantasy?

I thought it was a great prompt for today’s post. Just like apples and pears are both types of fruit, fantasy and science fiction are part of the wider speculative fiction universe that also includes sub-genres like horror, dystopian, utopian, supernatural, science fantasy, and superhero fiction. Science fiction and fantasy share a lot of similarities, but they aren’t identical by any means.

On the off chance that they ever see this post, I’d be happy to give the person who did this search some personalized reading recommendations if they’re interested in such a thing.

Since I don’t know that person or what their tastes in reading material are like, I’m going to keep my advice as general as possible. The only assumption I’ll be making is that you were interested in exploring both of these sub-genres and are wondering which one you should dive into first.

Like most children in western cultures, fairy tales were my first taste of speculative fiction in general. I quickly developed a preference for the original, and often surprisingly macabre given the age group they were marketed to, versions of classic fairy tales, so I was soon introduced to the horror and supernatural genres as well through my insatiable appetite for as many new fairy tales as I could find at our local library.

There is so much overlap between the science fiction and fantasy, though, that I quickly found myself wandering deeper into the science fiction end of the spectrum. I now have a preference for hard science fiction, but I’ll never forget my love of fantasy or many of the other sub-genres under the speculative fiction umbrella.

The question of whether you should read fantasy or science fiction really depends on the sorts of stories you enjoy versus the ones that you don’t find so alluring. I’m going to be making some broad generalizations here that definitely won’t apply to every book or author out there. They may be helpful in steering the original visitor and everyone else reading this towards a specific section of the library or bookstore as you decide what you want to read next.

Science Fiction tends to be:

  • Realistic.
  • Related to what is, or could be, scientifically possible. For example, the discovery of a vaccine for AIDS or a cure for cancer.
  • Set in the present or future.
  • Rational. When someone weird happens, there is generally a logical reason for it.
  • More political (in many cases).
  • Interested in exploring specific ideas, ideologies, or conflicts. These themes can often be traced back to controversial subjects that are or were hotly debated when that specific book was first published.

Fantasy tends to be:

  • Imaginative.
  • Related to things that will never be scientifically possible. For example, the existence of Hogwarts (*sob*) or a pet dog that suddenly begins speaking plain English.
  • Set in the past.
  • Supernatural and/or magical. When something weird happens, it is not generally explained rationally to the reader.
  • Less political (in many cases).
  • Interested in world-building. You stand a good chance of meeting dozens of characters and many different fictional cultures when reading fantasy, so their page counts can be dramatically bigger than a science fiction novel.

Again, there is a lot of overlap between these sub-genres and these lists shouldn’t be taken as a strict interpretation of what you’ll find in either one. There are many speculative stories out there that combine elements from both of these sub-genres together (along with many other themes), but many of them do tend to lean one way instead of the other.

This isn’t even to mention all of the other genres, from romance to mystery, that are often swirled into these tales as well. Figuring out how to label books these days is so complicated, especially for fans who don’t always enjoy seeing their favourite genre being mashed up with other styles of writing, that I think I’ll save a more detailed discussion of that aspect of it for another day.

Readers, what would you recommend to this person? is there a specific fantasy or science fiction author you think would be a nice introduction to their genre? Which types of speculative fiction do you tend to gravitate towards most often?

Can a Blog Post Be Too Short?

Eliza tweeted this to me last week in response to Why I Don’t Agree with Padding Out Blog Posts. I thought it would make a great idea for a follow-up post today.

In order to answer that question, I must ask you a few more questions first: How short is a poem allowed to be? Is there a specific word count it must have to be counted as a poem?

The shortest poem I’ve ever loved was five words long. I’ve also been thrilled by other poems that are six and sixteen words long respectively.

Despite their minuscule word counts, at least one of them has become so famous that children study it in school because the people who created them spent so much time packing many layers of meaning into every single word.

The same can be said for blog posts. Just like some of them are meant to be thousands of words long, others can be much tinier than you might imagine.

For example, there is a blogger who regularly challenges himself to write 100 word blog posts. He’s written dozens of them so far, and all of them are thought-provoking because of the close attention he pays to making every single word in them has a purpose and can’t be reduced to a simpler, shorter explanation.

When you’re writing something that small and concise, there is no room for error. If you don’t cover all of the material that your post was attempting to cover, your post will be too small. If you’re able to do justice to your topic with your word count, how big it is won’t matter.

What about blog posts that are smaller than 100 words? I have heard of people blogging nothing but photographs, but I have yet to come across anyonewho has tried to limit their post count to less than 100 words. It would be fascinating to see what you came up with if you gave yourself a 70, 50, or even a 10 word limit as an experiment, though.

The Connection Between Poetry and Blog Posts

With that being said, Eliza, I’d strongly recommend reading and writing poetry if you want to routinely create very small blog posts. It’s not easy to condense your thoughts down into such a small amount of space, especially for topics that aren’t clear cut or incredibly narrow.

Figuring out how poets handle conflicting emotions and topics that could easily be expanded into a full-length book will give you all kinds of tools for trimming out unnecessary words, sharpening your vision, and making sure that what you see is also what your audience sees.

If you or anyone else is interested in learning more, start reading as many different types, styles, and lengths  of poems as you can. The hashtag #Haiku and #Poetry on Twitter are great places to start for the contemporary stuff. There are hundreds of amateur and professional poets who use those hashtags to share their work and introduce everyone to other wonderful poems that they’ve discovered.

I’m purposefully not sharing any specific usernames of Twitter poets with you because of how important it is to seek them out yourself. Poetry is a subjective field. What speaks to me might not have the same affect on you, and vice versa. I’ve also found that my favourite poets have shifted wildly over time, so I’d recommend occasionally seeking out new poets and styles of poetry even for people who have been immersed in this genre for years.

Now I will end this post with a picture of cactuses. They were my original metaphor for blog post lengths in my first draft of this post, and I can’t bear to stop typing before I show you just how much they can vary from each other as well.

May your poems, cactuses, and blog posts always be exactly as big as you need them to be.