Science fiction and fantasy often get lumped together under a single textual taxonomy, continually spurring the debate about whether we ought to finally separate them into completely different literary categories. So, are they really two distinct genres or merely one rather bloated genre?
Answering this question is easier said than done. First, before you can adamantly assert that they are distinct genres, you need to define “genre”. Yes, a genre is a type or kind of thing, but is it really just that simple? Are genres hermetically sealed classifications such that they cannot bleed into one another, or is it possible that the concepts, plot structures, and themes common to one may be incorporated by another without rendering the latter a mere subgenre? Can we legitimately classify a single body of work under two or more genres?
Second, if genres can’t easily be divided into immutable, self-contained blocks of content, then we clearly have more work to do. (And I am suggesting here that we will have to roll up our shirtsleeves and get our fingernails dirty.) What criteria might we use to determine whether or not we have two genres? We need to consider settings, themes, the role of explanation, and the plausibility of events described, etc.
I will be discussing these and other related issues in the near future.