In 1947 the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein published an essay in which he coined the term "speculative fiction." The term has recently begun to replace science fiction, and to more broadly include horror and fantasy narratives. Some might argue, however, that science fiction remains a different creature than its sister genres.
Science fiction operates within specific parameters of physical laws. Even the most fantastic scenarios in science fiction take place within possible circumstances. The surprising evidence of this claim is science fiction's impact on the actual world of science and technology. Long before Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, science fiction imagined space travel. Likewise, it imagined supercomputers and bioengineering.
Horror and fantasy, on the other hand, explode the boundaries of the possible. In the Introduction to The Circus of Dr. Lao, Ray Bradbury characterizes the differences this way,
Science-fiction is the law-abiding citizen of imaginative literature, obeying the rules, be they physical, social, or psychological, keeping regular hours, eating punctual meals; predictable, certain, sure.
Fantasy, on the other hand, is criminal. Each fantasy assaults and breaks a particular law; the crime being hidden by the author's felicitous thought and style which cover the body before blood is seen.
Science-fiction works hand-in-glove with the universe.
Fantasy cracks it down the middle, turns it wrong-side-out, dissolves it to invisibility, walks men through its walls, and fetches incredible circuses to town with sea-serpent, medusa, and chimera displacing zebra, ape, and armadillo.
Science-fiction balances you on the cliff. Fantasy shoves you off.
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