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On Genre Classification: Popular Fantasy and Sci-Fi

From Fallout, to Warhammer 40k to Star Wars, mainstream Sci-fi has spoken. If games, movies, and TV are to be believed, in the future we will have knights in space. It is ironic, then, that fans of such Sci-fi may sometimes bicker with their Fantasy counterparts when both genres have embraced the image of heroes in big bulky armor coming in to save the day. Perhaps the bridge between the two isn’t so big after all. If we look deeper within these universes the line is much blurrier than it first seems.

The list of armored future troopers is long and hits nearly every sci-fi touchstone in every form of media. Video games include Fallout, Halo, and Starcraft. Tabletop games include War Machine and Warhammer 40k. Movies include Star Wars and Avatar. Really, the two most notable exceptions seem to be Star Trek and Firefly, but even these series have roots in folk story arcs.

But why does the overlap exist between the vastly different universes of sci-fi and fantasy? Are followers of both canons cut from the same cloth?

First let’s begin with the storytelling structure commonly known as “The hero’s journey”. This is the structure in which most heroic tales of old were created, and was strictly followed by Tolkin in writing the prolific Lord of the Rings. While a whole college level course could be taught on the subject, the basic structure is this:

…and so on and so forth. There are other elements, such as divine intervention and a female coming in a time of need and a secondary refusal of ‘the quest’, but that’s for another time. The point is that the two biggest pillars of popular Sci-fi and popular Fantasy are actually the same general story.

It’s no bold claim to say that the genres are neighbors, the two live side-by-side clearly. Warcraft and Starcraft are compliments, as well Warhammer Fantasy battles and Warhammer 40k. What I claim is that the two universes acutally have more diversity within themselves rather than against each other. Star Trek weaves in a lot more surrealist elements, nearly becoming Twilight Zone episodes in come cases while A Song of Ice and Fire throws off the idea of purely good verses evil and places flaws in our ‘heros’ and relatability in our ‘villains’. Instead of splitting Lord of Rings and Star Wars and then using those as our flagpoles, we should be putting them together. The statement “Star Wars is Lord of Rings in space” is far more accurate than “A Song of Ice and Fire is Lord of the Rings where the characters get horny”.

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