Had a fabulous informal chat-over-drinks with a dozen spec fic writers, including the most wonderful Karen Joy Fowler (who has written a great deal more than the bestseller you might associate with her name; more about all that in another post), and one topic of many we hit was the dividing line (if there is one) between science fiction and fantasy.
One writer floated a definition I’d never heard (and I’m paraphrasing here, so I hope I get this right): That if the world of your story is “ruled” by an interventionist or insane/unpredictable god(s), one who might grant miracles or select a chosen one or otherwise bend your characters’ reality to her purposes or theirs, it is fantasy; and if your world has a clockwork or hands-off god, who has created a world that follows a set of knowable rules under its own momentum (e.g., physics), it is science fiction. (And I suppose that if your world had no god at all, perhaps it could be either, depending on how your world functioned? Or maybe the fact that your world exists implies some organization or lack thereof — it’s not so much the god per se as “how this world works.”)
This would mean that, for instance, a world with learnable, predictable magic (even if dependent on talent) would be sci-fi, whereas, say, Neal Schusterman’s EVERLOST would be fantasy (since whether you end up there appears to be random… although, once you’re there, the rules are pretty coherent. So maybe not.).
And I suspect that many young readers, at the mercy of those who have authority over them, feel as though they live under insane gods, not sane ones. Which may help explain the attraction of fantasies to so many.
I can see the merits in this definition, but it is considerably different from some of the criteria I’d use. What do you think? (And if you really want to procrastinate a lot today, see this marginally related post from Greg a year ago. And link through to its inspiration, which has some great stuff in it. I especially liked John C. Wright’s.)
Is your god sane, insane, or absent? Which kind of worlds do you prefer to read about, and why?