Okay, there have been signs of life among the comments, but I’m still quoting this newsgroup post from August 13, 2005. Note that I said I’d let it stew overnight before pursuing it; well, I never did pursue it. Apparently it didn’t look as interesting the next morning.
So over in “Strange Days,” we’ve been discussing the relative merits of SF and fantasy — which I don’t think is a very good idea, but thinking about genres has just triggered an insight of sorts.
Why are SF and fantasy so often grouped together? Well, partly it’s for historical reasons — fantasy hid in the SF mags for the middle decades of the 20th century, and many authors wrote and write both because of that shared history. I think that it’s partly, though, because both are genres defined by setting.
SF is set in our universe, as altered by new science or technology.
Fantasy is set in a universe other than our own. (It may look just like our own with magic added, but it isn’t, since we have no capability for magic here.)
Compare this with genres defined by plot, such as mystery or romance; you can set a mystery anywhere, but it involves someone solving a crime by evaluating the available evidence; likewise, a romance can be set anywhere, so long as it follows two people as they fall in love and overcome whatever obstacles there may be to consummating that love.
And horror is a genre defined by mood — in fact, Douglas Winter famously said that horror is a mood, not a genre at all.
This has me thinking that we really ought to sort out genres into categories according to whether they’re defined by setting, plot, mood, or some other story element.
It is, however, late, and I have a busy day planned for tomorrow, so I’m going to let this stew overnight rather than pursuing it right now.