I attended the SBL/AAR conference in San Francisco this last weekend, and the most anticipated session for me was the Science Fiction session in the AAR. This was a wildcard session, an exploratory session to gauge interest in the topic in hopes of creating a program unit (which I heartily hope comes to pass).
I thoroughly enjoyed the session and the talks of the four panelists. One thing that struck me though was the seeming sharp distinction between the science fiction genre and the fantasy genre.
Rudy Busto, of UCSB, the first panelist, seemed to draw this distinction most starkly. He claimed (and I am not quoting here, but doing the best I can from memory), that in Fantasy, one just has vampires and werewolves running around, while in Science Fiction, there is a scientific basis for the incredible events that occur.
So, in both genres, incredible events occur, but in one, the explanation is pure fantasy or "magic" while in the other, the explanation is science. Yet, while this might be true on the surface, I would challenge the validity of such a claim.
It is true, on the surface, Fantasy makes no real attempt to explain such incredible events. Rather, the world which the Fantasy genre creates is one of magic and the incredible, while the Science Fiction genre in theory operates in our world of scientific cause and effect. I say "in theory" because, while that is the assumption, just saying that the scientific world of cause and effect is the basis of the film does not make it so. While there is this generic assumption that the incredible things that happen have a basis in science, often little effort is put into explaining how this is the case. It is as if the general claim "this world is based on scientific cause and effect" then justifies all of the incredible things that happen.
As James McGrath has said, "Is there anything fundamentally different between Harry Potter’s magic wand and the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver?" (McGrath, who was also a panelist in this AAR session, I think fundamentally agrees with me (or perhaps one should say that I agree with him), as you can see in his post here).
So, I would question the stark distinction between the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. While there is indeed a difference, I think it is far less than is usually posited. I also think that future (hopefully) AAR program unit would be remiss to draw this distinction sharply and exclude the Fantasy genre from being part of the group's discussion.