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Differences Between Science Fiction and Literary Fiction

Science fiction and literary fiction are two of the most important genres in fiction. They have
similarities in that both deal with fictional characters and situations. However, there are many
differences between them, which will be explored in this article.
Differences between science fiction and literary fiction are:
1. Science fiction's settings are on other planets (other universes even) and/or in the future, either
the near or the far future. Literary fiction, in comparison, tends to have settings which are in the
present or the past, although some successful literary fiction has been set in the future; e.g.
Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos: Archives series (first published 1979-1983). Also, literary
fiction tends to be set on Earth.
2. Science fiction deals sometimes with situations which might seem impossible (e.g. time travel),
whereas literary fiction tends to deal with situations which are likely to occur in real life, and
even real-life situations.
3. Science fiction includes discussions of utopian and dystopian societies (e.g. Aldous Huxley's
Brave New World, George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, and in the genre of young adult
science fiction, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games), whereas literary fiction generally does
not. (Some exceptions to this rule include Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx
and Crake.) Science fiction also tends to imagine the possible consequences of present-day
technological and scientific trends in the future as part of commentary on present-day society,
whereas literary fiction is not known for this, but instead focuses more on personal situations
and people's lives.
4. Science fiction has been traditionally not considered literature, whereas literary fiction has been.
However, the term literary fiction and its counterpart term genre fiction, to which science
fiction belongs, have been criticized; author Elizabeth Edmondson states, Genre fiction is a
nasty phrasewhen did genre turn into an adjective? But I object to the term for a different
reason. It's weasel wording, in that it conflates lit fic with literature. It was clever marketing by
publishers to set certain contemporary fiction apart and declare it Literatureand therefore
Important, Art and somehow better than other writing. (Edmondson) Also, some science
fiction has qualities which also make them literature; for instance, Ursula K. Le Guin's The
Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.
5. Finally, science fiction is usually considered entertainment, and pure entertainment at that,
whereas literary fiction is considered profound and full of deeper meaning. However, author
Juliet McKenna offers a different definition: Speculative fiction may not mimic real life but it
uses its magic mirror to reflect on the world around us. It's a fundamentally outward-looking
genre, in direct contrast to literary fiction, which looks inward to explore the human condition.
(McKenna) (Note: Science fiction belongs to the speculative fiction genre.)
With all these differences between science fiction and literary fiction, readers might think the two
genres have absolutely nothing in common. However, both provide a way to kill time, and also take
readers away to different worlds, sometimes different times, for a few hours.

Edmondson, Elizabeth. "The genre debate: 'Literary fiction' is just clever marketing." The Guardian 21
Apr. 2014: 14 pars. Web. 15 May 2014.<http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/apr/21/
literary-fiction-clever-marketing-genre-debate>.
McKenna, Juliet. "The genre debate: Science fiction travels farther than literary fiction." The Guardian
18 Apr. 2014: 17 pars. Web. 15 May 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/18/genredebate-science-fiction-speculative-literary>.