Science fiction or fantasy? A rigorous definition

If there’s a zeppelin, it’s alternate history. If there’s a rocketship, it’s science fiction. If there are swords and/or horses, it’s fantasy. A book with swords and horses in it can be turned into science fiction by adding a rocketship to the mix. If a book has a rocketship in it, the only thing that can turn it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.

—Debra Doyle


  1. Finally, a replacement for that outmoded Damon Knight definition! So clunky and useless. Thank you sir, you’ve done us all a service.

    • Thank Debra Doyle! I had been trying to remember the exact wording for some time, and when I ran across the original earlier today, I decided to make a note of it and stick it in a place where I would not forget it.

  2. “If a book has a rocketship in it, the only thing that can turn it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.”

    Or M John Harrison. Think Viriconium….

  3. *Falls over laughing.* That’s exactly what happened to some stories I wrote in the 2011-2012 winter: they contain dragons, vampires, magic (and wizards) etc., but because they take place in space, with high-tech spaceships, replicators, computers and robots, everybody labeled them space opera. Not that I mind, as long as people liked them…

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