It seemed to me that the best way to process the question of whether The X-Files is fantasy or sci-fi is to ruminate upon the inheritor of the X-Files’s’s mantle. No, not Millennium (though that was a corker of a show, wasn’t it? I could watch Lance Henrickson read the phone book).


Now, before we start getting into arguments about the cow, I’ll say that I kicked around all sorts of theories about the differences between Fantasy and Sci-Fi and touched on the things touched on by Patrick and RTod (and a handful of others):

“Fantasy has an underlying moral fabric while Sci-Fi is more interested in what actually happens” or “Fantasy has a point that it’s driving towards while Sci-Fi has an experiment that it wants to see the outcome of” or even “Fantasy’s point is that nothing changes while Sci-Fi’s point is that things can.”

All of these are well covered (and better) by others… it seems to me, however, that the difference is best exemplified in the best examples by not the ground covered by the story but the goal of the author when it comes to what he is trying to process and, by extension, who is audience actually is. For the sake of this essay, I’ll say that there are two particular audiences in this particular Venn Diagram: “Us” is a small circle entirely within the larger circle of “Those willing to listen” (which is a smaller circle within the gargantuan circle of “everybody”).

I will posit that Fantasy is explicitly written for Us. It tells Us what assumptions to make and, indeed, We make them. We are more than happy enough to make them. When we are told that “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

Instead of saying “WHAT THE HECK IS WITH THIS CLAPTRAP”, we say “oh… so that’s what It is called” and boldly go forward. (Indeed, this explains what was so upsetting about the Midichlorian issue in Episode 1… we were explicitly told that this was no longer a story for Us but for those inclined to ask questions in all caps.)

As implied above, Sci-Fi is where the author understands that there are those who need convincing and, as such, gives the underlying explanation behind everything (which, in the best examples, is the *REAL* story… for example: Asimov’s Nightfall (warning: PDF)). The explanation to those who need convincing is the point in Sci-Fi while Fantasy is written for those who need no such explanations. (We’ve already shown up, you see.)

Now, what does this mean? Well, it certainly means that things are much messier than we’d like things to be. This episode of Star Trek may be Sci-Fi, that one may be Fantasy. The entire story arc of Babylon 5 may be Sci-Fi, but almost every single fanfic inspired by the show qualifies as Fantasy.

And, indeed, Anne McCaffrey is a Sci-Fi writer despite the presence of dragons.

The so-called “sci-fi” show that relies heavily upon “insert technobabble here” appearing in the first draft of most every script would be a fantasy show. “We” smile and nod when we hear that a reverse tachyon pulse has reversed the polarity of the dilithium crystals… even though, seriously, this should have all of us standing up and yelling “WHAT THE HECK DO YOU TAKE ME FOR?” at the television when they say something like this.

Which brings me back to Fringe… the intention of the show, when it starts, is to gain converts. After it has them, it can loosen up. It starts out at Sci-Fi but just like the X-Files before it and Voyager before that and The Next Generation before that and Quantum Leap before that and so on and so forth back and back and back:

It eventually becomes Fantasy… even as we watch the authors got really, really good at cleaning up the portions of the script that say “insert technobabble here”.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. So Sci-Fi backs things up with some facts and rules while fantasy has techno-babble? What if the rules that are created are techno-babble in the first place?

  2. I’m not sure if I can sign onto any genre definitions that result in The Dragonriders of Pern coming out on the Sci-Fi side of the ledger, but I do fully agree that if you went down to episodes you’d find plenty of Star Trek episodes you could put in the fantasy bucket no matter how you decide to draw the line.

    • You and Todd and this “dragons == fantasy” obsession.

      • It’s not the Dragons, it’s that the storylines are strictly fantasy. Just because in Dragonsdawn we get a scientific origin story doesn’t change that.
        I read that series like 15 times as a teenager, once the first six books in one day. It’s good fantasy!

        • not all of them. Lessa’s story is standard science fiction “new discovery solves everything”. plus time travel.

    • I was going to write something about the “intended audience” but the first example to come to mind was “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by the Bauhaus… and that was originally intended to mock the group of folks who embraced it and shelled out money to come to the concerts (or so goes the version of the story that makes the most sense to me).

      I suppose that this means that something can be written as Sci-Fi but embraced as Fantasy… which works for me.

  3. This post reminds me to ask what I’ve been meaning to ask for a while…

    How are you enjoying Fringe so far, JB?

    • I am not even one season into the three seasons available on DVD.

      That said: I carve time out to watch it.

    • I’m not Jay, but for me it went like this:

      14 episodes in: I don’t want to watch this anymore. {For several months, I don’t. Then I read a review that changes my mind.}
      20 episodes in: This is awesome!
      43 episodes in: This is awesome! I have to tell everybody about this!
      52 episodes in: Man, if they cancel this I am going to be sooooooo angry.
      65 episodes in: Huh. I wonder if maybe I have invested too much into this show.

      (I don’t think I have. I’m not feeling like I felt at the end of 14.)


    Please write a post on it? Please please please? I loved that show, and practically nobody I know has every heard of it.

    I saw maybe 3/4 of a season (the fifth one, which I did not find as bad as most people say – probably because it was the first one I watched) when I was a teenager, when we got extra free channels for a while, and got so hooked on it that I now own the DVDs for seasons 2, 3 and 4. Awesome interconnected plot, and wonderful, complex characters – the same things that have gotten me hooked on Fringe.

    Oh, and Fringe absolutely full-on fantasy by Season 3, judging by my dad’s “Wha…?” reaction and mocking whenever Mom and I watched it (which we did every week, religiously).

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