Superheroes: Fantasy or Science Fiction?

If you been following me for any length of time, you know that much of the stuff that I write falls into various genres. You also know that I love superheroes and that the material that I write is many times either directly in the genre or closely tied to that genre.

One of the things that has always been a conundrum is where to place the whole category of superheroes. Does it belong in science fiction? Does it belong in fantasy? Should it belong in both? Should it get its own sub-genre? This has always been a challenge for writers because if we are self-publishing then we have to make a decision as to which category were going to list the book under. If we put this in the wrong category, it could be catastrophic in terms of sales so we really have to get this right.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

I’m working currently on the outline for my first novel Blackson’s Revenge. It has some light technology and as there will be some advanced military hardware that will be a part of the story. The main character actually wears hi-tech glasses. There will also be some other technological gadgets utilized by the main and supporting characters in the story. However, the main character has an ability which cannot be explained by science. It’s along the lines of Marvel’s Iron Fist as far as where his ability originated. It is a supernatural phenomena. So even at this early stage of the game, I’m betwixt two. Do I list is under science fiction or do I list is under urban/contemporary fantasy? I’m actually going to be listing it under both and see which one performs better.

The consensus seems to be that superheroes falls within the category of science fiction. But that can’t strictly be the case. When we look at a group like The Avengers, we have high-tech heroes like Iron Man and Hawkeye, then we have magic type characters like Thor and Scarlet Witch. Even groups like The X-Men who were born with their abilities, which in and of itself is fantasy, not science. The reason for this is that mutants in science don’t come out with something positive because of their mutation. Real scientific mutation is a devolving of the species, not the advancement of it. Something is broke in the DNA. Just because the X-Men are popular doesn’t mean that its science is accurate. All that to say that it’s more in line with fantasy, not science.

On the DC side of things, one of the big three is pure fantasy: Wonder Woman. No science fiction there. This is lathered with mythology. You can’t argue with that. You also can’t argue her place in DC lore to the point you have to ask again, science fiction or fantasy? The Justice League have their fair share of fantasy superheroes. Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Green Lantern. Those heroes are explained by fantasy. You can try to explain them by science but it would be fantasy science, not real science.

As a writer, if you want to be pragmatic about it then you’d simply list it under science fiction. I have scores of superhero prose novels and a good portion of them have Science Fiction listed on their spines. There’s the rub because only some of them really fit that category in the strict sense. However, I think that elements in each can be explained in one word: incredible. No matter what part of the spectrum you gravitate towards, the common thread is that both have elements that are incredible. Far-reaching. Astounding. This makes it a place where people want to retreat. They want to reside where there are larger than life heroes. Which is why so many of the same fans of science fiction also are fans of fantasy.

In reality, we have extreme tragedies like the recent Las Vegas shooting, hurricane Irma, and 911. To imagine a world where those things were thwarted because of a few people who sacrificed themselves regularly because they had been blessed to do things that could make a difference. That’s a good place to imagine. It’s good to inspire the best virtues triumphing over the worst.

Superheroes: science fiction or fantasy? Clearly both. That’s what makes them so great and that’s why people love them so much.

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