Fantasy is often fitted to medieval age. Space opera is often fitted to far future and all those futuristic is only background that says it is science-fiction. Also, in space opera can be present various things that cannot be (or rather should not be) present in classical science-fiction that thinks about relation of human and machine or so - for example Force from Star Wars. Such Force (or anything similar with different name) could be present also in fantasy and effect would be probably the same.

So, regardless of weapons, where is border between fantasy and space opera?

  • 1
    What you describe is called Science Fantasy.
    – Euphoric
    Apr 8, 2016 at 8:19
  • Related.
    – Trang Oul
    Apr 8, 2016 at 9:55
  • If no future tech, then fantasy. If future tech, even with magic (I.e. Star Wars), then space opera. But this is primarily opinion based.
    – Ginasius
    Apr 8, 2016 at 10:48
  • I suggest you check out the galactic mage book series. It perfectly combines Lord of the Rings type fantasy with a Star Wars type Space Opera. Apr 8, 2016 at 15:30
  • The main character in Galactic Mage is a young wizard try find way to turn space travel from magical Theory to magical reality. Second main character is a young women who have spent most of her childhood on a military Starship. Apr 8, 2016 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


There are no watertight definitions when it comes to fantasy, the Gothic, and science fiction. In my personal opinion (which, though educated, is still only a possible reading), the best way to approach this is through Tzvetan Todorov's definition of the fantastic.

In a nutshell: - if the world remains as you know it and everything is explainable within the existing laws of nature (even probabilistically so; e.g. faster-than-light is, lo and behold, possible because this and this), then it's science fiction - if the world is not the same, and the laws of nature must change, then it's fantasy. - if you don't know, then it's Gothic (or steampunk, or whatever you wanna call it to feel better)

In other words:

Fantasy: There are unicorns, I don't care why. Live with it

Science Fiction: There are no unicorns on earth, but we just found an alternative world where there are.

Gothic: I know there are no unicorns, but I just saw one running down the street. Have I gone mad? Am I losing my mind? Or are there really unicorns? But will anyone believe me?


In simplest terms, the narrative of a space opera must occur primarily in space, and it must contain some concept of events that affect a multitude of planets.

Fantasy (again, in simplest terms) just means containing elements of the fantastic (what most people would consider magic or the supernatural).

The line between the two is blurry (as most things involving genre are), but the difference would be in how you'd characterize the setting and the narrative.

If the fantastical elements dominate, then I'd call it fantasy.

If it occurs in space and has an epic or larger than planetary scope, I'd call it space opera.

  • I know that space opera is science fiction, but science fiction is not always space opera. If you would read my question carefully, I wrote it there.
    – Václav
    Apr 13, 2016 at 18:46
  • @Václav that's fair. I edited the answer to remove it and provide more clarity.
    – TriskalJM
    Apr 13, 2016 at 19:18

In your mind the barrier is. Hmm?

Bad Yoda jokes aside, aside from hard core rigid genre-ists (think Tolkein fan fiction) everything is a continuum. You could call Peter Pan a space opera in a way. It's an epic with space travel, but generally it's more of a fantasy. Similarly the Cameron movie Avatar is a clash of a science fiction Earth culture and a fantasy based Pandora culture within the same fictional universe. It brings to mind greek epics where swords and technical ingenuity clashed with magical beings.

And as Clarke is quoted ad nauseum "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." A theme which was ever present in his work. Epic Sci-fi almost always has some kind of mysticism, which others answering here have noted. What some call hard magical fiction, has the same high degree of technicality as hard science fiction. A magical universe can have very complicated laws, both large and small, which govern how one operates upon them, little different to quantum physics, chemistry, etc. And there's plenty of real world occult sources to draw on if you want a whole treatise on what one practitioner thinks is the correct way to look at something, for example.

Once you throw in broadly referential works like Hitch-hikers guide or Adventure Time, or yes I know lots of things that predate those. The genre lines can become almost meaningless.

And speaking of things predating things, there would be no Star Wars without Dune, and there would be no Dune without millennia of cultural knowledge, practices, myth and religion. The division of science and magic is quite a recent idea.

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