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In his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card mentions the differences between fantasy and sci-fi readers, and even says that an author should stick to only one genre, as the readers of the other genre will not know who he is (to which my answer is to simply be a bestseller in both, but I digress). My point is, those two genres are different, and have very different readers as far as tastes are concerned.

Therefore, I am wondering if it is a bad idea to create what I am terming 'Science-Fiction-Fantasy.' Or maybe 'Fantastical-Science-Fiction.' The idea is that the novel is both science fiction and fantasy, no matter how inconceivable that might seem at first.

Is this a bad idea? My assumption is that it would be, as fantasy readers would be turned off by the sci-fi elements, and sci-fi readers would be turned off by the fantasy elements, thus turning out a novel that was 'mediocrely' received at best (obviously there would be some cross-over, but on the whole readers tend to stick to one or the other). Consider some examples:

  • A fantasy novel, concerning elves and magic and such, but taking place in a post-apocalyptic setting where 'magic' is based in hard science, and explained as such.
  • A strange fantasy world, which turns out to be a massive space ship hurtling through space.
  • An advanced sci-fi civilization, which gets invaded and destroyed by vastly superior elves, using magic to invade Earth.

The last one in particular is a prime example of what I'm going for, and I think it really shows the total contrast between the two sides of the genre. Creating a novel like this would certainly be original (to the best of my knowledge). But would it work?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation(with several exampkes) has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Sep 20 '16 at 9:30
  • Quite a few fantasy books are placed as far post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Cataclysm got the humanity near stone age; recovering into medieval setting with rare pre-war artifacts scattered here and there. – SF. Feb 27 '17 at 14:15

16 Answers 16

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The novel I'm writing is actually along this vein, and I had the same thought as you: it appears to be a portion of the market that is yet to be fully recognized and tapped into. Whilst it definitely exists, not a lot of mainstream fiction seems to explore the vast possibilities of combining these two distinct yet similar genres.

Media are generally categorized as "Sci-Fi/Fantasy" because there tends to be a lot of overlap between the people who like the two different types of fiction. Although this isn't always true, it's usually enough of a generalization to assume that if someone is a fan of one, they would also be a fan of the other.

However, a high majority of fans of both Sci-Fi and Fantasy will have an opinion on which they prefer; they will rarely like both types of fiction equally. This means that few people will looking for pieces of work that combine the two 50/50.

So writing books that split the two down the middle will be a niche audience, who are looking to read something that caters to multiple of their interests, whilst readers who prefer one over the other may choose to read it, but are unlikely to be drawn to it naturally. That's not to say that you shouldn't write it, but you would need to understand that it is a niche market that you are writing for.

What you may be looking for, and what I believe is the best solution to the issue, is to not do both entirely equally, but rather have either a Fantasy piece with Sci-Fi elements or a Sci-Fi novel containing aspects of Fantasy.

This way, let's say you choose to write your first example of Fantasy creatures in a post-apocalyptic age on earth, you could write it as a Fantasy novel with swords & sorcery, but also contains things such as radiation, ancient technologies from humans before the apocalypse, and even maybe popular themes of Sci-Fi such as attempting to rebuild civilization.

However, it would need to be made clear to the readers early on what it is they are reading. Within the first 2 or 3 chapters you would need to establish which genre your piece is, but also establish that it will also contain portions of another genre.

That last thing you want to do is write an entirely Fantasy novel, then in the final couple of chapters include a big twist that they were on a spaceship all along, unless you drop clues about it throughout the story.

  • "a portion of the market" -- that might not be the right way to look at it. I like cheese, and I like peas, but it doesn't mean my portion of the market isn't "effectively catered for" unless I can get cheesy peas (muttar paneer). Don't confuse someone who might like it, with someone who isn't being effectively catered for until they have it. – Steve Jessop Sep 13 '16 at 15:47
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    +1. As a concrete example, I'll point out some books in the Shannara Series by Terry Brooks. The setting is a magic fantasy medieval society built up thousands of years after the collapse of high tech world. As an example, a company composed of an elf, a magic wielding druid, humans, etc. goes in search of an artifact protected by the ancient magic of automated robotics, sentient robots, flamethrowers, etc. (The reader fills in the scientific explanations, but for the viewpoint characters, it's all magic). – Xantix Sep 13 '16 at 19:49
  • The Septimus Heap series could also fall into this same category, though the ancient technology bit isn't really touched on that much. – Wayne Werner Sep 14 '16 at 20:29
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    @Xantix The post-apocalyptic/technology aspect of Shannara wasn't blatant enough that I noticed it when I read it ~25 years ago. In fact, when I first saw technological things on the Shannara series, I found it a bit surprising. – Adeptus Sep 15 '16 at 2:58
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The only caveat I would offer to mixing SF and fantasy is not to scramble the level of technology.

We are all steeped in Papa Tolkien's example of fantasy, which is Middle Ages technology and pastoral Merrie Olde England settings. This level of industrial advancement doesn't mix well with Star Trek spaceships.

So there are a few things you could do to make the combination not so weird:

  • Urban fantasy is magic in a contemporary setting. Most of today's vampire/werewolf/witch YA lit is urban fantasy. Push it another 100 years forward and you can reasonably add sci-fi tech to the setting.
  • Set your story in a sci-fi setting (in space, another planet, far in the future) and establish that magical creatures also exist. There may be elves, but they aren't Legolas the archer, and if Merlin is still waiting for Arthur, the mighty sorcerer might be a professor or a researcher, or a sentient computer, not sporting a pointy hat and the latest Gandalf Lauren robes.
  • Go in the other direction and deliberately play on the contrast. Have a spaceship crash-land in Middle Earth. How are the Sindarin going to get along with Vulcans? Would the dwarves pose a reasonable fighting challenge for Klingons whose disrupters are magically disabled? (I'm using shorthand, but you get the idea.)
  • To lean on a different franchise, Jedi using the Force are referred to in-universe as magic and mysticism, but Star Wars is pretty clearly sci-fi (however soft). So you're starting with SF but adding in magical elements which aren't classic elves and dwarves but are absolutely beyond the explanation of science (midichlorians, oh please).
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    Star Wars is not sci-fi by a long league. It's a space opera and is pure fantasy. Lucas never really deal with the science aspect of it. It is different from Star Trek, which is a soft sci-fi. (don't get me wrong, I love Star Wars, but it is a bad example of what Sci-fi looks like). – T. Sar Sep 13 '16 at 12:10
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    @ThalesPereira What's your definition of SF? It's set in outer space and non-Earth planets, includes aliens and spaceships, has light-based weapons and FTL travel, and tech in advance of ours. That all says SF to me. It's not hard SF by any means, and softer than Trek, but it's still SF. I take your point that it's not the best example, but it's good to show that magic can co-exist with spaceships in something which is well-known. If Doctor Strange crosses with Guardians of the Galaxy in the MCU, that would be a better example. – Lauren Ipsum Sep 13 '16 at 12:16
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    @ThalesPereira I did a Google search for SF, and came up with this definition: "[It is] typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life." Nothing in there about actually explaining the science. As far as I know, SF and Fantasy are differentiated purely by setting. – Thomas Myron Sep 13 '16 at 15:16
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    @LaurenIpsum To me there is a difference between a Space Opera (which is what I consider Star Wars) and a sci-fi work. Sci-fi, at least to me, is more on the league with Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and (for the time) even Julio Verne. Those authors deal way more with the Science aspect of the setting, and it is almost as important as the adventure per se. In Star Wars, the science is secondary - the "magic stuff" and heroic moments vastly overshadows any hint of science in it. That doesn't make Star Wars bad in any sense - it is an awesome setting, and one of my favorites. – T. Sar Sep 13 '16 at 15:49
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    @LaurenIpsum Best SciFi definition I ran across said that the author would assume some physical law or limitation was overcome (e.g., FTL), and then would attempt to create a logical environment arising from that advance to examine or illustrate consequences. Except for the assumed advance, the rest of the environment was still scientifically constrained. General advances (stronger materials, better medicine, etc.) could be assumed from future progress. – user2338816 Sep 14 '16 at 6:20
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To add to a number of a very good points, already brought up here, consider this:

Any technology which is advanced enough can and will likely be considered magic by a less tech-developed society.

If you consciously approach this from the point of view of unreliable narrator, you might just provide yourself with a potent delivery mechanism for your story, without utterly compromising the genre of your writing. You decide, if you let your reader to figure out that the mirror-mirror-on-the-wall is actually a tablet with Retina screen, or not--it is entirely up to you.

Mixing genres to me is entirely appropriate. In fact, I cannot point out a work of strictly Fantasy, which would not contain elements of Romance, Mystery, Adventure, and so on. It is the balance which makes your recipe unique.

  • There was some series I read in the somewhat-recent-past where the magicians had spells where they could visually and vocally communicate through their desks... – Wayne Werner Sep 14 '16 at 20:31
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I do not believe that the readership of SF and F is as distinct as you claim. I love, read, and write both SF and F. I also like crime fiction, romance, and many other genres. Many people have tastes that are not totally exclusive.

But reading is like eating: Just because I like both hotdogs and strawberry cake does not mean that I like my stawberry cake with mustard. In the same way I don't like my Fantasy and Science Fiction mixed up. I don't like guns fighting magic. Because technology and magic don't mix. And I don't like dragons in space ships. Because a dragon has a mystical meaning, a psychological truth, that does not fit the context of either space opera or hard SF.

If you want to mix genres, you'll have to be so good that in fact you are creating a new genre, not merely mixing elements from two existing genres. Your work has to feel fresh and inspiring, like a new idea, not like two old ideas thrown together. And that new genre made from SF and F already exists:

The hybrid genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy is called

Science Fantasy

A famous successful example is Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. Other examples and subgenres are given in the Wikipedia article on Science Fantasy.

As for your elves in SF: that is not for me. Like dragons, elves have a specific meaning for me that makes them incompatible with SF. But I know that there are many novels in which elves have become something more akin to an alien humanoid species, and there isn't really that big a step from certain kinds of fantasy to putting the elves in spaceships. I don't quite understand why you would need these aliens to be called "elves", and how what elves are in folk tales has anything to do with the story you want to tell, but again: hybrid genres are popular, from urban fantasy to steampunk.

Spacefaring elves can be found in Warhammer 40,000 and Elfquest.

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The readers of SciFi and Fantasies have different structural and trope expectations in their books. They are often ABOUT different things. Threading the needle that satisfies both in the same book will be difficult but far from impossible.

Once you get away from those structural elements, the idea of mixing technology and magic is not a problem. I would argue that barring the most studiously researched hard science novels the science in most science fictions novels is just a (hopefully) internally consistent magic system. The magic system is your fantasy should also be internally consistent. A book with multiple magic systems is hardly impossible.

Whether you put veneer of high tech, steampunk, mutants, psionics, sigils or bones on your magic is less important than how society interacts with it.

A society that has the scientific method will not leave magic as a separate thing. If it has a measurable, reproducible effect on the world or behavior then it will become a branch of science. Likewise a society with out that will look a high tech item and call it an enchanted relic.

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Well, as almost anything regarding readers, it depends.

Fantasy and sci-fi are broad genres. They have several subgenres each, and not every subgenre on each one caters to the entire public that reads sci-fi or fantasy. When you are mixing sci-fi and fantasy, you are actually mixing up subgenres of the two, and that combination may or may not work in your favor. Still, we have some very good examples of how it can work nicely - and not just on books!

Note that I'm not giving just examples on which sci-fi and fantasy are mixed in equal parts - some of those examples just have a little bit of the other genre added in for extra flavor.

Shadowrun is a RPG setting which mixes up heavily sci-fi and fantasy elements. It is one of the best examples how to make elves, orcs and The Matrix work on the same universe.

Discworld is a heavy fantasy work with some dabbling on sci-fi elements. While it is fantasy to the core, the sci-fi elements spice up the books in a interesting way when they appear. They are not core to it by no means, but they do add up to the works.

Star Wars is a popular space opera with heavy fantasy elements on a "spacey" backdrop. While there are spaceships, FTL travel, and laser weapons, the core of this work is heavily grounded around the magical energy that is The Force, sword-based duels and mystical overtones.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov is a heavy sci-fi book with a drop of magic on it, by means of telepathic powers of some characters. While there is a scientific explanation for it on the books, it still has that "plot-powered" usefulness that magic usually has.

Golarion is the default RPG setting for Pathfinder. While it is mostly fantasy, it does have some hints of sci-fi with its multiple planets, aliens, and even the possibility of magic-powered space travel.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King. It is a incredible series (for the good and the bad meanings of the word "incredible"), and has several fantasy elements mashed up with a really subtle sci-fi background.

Iron Kingdoms is a RPG setting that is mix of tech and magic that has a deep "steampunky" feel. It has a really detailed way of explaining how magic-powered tech works, and is an awesome reading, even if you don't intend to play it.

Warhammer 40K is the pinnacle of the "mixed up stuff", with space-faring elves, armored super-soldiers, psychic powers, and almost everything you can find on fantasy and sci-fi mixed up together. While it seems a bit dark because of the background narrative, it is an excellent example on how those two broad genres can be mixed up together.

The World of Synnibarr is... well, this one can't really be explained without a Google Image search. I'll leave it up to you to check it, but it is an awesome game if played with the right mindset.

Asura's Wrath is an incredible tale in the form of a video game. It mixes up some barely used mythology with sci-fi tones that make the game memorable in several ways. It has a space cowboy ninja Jesus, a really angry cybernetic dad, space battles, religious overtones and a super-weapon somewhat reminiscent of the Death Star, powered by human souls. It is a hell of a trip.

As you can see, mixing up fantasy and sci-fi is not just possible but done pretty frequently. It is not something that can be done to make every single reader happy, by no means, but it is done and it works if your works are interesting enough!

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    "Space Cowboy Ninja Jesus" will be my next username when I have to sign up for something. – Lauren Ipsum Sep 13 '16 at 19:35
  • I would describe Star Wars as an example of another genre, namely "martial arts". – Greenstone Walker Sep 14 '16 at 21:03
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I think it can work if done well. I read both Sci-Fi and fantasy and enjoy both so I'm perhaps your target audience as I see no reason that the two could not be mixed if there is a point to doing that. As long as the story supports the need for it and it's done in a logical and believable fashion then it should be fine.

You could also explore the effect of the discovery of real 'magic' on the advance sci-fi people. Maybe initial denial and attempts to scientifically explain it followed by a split in the culture caused by part of the population simply wanting to believe in the 'magic'. That might give your Elves an embedded force sympathetic to them and allow them to eventually win even if they were not initially superior to the high tech people on the battlefield.

On the other hand if you try and cram both into a single novel just as a means to try and double the potential audience then it will probably fall flat.

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    Reminds me of Q in Star Trek TNG. It was a series that explored the idea that science/technology had no upper limit in power, extending well beyond magic into godhood. – djechlin Sep 13 '16 at 19:51
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There are some nicely detailed answers here already, so I'll keep my response short:- of course you can blend the two. As long as you balance the main aspects of each, eg. magic and technology, then you will appeal to both audiences equally.

I'd recommend taking a look at Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. This is a table-top RPG web series on YouTube, with a custom-designed universe, which is a perfect blend of sci-fi and fantasy; Technological remnants left behind after an apocalyptic war, mixed with the more primal magic that the inhabitants of the planet now draw upon.

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Of course you can mix these genres, and by all means, pleaaase do so. A lot of bestselling and well-known works have successfully mixed these before:

Dragon Riders of Pern (Anne McCaffrey) have been mentioned here before. Generally, Anne McCaffrey does a lot of hybrid stuff.

Marion Zimmer Bradleys "Darkover" Series is a nice mixture of both. And a classic. Read them.

The ShadowRun Roleplaying Game and associated computer games are definately a hybrid.

Recently, i enjoyed the Shadow-OPs series a lot (Myke Cole)

The Albion computer game is also a nice example.

So, if the mixture sounds interesting in your head, and your story setting seems to be so unique, fresh and awesome that you really want to write it... go for it!

Caveat: but do you really need to do it? Or could your story be achieved without going all the way to mixing two genres? Could your spacelelves just be psionically active aliens? If that was the case, i'd suggest you try to go for the pure genre, as it will probably not only be easier to write (think of all the interactions and tech-questions you don't have to answer to), but might also be easier to publish.

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I think it could be mixed - in the end the author decides what is best for the story. I am not a fan of both but your examples sounded intriguing. Anyways, if I wanted to do this then I would maybe try to escape the stereotypes which have been established so far and think of something different - different mythology, different places and science. (I would do this with anything I would write but still :) ). As everything is different then for example a sci-fi fan will not be disappointed by the fact that there are elves or dwarfs. It is definitely possible - it depends if you can do it. The project is interesting.

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I am actually in the progress of writing a Sci-fi/Fantasy novel series myself. I did have the same question concerning the topic before finally finding the full motivation. I say combining the two genres is possible and it might even come out amazing if you know how to combine them. There are great examples of what these two genres could bring when they're combined.

Final Fantasy. One of my favorite series ever, even though it's a game/movie series. It's amazing, and although some of the endings were unsatisfying, this series is a great example of a Sci-fi/Fantasy

Avatar Another great example, with great descriptions of the technology and fantasy landscapes.

Star Wars It can also be categorized as a Sci-fi/Fantasy considering all of the technology used, like the Millenium Falcon and the unrealistic elements that can't be defined by science like The Force.

Although the one thing that made me write this genre was the fact that i'm writing this for myself, and hopefully other people would like it. So check your goal first, if you're aiming on some audiences, you should do some research on what kind readers you want.

I hope this helped.

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I think that the many volumes about the Liaden Universe (R) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller illustrate a perfect blend of the two genres. As for Card's contention, he seems to forget that many readers of speculative fiction follow more than just one genre!

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I am a SciFi and Fantasy reader myself. I usually read Fantasy, and when I want to take a break from that I read some Science Fiction. I've read some books where they mix SciFi and Fantasy and I've really enjoyed them. The Saga of Tramorea by Javier Negrete is a good example, it consists of four books:

  • The Sword of Fire
  • The Spirit of the Magician
  • The Dream of the Gods
  • The Heart of Tramorea

It is a tetralogy based on a "samurai style" fantasy. It begins fulfilling all the features of the genre of epic fantasy (an imaginary world without technology, set in a medieval setting with magicians, imaginary creatures, heroes fighting with swords...), but through the history all that magic is being revealead as high science (without stepping in to deep, just deep enough for you to know how this could work) in a wonderfully explained story.

I would recommend you give it a go.

As per Orson Scott Card comments, one thing is mixing some science explanation in a fantasy book and another thing altogether is to stop the story in order to explan in two or three pages some sciency thing (something like this happens in Ender's 3 or 4, I remember reading too many pages full of gibberish (to me) about how outside the sapce our rules doesn't apply and therefore you can do anything you want, or something among those lines).

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I can't say if this would be a good or bad idea (it probably totally depends on the execution) but it is a fact that such universes already exist.

The 1st example to cross my mind is the famous Warhammer 40k : it is pretty much Warhammer (hence Lord Of the Rings-type fantasy), but in space, and with a few handwaved explanations of "magic" as "hard science" thrown in.

Besides, pretty much all famous sci-fi universe use typical fantasy tropes to a certain extent. Vulcans are almost space-elves. The Force definitely is magic (if we forget the midi-chlorian "sciency" thing), and obi-wan in episodes IV-V-VI looks quite a lot like Gandalf or Dumbledore to me.

So, in my mind, it can definitely be a good idea. Proof is, it already worked with famous universes.

Personally I relate much more to "purely" sci-fi themes, but I'm sure a lot of people love crossovers between genres.

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Aside from the fact that there are countless works, both small and large, that mix the genres, this is still utterly bunk. In fact, I would suspect that many purveyors of fantasy also indulge in sci-fi now and then, and vice versa (look at any convention on either/both topic).

Beware the words of the unwise.

If you have a story idea, write it. If it is in a genre you aren't super familiar with, write it. If it crosses genres or creates a new genre, write it. While OSC maybe be trying to offer advice, and some of it may even be decent, it's still simply advice. There's no magic formula, there's no singular solution or answer.

Write your story. People will love it or they won't, but that's for them to decide, and even if it doesn't fare well, you still did something that most people will never bother to complete.

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It is a historical fact that The Magazine of Fantasy started in 1949 changed its name to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction starting with the second issue and still uses the title today. No doubt the proportions of fantasy and science fiction vary over the decades.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction - Wikipedia

And take a look at the contents of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination volume 13 # 4, April 1964. I have a copy of that issue packed away somewhere and remember some of the stories in it.

The cover story, "Centipedes of Space" is a space opera with a space fleet fighting an interstellar war. But the plot depends on a rather metaphysical speculation. "The Rule of Names" by Ursula K. Le Guin is an early Earthsea story with wizards and dragons. And "The Devil Came to our Valley" by Fulton T. Grant, didn't seem to have any science fiction or fantasy elements, although it is described as sort of a "lost race" story.

Fantastic Stories of Imagination, April 1964

Here are some more stories that mix science fiction and fantasy elements:

Krull (1983) mixes sword and sorcery and alien invasion of the planet Krull.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine mixes science fiction and space opera with the plotine of the protagonist becoming the emissary of the wormhole aliens/Prophets worshipped by the Bajorans and the Pagh wraiths.

Are At the Mountains of Madness, "The whisperer in darkness", and "The Shadow out of Time" fantasy, science fiction, mixed, or pure H.P. Lovecraft?

There are countless millions of people alive today who use the products of science and technology and believe that science and technology work and also believe in various supernatural aspects of their religions.

And so there are many millions of people who believe that just as science fictional airplanes, computers, atomic bombs, trips to the Moon, etc. have come true, many even more advanced science fiction elements will become real in the future, and ho also believe in the reality of supernatural beings of various types.

There are some people who would believe, for example, that a story about a benevolent god assigning an angel-like being to secretly stop a mad dictator from starting World War Three and killing hundreds of millions of persons was perfectly plausible.

A reader can enjoy a fantasy story equally ell if it is set on a flat Earth that is the center of the universe or if it is set on a spherical Earth that is one of gazillions of of planets in the universe. J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth is both a different times.

If a reader can believe that elves and dragons might exist alongside an ancient or medieval human society, he can believe they might continue to exist alongside an advanced star travelling human society.

If a religious reader can believe in science and technology existing in a world with the supernatural beings of his religion, he can accept a story in which science and technology exist in a world with fictional supernatural beings.

So it is possible but not guaranteed for stories that mix science fiction and fantasy elements to succeed.

  • Can someone please explain to me why "our system has identified this post as possible spam"? – user5645 Feb 26 '17 at 20:15
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    @what Good catch, there've been some issues with the spam filter, this isn't the only post affected. Sending a note to the appropriate person. – Neil Fein Feb 27 '17 at 1:03

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