In the early 20th century magazines of speculative fiction began to acquire both science fiction and fantasy works. Prior to this fantasy seems to have been mostly romantic sagas or fairy tales, and science fiction was already its own genre with somewhat different influences. Despite the contrast, many fans today avidly read both. Did this overlap in readership exist prior to magazines combining the two genres? If it already existed, when did publishers or editors realize it was viable to include both fantasy and science fiction in the same publication?

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    I don't have a reference, but I remember many years ago reading an article that explained that in the 1960s, when The Lord of the Rings became immensely popular, publishers and book store owners noticed that most of the people buying the Rings books weren't the usual fantasy readers, but their science fiction customers. The bookstores started shelving the two sections next to each other, and the publishers started cross advertising. Eventually the two became thoroughly intermingled, and they were treated as a single genre, much to the loss of both genres. Mar 15, 2020 at 1:17
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    The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction - Wikipedia has been published since 1949. At the time, the editors were well aware of the difference between the two genres, but wanted to present well written stories that would appeal to both audiences. Mar 15, 2020 at 1:19
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    @RayButterworth The first issue bore the title The Magazine of Fantasy which was quickly changed to include Science Fiction.
    – user14111
    Mar 15, 2020 at 2:19
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    @RayButterworth Weird Tales was publishing both fantasy and science fiction (e.g. Edmond Hamilton's early stories) a good couple decades before F&SF.
    – user14111
    Mar 15, 2020 at 6:17
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    Let's not forget that a lot of authors were writing in multiple genres - de Camp, Sturgeon, Moore, Heinlein, Anderson... Campbell published Unknown Worlds as a sister magazine to Astounding, and I imagine that there was a lot of overlap in readership as well as in the authors stable.
    – user888379
    Mar 15, 2020 at 15:44

1 Answer 1


There was not really any period in the development of modern science fiction and fantasy writing in which the two were sharply distinguished. It appears that there was always presumed to be a significantly overlapping readership, and important authors wrote in both genres back in the nineteenth century, when the conventions of the genres were being established.

The close relationship between fantasy and science fiction goes back to the period when the modern notion of fantasy writing was being developed. In particular, William Morris (1834–1896)—an important figure in the development of modern fantasy conventions—is probably the key figure in this regard. Morris created works in both genres, including writing that blurred the already tenebrous boundary between the two. He also ran a publishing house that published both fantasy and science fiction.

Morris's two most famous novels are News From Nowhere (1890), which is clearly science fiction, and The Well at the World's End (1896), which is just as unambiguously fantasy. He had first gained fame as a fantasy writer with his epic poem The Earthly Paradise (1870), retelling a number of European myths, and his subsequent writings—both fantasy and science fiction—prominently advertised Morris as "the author of 'The Earthly Paradise'" (as can be seen on the title page of the above-linked Project Gutenberg edition of News From Nowhere). This seems to indicate that his fame as an epic fantasy author was felt to be relevant to readers who might be interested in picking up his utopian science fiction.

News From Nowhere is actually probably the most manifestly science fictional work Morris authored. It concerns a contemporary Englishman who travels forward in time as he dreams, visiting a utopian, socialist, agrarian society in the early twenty-first century. Besides being a work of political science fiction, the book features advanced technology, such as "force-barges" that carry cargo without the need for animal power or coal-fired engines.

In contrast, The Well at the World's End—and also The Wood Beyond the World (1894) and The Water of the Wondrous Isles (1897)—represented a modern revision of the medieval Chanson de geste genre, which consisted of sprawling tales of noble knights questing across the landscape of medieval Europe. For these stories, Morris created fictional worlds—although ones that were based on idealized versions of Middle Ages Europe. Morris was, along with his contemporary George MacDonald, one the pioneers in developing fantasy settings that were completely divorced from the real world. Although such settings are commonplace in twentieth and twenty-first century fantasy writing, they were somewhat controversial when Morris and MacDonald introduced them. Before that, it was much more common to set fantasy works in "lost worlds," hidden locales cut off from modernity, but still imagined as being locations on the planet Earth.

Of course, there were similarities in theme between Morris's fantasy and science fiction stories. News From Nowhere shared with his chivalric epics a romanticized view of the rural-medieval lifestyle. Another one of his works A Dream of John Ball, concerns another nineteenth-century protagonist who travels across time via a dream—in this case going back to the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. In addition to observing the political events of Wat Tyler's Rebellion, the narrator talks with another one of the rebel leaders (the titular John Ball) about the changes that will occur in English society over the subsequent five hundred years. Although this novel clearly falls into the category of what is now often termed speculative fiction, it is not really straightforward to classify this work as either strictly fantasy or strictly science fiction; the nature of the dreamer's time traveling abilities is never really explained, with either a magical or scientific cause potentially permitted.

Finally, Morris was also a publisher, founding in 1891 the Kelmscott Press, which operated until 1898, publishing Morris's own later works, as well as works of other writers and poets. Morris, who had first risen to prominence as a graphic and textile designer, particularly made a effort to publish works that could benefit from lush black-and-white or color illustrations or embellishments. This included quite a few fantasy works and some science fiction, especially political science fiction, including a reprint of Thomas More's Utopia (1516). (The Kelmscott Press did not publish science fiction and fantasy exclusively, however; they also reprinted political works by Percy Bysshe Shelly and others.)

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    In other words, the real question is, when did the myth develop that SF and F are totally different things that share zero readers?
    – Martha
    Mar 16, 2020 at 2:41
  • If the premise of the question is flawed I’d gladly accept that as an answer, if Buzz would like to add it. Mar 18, 2020 at 17:25
  • @creative-username I added an introductory statement to that effect.
    – Buzz
    Mar 19, 2020 at 15:23

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