Fantasy or Science Fiction: Do You Know Your Stuff?

[Republished as a post by permission of the author.]

By Camestros Felapton: Materials classified as either fantasy or SF. A handy list so you can keep your novel from wandering off into the wrong genre.

wood = fantasy

metal = both

metal subtypes:

iron = fantasy

wrought iron = steam punk

steel = both

sub-sub types

stainless steel = SF

damascus steel = historical fantasy

aluminium = SF

gold = fantasy

silver = fantasy

platinum = cyberpunk

chrome = cyberpunk

lead = steam punk

copper = fantasy and steampunk


brass = steampunk

bronze = fantasy

tin = historical romance set in Cornwall

adamantium = high fantasy or superhero

plastic = SF

glass = both

any substance with “synth” in its name = SF

any substance with “elvish” or “dwarvish” in its name = fantasy

ale (without modifier) = fantasy

ale (with modifier of alien species) = SF

beer = both

wine = fantasy

vodka (unless overtly in an Eastern European setting) = cyberpunk

gin = steam punk

leather = fantasy (but see note for “synth” above)

fur = fantasy

gutta-percha = steam punk

silicon = cyberpunk (unless modified by “based life form” in which case SF)

sulphur = horror

phosphorus = both

carbon = punk (cyber or steam)

hydrogen (in atmosphere) = SF

hydrogen (inside a blimp) = steampunk

helium = see hydrogen

all other named elements not already mentioned above = SF

rock = fantasy

mineral = SF

lava = fantasy

magma = SF

granite = fantasy

limestone = some sort of historical novel set in England about a misunderstood young person finding their way in the world

sandstone = steam punk

coal = why are you even asking? Steam punk obviously.

shale = none, shale is not allowed in any genre

slate = fantasy or steam punk

marble = both

rubber = steam punk

latex = cyber punk

spandex = ironic parodies of superheroes

wool = fantasy or dystopian YA

linen = fantasy

cotton = steam punk

silk = both and/or silkpunk

flax = fantasy

methane (in general) = SF


marsh gas = fantasy

natural or manufactured gas = steam punk

farts = fantasy

biogas = post-apoclayptic

This was a good use of my time.

27 thoughts on “Fantasy or Science Fiction: Do You Know Your Stuff?

  1. A thorough and much needed primer on this important subject.

    I would note that a wider range of metals are acceptable in fantasy when specifically referring to armour, including platinum. Also, while users are encouraged to experiment with fictional metals in their high fantasy/sword and sorcery settings, beginners would do well to stick to “elements” with “y” vowels as much as possible: mythril, valyrian steel etc. (Presence of y in original spelling is optional). Adamantium and other -ums risk confusion among more traditional readers and chronic Breakfast Regret sufferers.

    Also, be careful with water states. Steam is straightforwardly steampunk, of course. Liquid water is fantasy when clean, or near future dystopian SF when polluted and/or commodified. Ice and snow are fantasy unless it has been made very clear to the reader that an entire non-earth planet is covered in it. Nobody really needs to drink in the future unless it’s alien ale, anyway.

    *removes tongue from cheek* 🙂

  2. I wish to subscribe to the silkpunk newsletter. Would this be a utopian post apocalyptic fantasy set in China?

    Seriously, that was hilarious. Thank you.

  3. My nearly lifelong problem telling fantasy from science fiction absent big markers like elves and paragraphs long descriptions of spaceships has now been solved. My gratitude is great.

  4. @Soon Lee:
    tavern = fantasy
    snow = fantasy

    But that’s because Camestros didn’t include combinations, e.g.,
    tavern + snow = SF
    gold + chrome = space opera
    beer + wine = hangover

  5. Punctuation in names:
    Apostrophe – fantasy
    Colon – science fiction
    @ – Cyberpunk
    ! – horror
    (tm) – corporate dystopia

  6. shale – YA dystopia – what do you think the arena is floored with?
    shale – steampunk – what do you think that the spool heaps looming over the town are made of?

    diamond (natural) – fantasy
    diamond (artificial) – SF

  7. Letters:

    T, K, Z, J, U, M = SF
    H, B, R, Q, A, Y = Fantasy
    L, F, O, D, N, G = both
    W, V = steampunk
    X = cyberpunk
    C = piratepunk
    S = pluralpunk
    P= punkpunk
    I = first person YA romance
    E = lit fic (avoid if possibl)

  8. This is brilliant, augmented by the amazing illustrations.

    It should be a chapbook.

    With additions from the others, particularly Arifel. Although I’d say Q could be a letter in either.

    Tea, of course, is ALL.

    I think elements in the periodic table above uranium can be SF since you have to have a technological society to create them.

    @Darren: Ken Liu has a silkpunk fantasy series going.

  9. Classical elements.

    Air, clean, windy, fresh = Fantasy
    Air, hot, dusty = dystopian SF
    Air, travel = Steampunk
    Water (see Arifel above)
    Earth, black, fertile = Fantasy
    Earth, planet = SF
    Fire, cozy, with food = Fantasy
    Fire, s’mores with officers = Star Trek
    Fire, lasers = MilSF
    Fifth Element = Space Fantasy with Opera

    Still doesn’t help with The Stone Sky.

  10. Oil shale: near-future SF, late-stage steampunk, or dystopian stuff from The Before Times.

  11. Most metals ending in -ium are SF:-

    plutonium – SF
    unobtainium – SF
    impervium – SF
    epithalamium the sea beast’s dower – SF
    impluvium – Roman historical

  12. Arsenic and mercury are definitely fantasy, but they kind of prove the point, having been known to the ancients. I feel like magnesium is tech-ish steampunk.

    Trying to decide if there are gemstones that are SF.

  13. @Cassy B: good one! Also, IIRC there are several gemstones that can be very useful in lasers — and the hardest known substance (diamond, unless it’s been recently displaced) seems to me to belong to SF rather than fantasy.

  14. @Lace: All synthetic gemstones (as seen above) are SF. Gemstones involving transuranic or made-up elements are SF. Tritinite is SF.

  15. R is definitely piratepunk. However, piratepunk has only half the usual I.

    Fire, cozy, with bearskin rug in front: romance.

    (and I meant trinitite above, of course)

  16. Chip Hitchcock on August 18, 2017 at 8:37 am said:
    I worked one year at a place that built microwave delay lines – some of which used natural quartz crystals of a fairly large size. (Most of the stuff I worked on used grown quartz or sapphire.) And there was the acousto-optic device that had a largish (and very pretty) germanium crystal in it. (Laser went through one way; microwave signal went through the other and modulated the laser beam.)

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