10 Science-Fantasy Books That Defy Genre Constraints

When it comes to sci-fi or fantasy, why not have both?

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  • Photo Credit: Cover of 'Aether Ones' by Wendi Coffman-Porter

When we think of science fiction and fantasy, we often think of two separate and distinct genres. But time has shown us again and again that the boundaries between the two genres aren't as strict as initially assumed. After all, what is space opera but basically fantasy in outer space? 

That said, some books deliberately combine elements of science fiction and elements of fantasy to deliver something new. Enter the category of science-fantasy. 

Whether it involves two parallel worlds, interstellar colonization that results in eschewing technology for magic, or scientific feats so mind-blowing that they resemble magic, science-fantasy combines some of the very best qualities of both parent genres.

Here are ten science-fantasy books that offer the very best of this genre-bending category.

Aether Ones

Aether Ones

By Wendi Coffman-Porter

Want some mystery in your science-fantasy? 

Prior to the start of the novel, an event known as the Great Sundering split the universe into two realms: one ruled by technology and one ruled by magic. 

Lei Falconi works for an organization that preserves the fragile peace between the two realities. But her job becomes much harder when a string of mysterious deaths threatens to ruin everything.


A Wrinkle in Time

By Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle's young adult novel is probably one of the first titles that comes to mind when you mention science-fantasy. 

A classic tale of good versus evil, A Wrinkle in Time follows Meg Murray on an epic journey—alongside her younger brother Charles Wallace and classmate Calvin—to rescue her father, who previously disappeared after studying something known as a tesseract.

Cards of Grief

Cards of Grief

By Jane Yolen

This unusual first contact novel introduces us to an alien society whose entire culture centers on grief. There is no love. There is no laughter. There is only death. And to this world comes an interstellar anthropological guild charged with studying the civilization. 

Of course, it wouldn't be a first contact story if the newcomers remained merely distant observers.

gothic sci-fi books

Black Sun Rising

By C.S. Friedman

A long time ago, human interstellar travelers came to Ena to colonize it. Alas, Ena is characterized by a mysterious energy that can manifest your greatest dreams and your worst nightmares. 

The first installment of the Coldfire trilogy, Black Sun Rising takes place centuries later when humans have forged an uneasy balance with their environment. But now, something is about to change all that.

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Diadem from the Stars

Diadem from the Stars

By Jo Clayton

Imagine a diadem that contains untold power. Now imagine that object being stolen from the spider-like race that created it. You wouldn't be surprised to learn that the creators are angry and want to retrieve it at all costs, right? 

Unfortunately, the thief in question encounters a young woman on a backwater planet, and the diadem ends up in her possession. 

The young woman, Aleytys, is already an outcast thanks to her heritage, but the diadem makes her even more of one. Unable to remove the coronet from her head, she can now access powers she can't control. Even worse, an entire universe wants the diadem at any cost.

books like Dune

Lord of Light

By Roger Zelazny

In the far-flung future, humans have developed astonishing technologies and mental abilities. When one of their spaceships arrives on a distant planet, a group of these humans subjugates the native population and seizes control of the world. 

Thanks to technology that effectively makes them immortal, the humans set themselves up as gods styled after the Hindu pantheon and institute a caste-like system upon the general population. 

Not all humans like this system, though. Some believe that technology and knowledge should be shared freely, and this disagreement sets up a conflict that will change an entire world.

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Witch World: High Hallack Cycle

Witch World: High Hallack Cycle

By Andre Norton

Andre Norton wrote many novels in her Witch World series, which blends science fiction and sword and sorcery

In the continuity, the Witch World is an alternate universe where magic has overtaken science and is initially wielded by women. 

The High Hallack Cycle takes place on one of continents in the alternate world. This edition contains five of the original High Hallack novels and features adventure tales set in this part of Witch World.

Heroes Die

Heroes Die

By Matthew Stover

In the future, Earth has become a dystopian world. Who's surprised?

Oppressive corporations distract citizens through virtual reality entertainment where people called Actors are sent on adventures in a parallel reality called Overworld. 

Unlike the technology-driven Earth, Overworld resembles a fantasy world much like Middle-earth or Westeros. 

As an Actor, Hari plays an assassin named Caine in Overworld. When his estranged wife is kidnapped by an emperor from the parallel world, Caine must embark on a quest to rescue her—but his enemies aren't just the emperor's forces. They include the corporate studios from Earth.

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Gideon the Ninth

By Tasmyn Muir

In a galactic empire founded and ruled by necromancy, an undead Emperor governs over nine planets, each with its own House. He's invited the heirs of each House to participate in a trial that will grant them immortality and unimaginable power. 

Gideon the Ninth, a cavalier from the Ninth House, wants nothing more to do with this life. But after the Emperor sends out his call, Harrow—the necromancer heir of Ninth House—offers her a deal. 

If Gideon agrees to be her cavalier and help her pass the trials, Harrow will set her free. Of course, the truth behind the trials may be more horrific than they could ever imagine.

Dragonflight Anne McCaffrey


By Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series introduced us to a world colonized by humans but that faces constant threat from a spore that rains down upon the planet and consumes all organic material. 

To combat this threat, humans formed telepathic bonds with native dragons—after some genetic tweaking. 

The series covers various points in Pern's long history and swings between science fiction, fantasy, and everything in between, but Dragonflight introduces us to the world via Lessa, the sole survivor of a noble family who ultimately becomes co-leader of the last active haven of dragonriders on Pern.

This post first appeared on The Portalist.