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The Problem with Fantasy (according to sci-fi readers)

A couple of months ago, I posted The Problem with Sci-fi according to fantasy readers. The reaction was, let’s say, intense. Apparently, we, the sci-fi crowd, are vengeful people. As soon as I shared the post on social media, there was an avalanche of messages with variations of “Oh yeah? How about fantasy and <insert problem here>?”

I loved to read every single juicy answer. So I thought, why not do a part II of my previous post? Here we are. Let’s dive into the problems with fantasy, according to sci-fi readers.

It is worth remembering that science fiction and fantasy have an overlapping fanbase. Many hard-core sci-fi readers eventually pick up a fantasy book to read, or, in the least, a sci-fantasy novel (yes, sci-fantasy does exist!). Naturally, each genre has its characteristics, strengths, and faults. It is all a matter of taste. Today, we will listen to those with a taste for the sci-fi genre (like myself) and see what they have to say about fantasy.

As with the last post, I have compiled five complaints I heard from sci-fi readers about the fantasy genre. To make it official, the bot family voted on what they thought was the worst thing about our sibling genre (subscribe to receive my newsletter!). The results are at the end.

[Spoilers alert for Avatar: The Last Airbender.]

So. Much. Worldbuilding!

The amount of useless information conveyed in fantasy worldbuilding was a common complaint by sci-fi readers. Lenghty descriptions of rocks and mountains can really grind our gears.

It is not to say that science fiction is exempt from this problem, but the fantasy genre indeed has worldbuilding at its core.

Which is pretty understandable, I must say. The author is creating a brand-new world with different cultures, politics, laws, and people; they ought to describe them! And the best way to make it real to the reader is through vivid worldbuilding. However… does it have to be this much?

Still, although a common complaint, the worldbuilding was not the most annoying thing about fantasy, according to the bot family. This (dis)honor goes to the following item.

Magica ex-Machina

Our hero is in a pickle. Our hearts race as we follow the words leading to the climax; we’re in serious doubt they could overcome the situation unharmed. How could they do it? It seems impossible!

That’s when the author enters and says, “Oh, haven’t I told you before? They had this secret magical ability that nobody else had. I know it wasn’t mentioned anywhere else in the book, but that will help them pull it off of the bad situation. This is good, right?”


The problem with the Magica ex-Machina is that it feels like a cheat. We, the readers, are invested in the story, following each step and facing the problem together with the characters. It can be really frustrating if the problem is solved out of nowhere, which is the opposite of the intended relieved feeling this ploy was supposed to bring.

It is not to say it can’t be done right. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang’s energy-bending seemed to be a last-minute-added solution to his internal conflict about murdering the villain. Energy-bending later became an integral part of the show, but it came out of nowhere at that point. And it was a great ending to a great show. But this is an exception, not the rule.

Endless series

Ok, I must admit, this one is personal. It is me who is complaining (although I'm sure at least one person agrees with me). But what the hell! Fourteen books in a series? Geez. I can hardly deal with thrilogies.

Huge series is not exclusive to Fantasy, but it is way more prevalent in this genre. Even the most dedicated fantasy fan has trouble naming a few stand-alone fantasy books. On the sci-fi side, this is the reason why I hesitate to read names like Peter Hamilton or Iain M. Banks. I cannot keep up with all of the books. And, to be honest, it gets tedious reading about the same world (galaxy, universe, whatever) over and over again. I need new ideas.

But that might be just me. I have serious commitment issues.

The fandoms

It is amusing to see complaints about fandoms. But this option actually won second place as the most annoying thing about fantasy in the poll!

As an author myself, I am very much pro fandom. Let's support our favorite authors! But it seems that other readers get a bit intimidated by the power of an enthusiastic community. Or maybe it is not intimidation at all. Perhaps it is just annoying to see a whole group of people trying to gatekeep stories through their passionate cheering of one author.

I don’t know. But it is true that fantasy fandoms are more common than sci-fi fandoms. Or, at least, more vocal about their favorite stories.

Too many dragons!

It is true. It seems dragons are in every single fantasy story. They are the poster boy of the genre. I mean, there are other creatures, people!

Poll resuts.
These were voted the worst issues with the fantasy genre by my Bot Family.

That’s it for today, folks!

Have you heard any of these criticisms before? Do you have another one to add to my list? Let me know in the comments.

See you next post,



Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.

You ger her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.

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1 Comment

Lex Starwalker
Lex Starwalker
May 07, 2022

This was a fantastic post, and I agree with the points made. I've seen these things too.

Regarding the Magica ex Machina: I think Brandon Sanderson gives the best explanation of this I've heard. He's talked about it many times and in many places, including his podcast Writing Excuses. In a nutshell, there are two basic approaches to magic in fantasy--either the magic has a system the reader can understand (like Brandon's Mistborn books), or there is no system, and the magic does whatever the author wants (like Gandalf in LotR). When systemless magic (like Gandalf) is used to solve problems, it often feels like deus ex machina (usually because it is). What can Gandalf do with his magic? Whatever the…

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