Can someone explain the difference between the fantasy and paranormal genres to me? I kind of feel silly asking this, but I've tried Google, but it seems like every site I come across has a slightly different explanation (so maybe I'm not the only one who's confused).
As I wrote, it all depends how broad one wants to define it. Vampires, werewolves and alike have been part of horror for ages until a few decades ago when authors began to portray them in a romantic setting and now they are more often found in paranormal romance than horror. Horror often contains paranormal elements (haunted house, ghosts) or science fiction (just check how many horror movies make use of space aliens).
There is quite some science fiction around which can be seen as fantasy as well, but with the difference it uses space travel and/or future technology as well, or contains many elements of fantasy.
For example the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey, Peter Hamilton's Void Trilogy and many novels by Jack Vance.
There is also science fiction in which humans develop or have mental abilities, which can be seen as a paranormal element, for example The Many-Coloured Land series by Julian May and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series.
The way I view it is this: Fantasy is the parent category, Paranormal is a branch. In this sense, all Paranormal is Fantasy, but not all Fantasy is Paranormal.
It works the same with Urban Fantasy, too. All Urban Fantasy dictates is where the story (largely) takes place: in an urban setting. A lot of contemporary Urban Fantasy is, indeed, associated with the paranormal, but that does not mean that all Urban Fantasy is Paranormal.
The book Delirium, for example, is not even anywhere close to being Paranormal Fiction, yet it is still Urban Fantasy. Why? Because its Dystopian and Science Fiction (though Science Fiction not always) sub-genres are also classified under the larger Fantasy category, and it takes place in a big city (urban setting) in an alternate future of the United States (again, fantasy).
@Lonnie E. Holder: Not to be argumentative here, but Science Fiction is often also Fantasy. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is a great example of that. The technology that goes into the Steampunk genre makes it Science Fiction, but the fact that that technology exists in a time it couldn't possibly have existed makes it Fantasy.
A large majority, if not all, of Michael Crichton books fall into both the Sci-fi and Fantasy genres, for another example. Are you going to tell me Jurassic Park and Timeline are missing elements of either of these genres?
Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices series manages to mix all of them (Urban Fantasy/Fantasy, Paranormal, AND Science Fiction). It's has Steampunk elements, mixed with the nephilim, demon-hunting (vamps, werewolves, etc) Shadowhunters from her The Mortal Instruments series, set in Victorian London.
Kira: The essence of science fiction is that you take the physically possible, inject a technology that we are unsure is possible, and then figure out where it takes us. Science fiction has always been this way and the evolution of genres has not changed that .
"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is well into fantasy. There are a few - a very few - science fiction elements in the story, but it is most assuredly not science fiction.
"Jurassic Park" is classic science fiction. Think about what they did. Admittedly, they had two premises to support their story, but only two:
(1) What if you would extract DNA from mosquitoes buried in amber? This question is a classic science fiction question.
(2) What if you could clone dinosaurs from that DNA?
Everything else unfolds from these two questions. The latter is technically more possible than the former, given that we have already begun to try something similar, though not with dinosaurs. If there is a fantasy element in "Jurassic Park," I missed it.
Steampunk is a melded genre. There are steampunk stories that are science fiction. However, steampunk is venturing into fantasy. Once you cross the line into fantasy, there is no reversal. While a fantasy novel may have science fiction elements, it remains a fantasy novel.
Which gets me to the point. While a story may have elements of various genres, it cannot be in a genre which would abhor the non-genre elements. Such is the case with science fiction. A science fiction novel or story cannot have fantasy elements, or it becomes a fantasy story because a premise of a science fiction story is that the elements should at least be possible. The debates were tremendous among the decreasingly small number of science fiction fans about "Star Wars." However, it there really is no debate. Star Wars is most assuredly not science fiction. The term that seems most appropriate is science fantasy.
"The Infernal Devices" is not science fiction.
Alright, I'll concede for the most part. I think I like "Science Fantasy" better, anyway to describe some of these "elements". It seems to fit more in context (First time I've come across the term, honestly. Usually I just see it all lumped together, or completely separate). Still, I do not believe it impossible that Sci-fi and Fantasy can be mixed, and still be as much (or, close to, at least) one genre as the other.
lol...If you value your sanity, never suggest to a science fiction author or a science fiction fan that the two are anything alike. You will catch heck. On the other hand, fantasy fans do not care, or do not seem to care. I think that is because fantasy is a relatively broad genre and science fiction is relatively narrow. Sadly, most book stores throw all the fantasy and science fiction books into one section. That drives science fiction fans crazy because there are not really that many science fiction books and there are hundreds or thousands (tens of thousands?) of fantasy books.
Science fiction and fantasy can be "mixed," but the result is a fantasy novel - usually. I love stories that appear to be fantasy stories, only they turn out to be science fiction. However, if the elements are truly fantasy (witches, elves, magic, ghosts, etc.), and there is no scientific explanation, then it is a fantasy genre. There are authors that have written science fiction stories that have what appear to be fantasy elements, but are not. "The Dragon Riders of Pern" are one example. Anne McCaffrey explained early on how the dragons were able to fly from a physics viewpoint. It is important in a science fiction novel that there be an attempt at plausibility.
Here is a question for you. Is "Star Trek" science fiction or fantasy, and why? I am not trying to trick anyone. The answer should be reasonably simple. Hint: Try Googling "the science of Star Trek."
What about novels like Dune? It's considered to be classic sci-fi, but at the same time the entire world structure resembles epic fantasy.
Hmm, I didn't notice this further discussion. The only point I can add now is that it's pretty much apparent that we won't get to a conclusion here as it all depends on one's viewpoint on whether fantasy and science fiction can be mixed (I don't even put science fantasy here as it is another subgenre to me) or that there is always some way to define the boundary between what can be classified as fantasy or science fiction.
Personally I read a wide range of fantasy novels. Some have science fiction elements in them, other have horror elements, etc. But I also read science fiction novels which have fantasy or horror elements. Crossover genres (a.k.a. subgenres) are very common. Which top-category you put them in depends on the readers view and feeling of the book.
I stand by what I said earlier. If a supposed science fiction book has fantasy - real, genuine fantasy and not science that appears, at first, to be fantasy - then the book is a fantasy with science fiction elements. There are a number of books that have these attributes.
A science fiction story CAN have horror elements and remain a science fiction story. "Alien" is a horror story, but it is also hard science fiction.
Science fiction is a relatively rare genre in that the rules for being in the genre mean that it can be easy to fall outside the genre. Throw in a teensy smattering of magic and you are done, unless the "magic" has a scientific explanation a la Jack Chalker's Anchor and Flux stories. Smells like fantasy, looks like fantasy, is fascinating hard science fiction.
With respect to fantasy stories, many of them started life as horror stories, but they remain fantasies. Try reading Grimm's fairy tales, the originals. We think the horror of current movies is something knew, but Grimm's stories are hardly the sweetness of the Disney adaptations.
"Dune" is classic science fiction. Resembling epic fantasy does not make it epic fantasy. Frank Herbert spent a lot of effort creating a galaxy tied together with a specific technology.
Fantasy is a lot broader and vast domain compared to Paranormal. Some aspect of the Paranormal can be categorized under Fantasy but Paranormal generally is more related with Science Fiction, since it tries to explain strange phenomena (paranormal= "above" normal) by using science. In Fantasy the author doesn't need to explain the strange phenomena, readers must take it as it is (like magic).
A man transformed into a bird through magic is Fantasy, while a man transformed into a bird (avian) by a series of mutations is Sci Fi/Paranormal.
If Fantasy employs Magic, Paranormal uses Science.
Paranormal is the unseen and scientifically doubtful. Fantasy is elves dragons and wizards. Escape to Witch Mountain is paranormal. Lord of the Rings is fantasy.
Actually, "Escape to Witch Mountain" is science fiction. The "what-if" here is relatively simple and basic. What if there were alien children with telepathic powers? Then the author threw them into an orphanage and had someone who wanted to use their powers chasing after them. Telepathy and mental powers have long been staples of science fiction stories.