Strictly speaking, fantasy is older than science fiction, just as magic is older than science and fingers are older than forks. Despite this, however, not to mention the even more compelling alphabetical precedence, "science fiction and fantasy" is the accepted phrase, and who am I to buck the system.
I like both. I enjoy both. I find it easier than trying to draw a non-existent line between the two. These days, admittedly, pressures of time and money mean that I read more old stuff than new, and I find myself unacquainted with the works of Jeff Noon or Neal Stephenson, not to mention Robin Hobb, J.V.Jones or Andrew Harman. Time, however, will bring its own remedy to this deficiency, and in the meantime I derive great enjoyment from re-reading the work of such giants as Eric Frank Russell, Roger Zelazny, Harry Harrison, Anne McCaffrey, Theodore Sturgeon and (most recently) James P. Hogan (though his later works are increasingly tainted, as with some oozing acrid sap, by his blatant contempt for anyone who does not think the way he does) (To quote Nelson Muntz: "Ha ha."). Thanks to Mike Richards, I have now encountered some of David Weber, and I like what I've seen. Further revelations will doubtless follow as our economy improves (if it ever does...)
Two authors for whom I do shell out regularly are Terry Pratchett and Tom Holt. The Discworld books have shattered all the old truisms about long-running series by never being less than great, while Tom's quirkier, darker (and darker and darker) humour is a very good way to jolt myself out of depression and gloom. If only we had an sf counterpart to either of them...
Paul Bristow: (from the guestbook) Bujold, dear boy! Have you never encountered Bujold?
Well, no. I have to admit that what I saw of the covers when working at Titan caused me to mutter "oh no, not more frodding war stories" and pass on. There was a great deal of sf around at the time (most of it published by Jim Baen, who once rejected one of Dave Langford's books on the grounds that it was a little "negative about warfare") which seemed to wallow in alien gore: endless series of books about hard bitterns, er, I mean hard-bitten mercenaries defending humanity against the threat from outer space, or other humanity, or bleeding-heart liberal commie peaceniks, or something. We seemed to need a lot of defending. As a bleeding-heart liberal non-commie peacenik, I learned to pass over these fairly swiftly, and Bujold (like Weber) may have been a casualty of this. All Sweeping Generalisations Are Wrong. Selah.
But is she funny?
And I seem to find myself virtually alone in continuing to take pleasure in all the Star Trek products, and Babylon 5, and Blake's Seven and Dr Who thanks to UK Gold, and Highlander and Forever Knight and Earth: Final Conflict and Farscape and Andromeda and [etc.]...and being monumentally unimpressed with the two productions that were supposed to herald the renaissance of British TV sf, Invasion:Earth and Ultraviolet. Way too serious. Sf, both written and media, can't afford to take itself too seriously. That's what we have Real Life™ for.
Brian Aldiss disagrees. In Billion Year Spree and presumably in its revised edition, Trillion Year Spree, he avers that the purpose of sf is to evoke and articulate "a decent despair" in the face of the pointlessness of life and the insensate cruelty of the universe. It's a strange usage of the word "spree", is all I can say. To me, sf/fantasy is about fun, and if it makes you think as well that's a bonus; but if it makes you think "What's the point of it all?" then it's best to go and read some Wodehouse or Chesterton till you feel better. Or watch some Star Trek.
Since I wrote the above paragraphs, almost all the shows mentioned above have vanished from the airwaves and now form part of our vast and still incomplete DVD collection. (I'm none too sure if DVDs existed when I wrote the above two paragraphs.) One that has, to all intents and purposes, returned from the grave, is Doctor Who, in the form of Russell T Davies' "reimagining" of the series, which has been dubbed "nuwho" (as in Grimbledown Down's "NU-food") to differentiate it from the real thing. This has been insanely successful, as any kind of serious attempt to revive the series would have been, and won truckloads of awards, and I get a lot of flak for insisting on hating it, and nonetheless being unable not to watch it.
There has also been a "reimagining" of Battlestar Galactica, which I have not seen having heard that it is bleak, depressing and Aldissian in the extreme, and various other new shows from America and Canada such as Blood Ties and Stargate SG-1 and Smallville and, oh yes, something about a vampire slayer. We couch potatoes keep ourselves busy.
Strangely enough, most of the people who read sf and/or fantasy will be completely unaware of the existence of fandom, the loose-knit global community of people who are bound together by something that is linked to their love of the genres. There aren't that many of us: maybe a few thousands or tens of thousands in Britain, maybe even less. In a population of fifty million odd, that's nothing...but when you've been driving for four hours, at night, in fog, on strange roads, and you pull into a packed hotel car park and drag your luggage into the lobby and within the first ten minutes you've been hugged by twenty of your closest, truest friends, fandom is everything. Especially when they then form a chain to help with the luggage.
Zander owes his existence, and Jonathan his sanity, to science fiction fandom. It's pulled us out of the abyss more times than I can count. Fans are human, of course, and there are intolerances and feuds and politicking just as in any other community...but there is also love, and trust, and shared laughter and shared joy. And unlike some other bodies who hold conventions, we leave a hotel mostly as we would wish to find it.
Give or take the odd exploding bathroom...
Buttons and bars and such are courtesy of Jelane's Free Web Graphics, at http://www.erinet.com/jelane/families/.