Tuesday, October 18

Science Fiction = Space + Aliens?

What comes to mind when you think of "science fiction"?
  • Adventures in space
  • Time travel
  • Inter-species relations
  • The future
  • Vastly developed technologies
All these points fit into the genre and can be found frequently. The question is: What makes a story science fiction? Are aliens not speculative? Is time travel not a fantasy?

A lot of people think they know what science fiction is. It's something farfetched but plausible because it doesn't have to exist within the limits of our reality, only the boundaries of a future or alternative one. Basically, anything goes. It probably involved aliens or robots. Since science fiction or "sci-fi" can prove very popular with the male sex, it will also involve plenty of fighting.

Like fantasy, science fiction is pigeon-holed and stereotyped by many.

This is my definition of what science fiction really is:

Fiction which incorporates the use of science in a prominent way. 

A few more examples of what science fiction might be:
  • Genetic modification
  • Man-made cures and illnesses
  • Technologies to destroy and improve the environment
  • Study of nature v.s. nurture
  • Chemicals or technologies that give progressive abilities or "super-powers"
There are many different scientific fields that can be explored and incorporated into fiction. They can be very plausible and current. What makes them all the more interesting is the way in which the characters respond to these situations.

How do you define science fiction?


R - R - R A F said...

I feel like one of those stereotype male sci-fi junkies to be commenting on this post of all those of which I'm notified via facebook... :)
Well, I probably am such a person anyway! When I read "science-fiction" I was instantly thrilled, it's something chemical!

Actully, I liked your definition quite a bit. By that definition, some fantasy works could be re-classified as sci-fi (if they attempt to explain magic and the working of their setting in a scientific-like way). But this is debatable. More than anything, it "demotes" (or promotes) many sci-fi works to the fantasy genre for a change. Star Wars? No science in it, that's fantasy. And with the best example, there go many.
There is of course a thin and misty boundary between the two genres, conceptualized by the classic trope of "technology so advanced that it's undistinguishable from magic".

A foot-note that may or may not be read s too biased... I think that sci-fi is underrated. Decades of B movies and literature, the supposed sexism of both the contents and the audience, a focus on what many believe to be a single thematic (the weird for weird's sake), a perceived childish-ness about it... I don't know the cause, but I feel like most dismiss sci-fi (and fantasy with it) as a niche, not considering that as You said, "What makes them all the more interesting is the way in which the characters respond to these situations." - I could admit both genres are a bit of a literary "short cut" to action and strange, character-defining situations. But it doesn't have to be like that, or only that. Personally, I write sci-fi and fantasy because it gives me multiple levels on which to express my creativity. Instead of imagining only characters and situations, I also have to imagine a whole different and brand new world around them.

Keri said...

Yay, I love your epic comment, Rafael! ♥ I think it's actually longer than this blog post. n_n

I'm with you 100% on the fact that science fiction is very underrated and so often shoved aside in the "B-grade" film category.

I have to disagree about Star Wars, however. Unless those droids and spaceships were run on wishes, it still classifies as science fiction.

Becs said...

I do like the way you describe science fiction Keri, and I do agree that sci-fi and/or fantasy is underrated. There is actually a genre mix of the two that many peole debate about: science-fantasy. I know quite a few people who call Star Wars science-fantasy, and I can see where they're coming from. I think these two genres have plenty to offer (to both sexes) when well done, and they shouldn't be over looked.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting, and it's got me thinking! I've decided to write Sci-fi for this year's NaNoWriMo, and I've been having the same kind of doubts... I mean, I am the first to admit that I'm no scientist, so anything I write will most likely be soft Sci-fi at the very least... but still, it does have to be plausible, and scientifically realistic. It's a fine balance, so thanks for your thoughts on it! :)

R - R - R A F said...

@Keri: About Star Wars, yes, it has sci-fi elements of course, but the core of it, the Force thing, is pure fantasy... Although... No, they also explained that in a pseudo-scientific way speaking of those "midiclorians" thingies inside the cells of jedis, so... Real-time change of mind for me! :D

I wanted to pitch a definition of sci-fi but right now I don't think it could differ from yours which is so simple and sharp. I'll think about it! :)

R - R - R A F said...

I got it:
"Fiction which incorporates the use of science in a prominent way, or suggests a pseudo-scientific plausibility for its fantastic elements."

Determinist said...

I discovered this a while ago when I spent some time thinking about it. Science fiction, like the definition of "science" or "life" is a cloud and overlaps with lots of other stuff.

So, if you define it, there always seems to be an example that is clearly science fiction, but doesn't fit your definition.

Time Travel - "The Time Traveler's Wife" is clearly a romance novel and the time travel didn't involve science particularly (there was some hand-wavy genetic explanation which was unconvincing). That story touches the cloud of the sci-fi genre, but sits mostly in the romance genre.

It is similar with things like "A Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood - sure, it's set in a dystopian future, but the author doesn't really consider it science fiction. What does she know right? :)

Keri said...

Becs: I've never heard the term "science-fantasy" before but it makes sense. Science fiction involves plenty of elements that might not exist in present plausibility, so it is seen as more fantastical. I guess that's why science fiction and fantasy are so often lumped together.

Bri: I have doubts all the time with genres and settings. I feel like I don't know enough to give it a shot and I've never really tackled a science fiction novel. I want to, though. You just have to allow yourself a little more confidence and not think you're going to fail before you even start. You should go for a sci-fi novel this year for NaNoWriMo. I might even join you!

Rafael: The interesting thing about science fiction that takes place as Star Wars does, is that in galaxies outside our own, the principles of physics and other scientific laws can be quite different, hence "the Force". You're right, that as long as something can be presented as plausible in the realm of science, it doesn't matter that such a thing may never come into existence. It is still science fiction after all.

Determinist said...

Oh - and I consider "fantasy" to be a super-set which actually includes science-fiction, although I know lots of others who prefer the term "speculative fiction", which covers science fiction, horror and fantasy, where fantasy has to do with magic.

For me though, fantasy is simply stuff you fantasize about, i.e. flying in a spaceship or time travel or moving things with your mind.

Keri said...

Travis: People always talk about "crossover fiction" but I think there are hardly and hard-set genres. There are always blurred genres and sub genres.

I haven't read 'The Time Traveler's Wife' *stares at copy on shelf and mutters, "fat book..."* but it does seem more romance than science fiction. Don't even get me started on books that parade themselves as a particular genre but then just prove themselves to be romance novels in werewolfskin clothing or similar.

To me, it seems just as (if not more) plausible that you can time travel with the use or magic than the use of scientific technologies.

Emma Michaels said...

I have this belief I decided on when I was thinking about writing a scifi short story. To me, scifi is any story that explores stories that are scientifically effected but without the need to be within the current realm of realism. So in short. I totally agree with all of you! :p