What is SCIENCE FICTION? Where should the limits of science end and fiction begin? Does fiction alter the reality of science or should science stay hard-core and true to its nature? Should sci-fi never bend rules or can it take a fanciful step in one direction of another to make a successful story or franchise? After checking out the various perspectives here, please chime in to the conversation and let us know what you would consider to be the category or genre of science fiction.
Over the years I’ve encountered lively conversations with work peers about what is “science fiction?” Many of my work peers come from backgrounds steeped in logic and science and hold PhD’s and other lofty, unpronounceable degrees in many disciplines. But there is an interesting commonality amongst them and it’s their insistence on what science fiction works should be. (Side note: It’s amazing to talk to folks who aren’t sucked in by popular lore or without an agenda about climate warming! But that’s for another day.)
For my peers the term science fiction seems pretty clear-cut. It’s a piece of written fiction that has science in it, and more often than not, the science had better be accurate and real. If the story doesn’t stick to the real premise of the STUDY of science, then it’s fodder.
Science fiction is also often referred to as “sci-fi,” unless you’re a network that wants a term that you can brand and copyright, then you get creative and buy “Syfy” from someone who coined it for their blog many years ago. That’s kind of a cool success story for all involved, but that tale is also for another day.
I’ve always considered the term of science fiction to embody the word fiction. For me, it’s fictional and hence, when a writer bends the rules of science, so be it. I’ve never questioned it and continue to enjoy the stories as they develop. I also look at how science is addressed in sci-fi franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. It’s science fiction. Right? But there are definitely some rules being bent, broken or fantasized in these franchises.
Under IMDb* Star Wars is labelled as Action / Adventure / Fantasy / Sci-Fi. I started to wonder about that but then considered the use of “The Force” within the franchise. Thus I accept the term fantasy being applied to this franchise. But a quick look at Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica and I see that these franchise entries are labelled as Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi. No fantasy.
Despite the fact that these three franchises have technology that moves their ships around at faster than light speeds, beam people around the cosmos and what not, I don’t see a generic use of the term fantasy to label them? Or is moving at “warp” speed a sound scientific premise that’s just taken a step beyond what we are capable of?
This is when I lean on the term fiction in the phrase. And if a franchise uses science-based premises to extend the science within a story way beyond what we can truly achieve, isn’t that the fictional part of science? Or should that then be considered a sci-fi-fantasy genre?
*PLEASE take note that I am not using IMDb as an end-all of reference to this issue. It was an interesting resource and I was curious how the entertainment industry-minded folk see this issue.
If you take a quick look at a Google search for “definition of fiction” you get:
Prose literature, esp. short stories and novels, about imaginary events and people.
Invention or fabrication as opposed to fact.
Synonyms figment – invention – fabrication
If I do the same for science fiction, I get
Fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes…
If I were to hang my end-result on Google, I see that fiction is “Invention or fabrication as opposed to fact” and that science fiction is “imagined future scientific or technological advances.” If I were to stick to my perspective on the fiction part again, I see the terms of invention, fabrication versus the sci-fi reference of imagined. Under sci-fi, the imagined technological advancement seems to echo the invention or fabrication reference. Am I seeing this correctly?
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Now me, being who I am, I know that my opinion is NOT the end-all for anyone. I’m not that sane to begin with! So I reached out to a few authors I’ve been lucky enough to have some association with.
They were Hugh Howey, author of the Wool franchise, the Molly Fyde collective of stories and other great pieces of work. Hugh is presently overseas on a huge book tour supporting Wool, as it’s evolved from a New York Times Best Seller indie e-book to a hardback/paperback novel! At the time of this writing, Wool is the #3 best selling sci-fi book on Amazon. (Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) (Silo Saga)) His journey is an inspiration to follow. There could be plans for Wool to become a major motion picture, with Fox and Ridley Scott having acquired the movie rights to the story.
My other author is someone who Hugh had recommended and that’s indie author Peter Cawdron, who has written such wonderful books as Anomaly, Monsters, and the Galactic Exploration series. Peter can take lofty scientific principles and make them pretty easy to digest in a story.
Both authors have entertained me for endless hours, as their stories captured my imagination and took me to places I thoroughly enjoyed being in. AND both authors were gracious enough to take the time from their busy schedules to answer my questions, and I feel like I’ve collected two fascinating perspectives to add to this conversation!
Hey Bruce, I’m happy to weigh in:
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- Alternative History
- Anthologies (which really is a style of story rather than a theme)
- High Tech
- Series (I’m not sure why Amazon yet again mixes styles with themes)
- Short Stories (here it is yet again)
- Space Opera
In the case of Star Trek, the change of focus need not be bad, that’s really up to the fans to decide, but the story has changed. No longer are we in awe of discovery, no longer are we interacting with new and exotic cultures, becoming caught up in alien intrigues we barely understand. Instead, we have Mission Impossible in space. Now, I love a heart-pounding, adrenalin-pumping chase scene as much as the next person, but I’d hoped for more variety with the reboot. Perhaps the next installment will take us somewhere we haven’t been before.
And a misnomer about hard science fiction is that its hard to read. It could be, but it shouldn’t be. Hard sci-fi was popularized by the late Michael Crichton in stories like Jurassic Park and Timeline. With our recent cultural focus on pop-sci (popular science), with scientists such as Stephen Hawkins and Brian Cox opening up the wonders of the universe to the general public, there’s the potential for Hollywood to follow suit and provide some thoughtful movies rather than a roller-coaster ride. Hard sci-fi movies like Contact have shown the public will respond to intrigue over gun fights at the Martian OK corral.
And thus, presented for your intellectual digestion, are a few perspectives on what science fiction can be seen as. We all have different opinions, and I’d love to hear yours!