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Thursday, April 25, 2002

In your journal for April 25th, you mentioned that the best definition you found for science fiction was "Science fiction is anything I point at when I say 'This is science fiction'." I was wonderring about what you would think of the definition my Contemporary Fiction teacher told me back when I was in college.

Basically he said that any fiction that relies heavily on science or technology should be considerred science fiction. In this case, Star Wars would be SciFi because of all of its technology (but it would also be Fantasy considering where it takes place, the whole "Hero's Journey" theme in plot, etc.) My teacher went on to say that this would even include things like ER (which, as we all know, is Drama), which mostly deals with medicine. I guess from his perspective, SciFi is not a genre in itself, but a facet of other genres (Fantasy can have SciFi elements, Drama can have SciFi elements, Active, Comedy, etc.)-Scott


Well, from your description of what he said, I don't think your Contemporary Fiction teacher would have recognised SF if it came up behind him wearing a gorilla costume and bit him on the bottom. There's oodles of SF that's utterly nontechnological (Samuel R. Delany? Ursula K. LeGuin? Ray Bradbury,anyone? J.G. Ballard? Theodore Sturgeon?) while a medical drama like ER or a contemporary novel about a man stripping down and rebuilding his vintage car are almost certainly not SF.

Sure, genre isn't exclusive. But SF is, pretty obviously, a genre, and to try and define it out of existence (by defining it as "any fiction with science/technology in") seems silly. Sure, some SF is fantasy, but then, all fiction is fantasy. It's not true. It's made up. We take that as a given and move on.

Or to put it another way: if SF is the thing I'm pointing to, when I say "this is science fiction" I rather doubt that your Contemporary Fiction teacher and I would necessarily have been pointing to the same things.

But defining SF is a game for mugs or academics or people on panels at SF conventions: they'll talk about SF being about the way you look at the world, about the science in SF being elastic and including such sciences as botany, sociology and history, or, as Judith Merril sensibly suggested, the S in SF standing for speculative, not science, fiction, and for that matter, since we're already in the future of so much twentieth century SF, the retro and fungible nature nature of SF as a force towards a literature of ideas, rather than simply a static medium, which thus resists formal definition and....

You see? Simply talking about definitions for SF and pretty soon you find yourself using words like fungible. Trust me. It's a mug's game. You'll get further with the pros and cons of putting an apostrophe in FAQs.

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