Assuming I am being asked from a genre studies perspective, I like to define Science Fiction in accordance to Ursula K. Le Guin’s definition of the text we read in class:
“Words can be used thus paradoxically because they have, along with a semiotic usage, a symbolic or metaphoric usage. All fiction is a metaphor. Science fiction is a metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors drawn from certain great dominants of our contemporary life—science, all the sciences, and technology, and the relativistic and the historical outlook, among them. Space travel is one of these metaphors; so is an alternative society, an alternative biology; the future is another. The Future, in fiction, is a metaphor” (Le Guin:1980)
Sci-Fi, like all great genre fiction, works on two levels simultaneously: the literal (plot-level) level, and on the symbolic (meta-story) plane. This double narrative […]
Science fiction is a form of fiction in which the plot is tied to an extrapolation of our current ideas of science or technology. To be considered science fiction, the science or technology present does not need a real basis in the science of now, but should live in the realm of the distantly possible. This description is helped along by a contrast with the genre of fantasy; both genres operate in speculative settings, but where fantasy concerns itself with characters, worlds and ideas (magic, orcs, combat with swords) considered totally detached from the world we live in now, science fiction (science, extraterrestrials, laser guns) operates in a world we easily imagine as our own world in the distant, or near, future. One might imagine magic as science we have not wrapped our heads, or imaginations, around yet; the difference between a mage who casts a fire spell, and a […]
Science Fiction is space, aliens, robots, time travel, and tight plastic white jumpsuits with broad shoulders and no pockets (post-scarcity means post-functionality) – right? Most of the time science fiction is labeled by what it has in it. This is important, but it is not the only thing that makes it Science Fiction (SF).
On the surface, science fiction seems self-descriptive. It is a story utilizing a fictional science. But even this definition asks the question of the degree to which the science is fictional. Is it a few years away, or, at least, a theoretically possible science? This is the problem cited by many critics when it comes to differentiating Star Wars as space opera instead of science fiction – that the light sabers are not possible and it is essentially a world of magic in space. What counts as “theoretically possible,” however, does change from time to time, and […]
“Say, what’s the matter? . . . Where are you going?” – “Not to your world. . . Goodbye, stranger. . .”
Science fiction is a genre in which intelligent, non-human entities cause us to question our own privileged place in the universe. It forces us to reckon with the intelligent other in order to ask what really defines us. If other beings can be more intelligent then our Earthly dominance crumbles, and with it part of our identity. So in this crumbling, and often fear and peril we are asked, “who will we become?”
In the War of the Worlds, for example, near the end of the broadcast, when Pierson finds another man they have a disagreement about the future. “We’ll raid the museums, we’ll even spy on the Martians…” He continues with a plan of violence that is based on manipulation of knowledge. […]
Fiction is any work that tells a story that isn’t meant to recount true events in a factually accurate way. The science part of science fiction is less clear, but most people I believe are comfortable with a standard of “I know it when I see it.”But for a more workable definition, it’s easiest to do this by first folding in fantasy.
Science fiction and fantasy imagine worlds that vary from ours in was caused by some x-factor. An x-factor can be a new technology, it can be the existence of unicorns, it can be magic, it can be time travel, it can be a zombie virus. In sci-fi and fantasy, we see plots that couldn’t happen in our world that are driven by circumstances that are currently unavailable to us. How science fiction and fantasy differ is that in science fiction there is an expectation that whatever the x-factor is, […]
Science fiction is, first and foremost, a fiction. It can take multiple forms, be those prose, poetry, film, radio, digital media, the list is nearly inexhaustible. But still, in those forms the work must be a fiction. “Science fact,” after all, would be a physics textbook, or maybe an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. While certainly closely related and integral to the genre of science fiction, scientific fact only informs the genre, and does not compose it.
What makes a work of fiction a work of science fiction relies on a specific distinction. Science, of course, plays a critical part. But we can distinguish between a thriller with scientific elements and a science fiction thriller. This distinction is sometimes visible within the works of a single creator. Consider Michael Crichton. Some of his books, Sphere and […]
According to Ursula Le Guin in her introduction to The left hand of darkness, a writer of science fiction is supposed to “take a trend or phenomenon of the here-and-now, purify and intensify it for dramatic effect, and extend it into the future” (1). I could not agree more – science fiction has the ability to place a (somewhat distorted) looking glass in front of the reader or spectator. In this destabilizing mirror one finds life as it is, as well as what it could potentially become, warped and reflected back on itself. Science fiction is less of a fiction and more of a science; an uncanny ability of the artist to grasp reality and show society’s potential from a fresh, often unsettling, standpoint. As Ray Bradbury in his 1970 interview on violence, laughter & sadness so beautifully puts it: artists “take a hold of a piece of reality and […]
Science fiction imagines alternate realities and beings marked by technological and scientific advances impossible or not yet present on Earth. The genre’s creative world building enables readers to shed their terrestrial ways of thinking and contemplate new definitions of existence. Often, science fiction forces us to consider a reality in which “we are not alone” and humankind is no longer the sole standard of sentience or civilization. In this way, science fiction shares much with post-colonial and feminist thought, which challenges hegemonic structures such as capitalism, Western ideology, and the global patriarchy. Science fiction, especially when it involves extraterrestrial or artificial life, challenges the “humanarchy” and our understandings of intelligence, value, and morality. The genre questions and subverts what is possible – both physically and philosophically – allowing us to dip our toes in new thinking modes.
In her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin suggests that […]
Science fiction portrays a reality that is beyond what is currently our own. This reality may be presented in the form of an alternate or expanded present or past, or an imagined future. Through the exploration and use of metaphors of other-worldly elements and events, and predicted technological advances or outcomes, Science Fiction deals in possibilities.
These possibilities are sometimes positive ones that gleam before us, such as in Star Trek’s portrayal of an almost unerringly ethical humanity, freed from the constraints that currently plague us (1). Other times, the possibilities are negative ones, showing us darker worlds and inhabitants. These narratives can be seen as an expression of shared fears and anxieties about humanity’s collective future or present, as in Battle Star Galactica’s repeated cycle of technological advance, enslavement, and war. At its best, the genre manages to be multifaceted in this approach, at once cautionary and hopeful. Starfleet encounters […]
I would describe science fiction as stories that extend the boundaries of the possible. While fantasy requires us to suspend our disbelief entirely, science fiction asks only that we consider what could happen within a tenable, even if potentially different, reality.
From this broad description of what science fiction does, the distinction between it and fantasy would seem to hinge on what we are willing to accept as “possible.” If the general public came to believe in the possibility of vampires, would we relabel Buffy the Vampire Slayer as science fiction rather than fantasy? My answer would be no. The existence of vampires aside, the story’s narrative form is not consistent with science fiction. It is not only what science fiction does that defines it, but also how it does it. Buffy does not ask […]
According to Merriam Webster, science fiction is: “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.”
Wikipedia states that science fiction is “a genre of speculative fiction typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life.”
Those definitions are very basic and don’t really capture the feeling of science fiction, the reasons the genre is beloved by so many. To me, and I believe most science fiction fans, it can be both an escape and an awakening of sorts. Though science fiction can take the reader, the viewer, the listener, etc., away from the problems of the world, it does so by putting those problems under a different lens. We don’t only see the way these fictional universes are different from our own, […]