What is (qualifies as) Sci-Fi ?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by jmc, Sep 9, 2012.

  1. jmc

    jmc New Member

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    The question is pretty strait forward. First, I will give my thoughts, then a I give a list. I would like to hear people's thoughts on what qualifies as Sci-Fi and what does not.

    Science fiction is a fictional story where the characters find themselves in a setting that is just beyond the scope of what is scientifically possible. The science may be built on a minority opinion in scientific circles, but there is a clear desire to remain true to our understanding or put forth speculation for those things that are theory but not fully understood. Science Fiction stays true to the universal laws that are initially laid down and accepted. (i.e. If transportation from one location to another is possible, then the transporter cannot become a time machine without some proper scientific explanation). Another question, does a setting in the future automatically make something Sci-fi?

    So, to you guys, which qualifies as Sci-Fi and what does not and any thoughts.
    The list is random and just off the top of my head. Please add your own.
    (I do not believe that all of these qualify, I am just trying to get the discussion going).


    Warehouse 13
    Jurassic Park
    Being Human
    The Hunger Games
    Vanilla Sky
    Left Behind Series
    Ghost Hunters
    Weird Science
    Lord of the Rings
    Twilight
    Inception
    Sharktopus
    Two Headed Shark Attack
    War of the Worlds
    Harry Potter
    Chronicles of Narnia
    A.I. (by Brian Aldiss, later movie by Spielberg)
    Cowboys vs Aliens
    The Twilight Zone
    Superman
    Batman
    Spiderman
    The Village
     
  2. Kazz Wylde

    Kazz Wylde Rogue Warrior

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    Most of these I would put in the fantasy genre.
     
  3. Overgeeked

    Overgeeked Fishbowl Helmet

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    Speculative Fiction the broader umbrella genre term, which encompasses science fiction, fantasy, horror, and a few others.

    Science fiction which ranges from hard SF (based on real science), to soft SF (based loosely on science or soft sciences), to science fantasy, and space opera.

    Fantasy which has magic and elves.

    Warehouse 13, soft SF.
    Jurassic Park, hard SF (amazingly).
    Being Human, don't know.
    The Hunger Games, soft SF.
    Vanilla Sky, don't know.
    Left Behind Series, fantasy pure and simple.
    Ghost Hunters, fantasy.
    Weird Science, the 80s movie? Fantasy.
    Lord of the Rings, uh... really?
    Twilight, pre-teen abuse porn.
    Inception, soft SF.
    Sharktopus, soft SF.
    Two Headed Shark Attack, soft SF.
    War of the Worlds, soft SF.
    Harry Potter, fantasy.
    Chronicles of Narnia, Christian allegory, fantasy.
    A.I. (by Brian Aldiss, later movie by Spielberg), soft SF.
    Cowboys vs Aliens, fantasy.
    The Twilight Zone, depends on the episode.
    Superman, superheroes are their own speculative fiction subgenre.
    Batman, ditto.
    Spiderman, three-peat.
    The Village, don't know.
     
  4. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    In the vast majority of cases, I define SF and Fantasy like this:

    Science-Fiction: Situations or components that can be explained in a scientific (not necessarily wholly accurate) manner. Time travel, FTL ships, steampunk, alien contacts, post-apocalyptic settings, dystopias and so on.

    Fantasy: Situations or components that have little-to-no basis in science (as we know it) and are only explained in non-scientific terms. Magic, other realms, etc.

    So Spider-man, as a character, would be science fiction (as would Batman) but Thor would be fantasy.

    What I do to 'define' a book/series is look at the wider picture. Fantasy can have science fiction elements (e.g. the steampunk-esque ships in L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Imager Portfolio and Recluce Saga, or the far-future setting of Terry Brooks' Shannara universe) and vice versa, but if as a whole it's the fantasy elements that drive it then it's fantasy and so on.
     
  5. Kazz Wylde

    Kazz Wylde Rogue Warrior

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    Batman is scifi? I wish I could agree with that. Actually he is huh?
     
  6. Omphalos

    Omphalos Orthodox Herbertian

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    Gadgets and tech figure pretty big into Batman. For some that's connection enough.
     
  7. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    There's nothing fantastical about Batman as a character.

    He's rich, highly trained in combat and other things, and pretty much everything he uses is a sci-fi gadget. The same extends to a lot of his enemies, too - the majority of them are science-fiction inspired.
     
  8. Seli

    Seli Registered User

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    I am personally pretty inclusionist, and happy to put a sf label on a broad range of films/series. But there might be an overlap with labelling other subgenres.
     
  9. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    Always an interesting question, if a sempiternal one.

    The broader category that subsumes sf is "speculative fiction", which is tales set in worlds in which one or more major laws that affect human behavior--physical, psychological, cultural, whatever--works (or work) nontrivially differently than they do or ever have (so far as we know) in consensus reality. Science fiction is that subset of speculative fiction in which the differing laws are laws of nature, however bizarre their departure be from what we believe we know about natural law.

    Writers choose speculative fiction over ordinary fiction for a variety of reasons. The good reason is that by altering the conditions that the folk in the tale find governing their lives, that writer can better or more readily explore whatever aspects of the human condition he or she is writing about. The bad reasons include what one might call "wallpaper": unusual settings for the sake of the settings, rather than the meat of the tale. An easy way for a reader to spot such stuff is to ask whether the tale could be told with few changes, and those mechanical rather than essential, if placed in a different, non-exotic setting. (Aka Cowboys and Indians in outer space).
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2012
  10. Nicolas

    Nicolas Intrigued diletante

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    "Science fiction is [or means] what we point to when we say it." (Damon Knight, 1952)

    Also, Clarke's 3rd law (1973): "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

    Defining what Science-Fiction is (or is not) has been a popular pastime among the fans of the genre pretty much since Hugo Gernsback started Amazing Stories back in 1926. His definition: " His idea of a perfect science fiction story was "75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science" "

    (All quotes are from Wikipedia)

    This thread has the potential to outlive us all.;)
     
  11. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    Arthur C. Clarke, "Profiles of The Future", 1961 (Clarke's third law)

    "Ninety percent of everything is crap.” ― Theodore Sturgeon

    “A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content.” ― Theodore Sturgeon

    I have been doing a survey of book reviews of Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold. I think it does a great job of satisfying Sturgeon's definition of a science fiction story. But the vast majority of reviews say nothing about the science in the story. It contains an element of Tom Godwin's The Cold Equations in that physics does what physics is going to do regardless of what humans think it is going to do. Even if it kills you. Figuring out the physics is our responsibility and it takes smart people to do that. But for most reviewers that is not important. The story is all about great characterization and abusive marriage. The entire wormhole conspiracy is barely important compared to Mile's love interest.

    So so science fiction is what people who call themselves sci-fi readers want.

    * Science Fiction
    War of the Worlds
    Jurassic Park
    A.I. (by Brian Aldiss, later movie by Spielberg)

    * many episodes were science fiction, not all
    The Twilight Zone

    * science fiction but shallow
    The Hunger Games

    * the alien female coming back to life when cremated was fantasy
    Cowboys vs Aliens

    * fantasy
    Lord of the Rings
    Chronicles of Narnia
    Harry Potter

    * comic books were not regarded as science fiction in the old days, they usually mixed SF and fantasy elements
    Superman
    Batman
    Spiderman

    I don't know much about the rest. Vampires and zombies are fantasy/horror

    psik
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2012
  12. Steven L Jordan

    Steven L Jordan I like SF. SF is cool.

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    I'd define SF simply as stories based on or around seriously-proposed or plausibly-accepted scientific concepts. This basic definition ably separates SF and fantasy pretty clearly and consistently: If there is no seriously-proposed or plausibly-accepted scientific concept behind an idea or element of the story, it would be fantasy.

    This still permits some leeway, since a proposed concept does not have to be scientifically proven (yet); hence, the many trappings of SF that are constantly debated as to the possibility of their ever existing (aliens, warp drive and time travel, for instance).

    As to the list, I'd agree that most of the shows and movies listed there would be considered fantasy, not SF. The top of the list, Warehouse 13, represents the latest version of spec fiction, the hybrid, containing clear elements of fantasy and SF. Others on the list that I'd consider SF would be:

    Jurassic Park (nothing "amazing" about it, it's pure hard SF)
    The Hunger Games
    Vanilla Sky
    Inception
    War of the Worlds
    A.I.
    Cowboys vs Aliens
    Superman
    Batman
    Spiderman

    Batman and Spiderman fall into a grey area defined mostly by the limits of the human body, suggesting that they can perform extra-human feats while still made of flesh and blood (try swinging one-handed from a thin line at a few-score miles an hour sometime). As there is no evidence yet that an outside influence, or enough exercise, can create that level of strength and endurance in the human body, that aspect can be considered fantasy. So they would be best defined as hybrid fiction.

    (The Village wouldn't be considered SF or fantasy, as there are no examples of speculative science or fantasy elements actually there... fantasy elements are suggested, but it is shown to be a ruse designed to keep the townsfolk in line.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2012
  13. jmc

    jmc New Member

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    I agree

    I agree with most comments on here. I like the differentiation between Hard Sci-Fi and Soft Sci-fi.
     
  14. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    By what standards?

    That seems wildly--and needlessly--limiting. Consider how much of what science every literate teenager knows today would (or, more germane, would not) have been considered "seriously-proposed or plausibly-accepted" a mere century ago, much less two centuries.

    A "natural law" is pretty much what the designation says: it is a definite description of the way the universe works in a given situation, always and impersonally. If that description happens to be very different from how we think things work, then some sort of polite nod to how or why we in our time never noticed the effect may be wanted, but even that is not vital to the tale.

    As I keep trying to point out, science fiction is fiction involving different science; if one wants non-fiction speculations and imaginings, there are plenty enough of those around, not a few by highly qualified speculators and imaginers. But in a tale, a fiction, the science is an enabler, not the subject. Try writing a sf tale with no humans (or other-species human proxies) in it.

    Note re: "There's nothing fantastical about Batman as a character." There is what appears to be a most interesting book, Becoming Batman, that examines realistically the possibility of someone actually being able to acquire the abilities attributed to Batman.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2012
  15. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    Well, obviously there's artistic licence involved and typical bending of the rules as is commonplace in superhero comics, but becoming Batman or at least obtaining a large percentage of his training (mental and physical) is not impossible, but I wouldn't say he's "fantastical" in that regard.
     
  16. heretics fork

    heretics fork Curmudgeon

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    Hmmm, i wonder, what does George Lucas have to say about all this?:D

    Seriously, why not be as accepting as possible of good, well written stories and just enjoy the genre? The idea that SF must, as a prerequisite, be absolutely accurate in its science, as understood by scientists today of course, is absurd. (Even then, an SF story containing completely accurate string theory would be read as SF by Susskind and as fantasy by Peter Woit?)

    Can't we all just read good, speculative stories and get along?
     
  17. Danogzilla

    Danogzilla Couch Commander

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    i could see batman falling in SF. future tech, and (more or less) dystopian near-future.
     
  18. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    Lucas called Star Wars Space Fantasy.

    Who said this, "be absolutely accurate in its science, as understood by scientists today"? That is why I mentioned Komarr. Bujold has wormholes for effective FTL travel. But she treats her fictional physics in a "scientific manner" within that fictional universe. So her science works even though it is not science as we know it today.

    Anybody can enjoy whatever genre they want. Just admit what it really is. If it is fantasy or techno-fantasy so be it. I think science-fantasy is an oxymoron. There is so much more material today and so much variation I just think we should be more precise in our descriptions. Speculative fiction is too broad a brush for a reader to tell what it is ahead of time. What is wrong with truth in advertising?

    psik
     
  19. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    Apparently there are, to this day, folk who do not recognize the original Star Wars movie as simply a somewhat tongue-in-cheek retelling of one of the basic old fairy-tale story lines, even when they know by heart the "Once upon a time . . ." opening lines.
     
  20. xcessive

    xcessive Registered User

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    Fantasy: That which could not be.
    Science Fiction: That which isn't, but might be (given a certain amount of flexibility).