What is (qualifies as) Sci-Fi ?

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

  1. SR_Seldon

    SR_Seldon SF Author

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    This is a hard question to answer and I've found the answers to be very personal, so there really isn't any correct answer to this.

    I love this one:
    “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 would say that the same applies for fantasy, just replace the word "scientific" with "supernatural". Time setting is irrelevant, technology level is irrelevant. The thing that causes the most headaches are things that mix the scientific and supernatural components. Superheroes do this all the time. Star Wars does to some extent, but it has a basis in many of the stories from the pulp era. You can try and pin down science fiction to being grounded in real science, but throughout so much of the history of the genre, it has been filled with touches of the supernatural. I recently read C.L. Moore's Northwest Smith stories, written in the 1930's, and they were filled with the sort of semi mythological nonsense I associated with Lost in Space, Star Trek, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers.

    So in my opinion, there really isn't a clear dividing line. I would say that the dividing line is when you can't pretend it isn't fantasy. I'd say we have Hard SF, Soft SF, and Fantasy and the lines between each are not that clear.
     
  2. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    I am not saying there is anything wrong with mixing science fiction and fantasy. A great example that I recall enjoying long ago is The Warlock in Spite of Himself by Christopher Stasheff which was quite hilarious.

    It is a perfect example of techno-fantasy and includes AI.

    psik
     
  3. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    I'm surprised no one mentioned one of the most solid science fiction movies of all, SURROGATES, starring Bruce Willias.

    Honda Corp in Japan is working on real life surrogates, as they are mapping out the human brain and how it works.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIpNZ2Eo2CA
     
  4. Quark Cognition

    Quark Cognition Registered User

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    I agree with Philip Jose Farmer's statement from 1977:

    "The brain, knowing that a person can't live forever in this world, rationalizes a future, or other-dimensional, world in which immortality is possible. In other words, religion is the earliest form of science fiction."

    If you also agree with that, then The Bible is the earliest, or one of the earliest science fiction stories, due to the utilization of an afterlife (immortality). I also think of The Bible as a superhero (comic book) story because of God. (Think of God as one of the X-Men mutants and my analogy makes more sense.)

    If The Bible does not qualify as science fiction, then every novel that utilizes immortality does not qualify. We can't have a problem where immortality is true* and not true, so a decision must be reached. Anything that contains immortal humans whether through an afterlife or technology is science fiction. *(The Bible is regarded as "true" by many people.)

    Ok. So immortality (with respect to humans) is science fiction. If a story has immortal dragons, then it's not science fiction. Dragons are fantasy, unless they are made using technology. So, here again, we have a problem. Many of the creatures in "fantasy" novels could be made through genetic engineering (from a science fiction viewpoint). I can imagine a hard science fiction story that describes a rogue group of geneticists and their experiments making dragons, trolls, etc. This thought experiment reminds me of "The Island of Dr. Moreau", which is science fiction.

    So, it's really hard to say whether a fantasy story is truly fantasy, since all of those creatures could be "grown" by a sufficiently advanced society and set against each other. I said that dragons are fantasy unless made with technology. But the dragons in the Pern series were not made by humans, and those books are not fantasy. So a story with dragons is not always fantasy.

    So far, I have these things as science fiction:

    1. Immortality
    2. Dragons and other creatures (in the proper setting, such as Pern)

    The above list can be prodigiously increased.
     
  5. SR_Seldon

    SR_Seldon SF Author

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    Quark, while I agree with you about dragons (when created using scientific thought and logical, if sometimes improbable, abilities), but I don't agree about immortality. That is more the realm of fantasy then science fiction. It does occur with some frequency in the more fantastic space operas, but not the more science oriented corners of SF. It is much more prevalent in fantasy.

    I think the real separation between SF and fantasy is that SF poses the question what might be if (future tense) and fantasy poses the question what might have been if (past tense). On occasion you have something in a different timestream, such as steampunk, but the question is still posed the same way, just adjusted for the time setting.

    Another way to think about it is that fantasy is about myths and legends. SF is about visions of the future based on science. That's why Pern is SF. There is no myth or legend that does not have a logical reason. There is no creature that isn't biologically plausible (fuzzy science, but still thought out logically). A good example is the Greek god Apollo. Passed down to us are the myths of a superbeing who was immortal. Change gears to Star Trek - Who Mourns For Adonis? Apollo isn't a god, he is an alien, possessing an extra organ that lets him channel energy. That changes the story of Apollo from fantasy to SF (more on the soft/space opera side, but still SF).
     
  6. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    I recently reread The Alien Way by Gordon R. Dickson. I even remember the cover of the book I bought way back when. I recall liking the story but very little detail. This book is great.

    But it is a very psychological story it does not have a lot of EXCITEMENT. That appears to be what a most people care about in their SF these days. This is a story that is more thought provoking than most.

    [​IMG]

    http://sciencefictionruminations.wo...ook-review-the-alien-way-gordon-dickson-1965/

    At a $1.75 I probably read it in the 70s. It is a First Contact story and better than Nor Crystal Tears by Alan Dean Foster.

    OMG, 1965. Before Star Trek.

    psik
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2012
  7. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    Oy.

    Mr Brian Stableford would like to disagree.

    The point is simple: it is science fiction if the difference between the world of the tale and the world we know is natural law--that is, law that operates regularly (in the literal sense), no matter how wildly different that law, or its consequences, may be from what we think we now know. "Science" is that knowldege which derives from application of the scientific method; it is not merely that which seems "plausible" to us here and now.
     
  8. Modern Day Myth

    Modern Day Myth Registered User

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    This calls to mind Marvin Minsky's reasoning about artificial consciousness will be a reality one day. He believes we will one day be creating AI with artificial consciousness. Once we understand how it works, we will be able to replicate it and make it ourselves.
    Once we understand how it works, the magic goes away.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2012
  9. Quark Cognition

    Quark Cognition Registered User

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    Immortality plays a large role in science fiction, especially in the works of Greg Egan and Wil McCarthy. Farmer used it in his Riverworld novels and, to some extent, his characters in the World of Tiers series were effectively immortal. Sheckley used it in Immortality, Inc. (basis for the movie "Freejack").

    You're wrong to write that immortality does not occur in the more science oriented corners of SF. I'm not being disrespectful, you're just seriously wrong. I strongly recommend reading this series of 4 books: Queendom of Sol, by Wil McCarthy

    You will be shocked.
     
  10. SR_Seldon

    SR_Seldon SF Author

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    The ones you mention that I am familiar with, namely Farmer's Riverworld, I do not consider to be SCIENCE fiction. I can see an immortal robot or computer, but for a normal human being or other biological species to be immortal is pure fantasy. Long lived, yes, immortal, no. We have plenty of examples from the plant kingdom that have lifespans of thousands of years, which would seem immortal, but true immortality goes against science. This thread is about what qualifies as SF, and my vote is that immortality doesn't. This has been especially solidified just today when I read an article that Robert J. Sawyer shared on Facebook.

    I would agree that immortality is an acceptable plot device in soft SF. It is a very Golden Age action adventure SF staple, back when Greek myths were commonly used with a science veneer. But immortality is one of the fantasy elements that creeps across the from Fantasy. It is not native to SF and not something that marks a story as SF. It usually marks it as fantasy or a cross genre story.

    Also, it is never wise to say someone is wrong in a situation where we are sharing our opinions. What you consider science fiction and what I consider science fiction may vary greatly. Neither of us is wrong, that is just our individual views.
     
  11. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    Just found this:

    Through a discussion (and links) on M. John Harrison's blog, I found this two-part interview with Paul Kincaid, and it is spot-on for this discussion: highly recommended.
     
  12. Quark Cognition

    Quark Cognition Registered User

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    You have a very strange opinion and you're definitely the first person I've ever encountered that does not consider immortality science fiction. Honestly, you baffle me.
     
  13. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    I started reading it then I decided to do a search.

    I searched on "science"

    The word is used a total of 80 times and only two instances do not appear as either "science fiction" or "science fictional".

    So in the entire article he never really says anything about science or what authors are doing with science in their stories.

    So that is the problem with the stuff being called "science fiction."

    I think the problem is pretty much the same as what Kurt Vonnegut was saying in 1965. But technology has changed since then and now the "science fiction" and "fantasy" movies and television shows are not full of cheezy special effects so it is not embarrassing for mundanes to watch.

    psik
     
  14. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    I really have no dog in this fight, but . . .

    . . . to say "in the entire article he never really says anything about science or what authors are doing with science in their stories" does not seem to comport with remarks such as:

    • . . . the writing of science fiction as though it were fantasy, primarily as a way of escaping the rigor of the former.
    • If you are writing a science fiction story, then the science fictional elements need to be intimately connected with what the story is about.
    • . . . as each new work comes along we identify it as science fiction or not depending on how closely it conforms to the set of characteristics we have already labeled science fiction.
    • The other crossover element that I criticized, and it is a different aspect of the same issue, is the number of stories that use the affect of fantasy in what is ostensibly a science fiction story.
    • Using the tropes of fantasy to resolve a science fiction story is just a way of waving your hand and saying ‘it doesn’t matter, because anything can happen, all it takes is the whim of the author’.
    And those are just from skimming less than all of the first half of his remarks.
     
  15. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    And your point is what? I copied the entire essay to a text editor and looked at every instance of the word SCIENCE. Like I said, there were only two instance of "science" which were not followed by "fiction" or "fictional". He didn't say anything about science in relation to the science fiction. He talked about "tropes" in science fiction but not science.

    psik
     
  16. SR_Seldon

    SR_Seldon SF Author

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    In order for me to consider a story science fiction, it must be based on known, theoretical, or plausible science. It has to be based in reality. I allow some exception for certain things aid in the story telling.

    You will find the die hard hard SF fans and writers are even tougher than I am on this. I've been around a bit and seen some really extreme opinions.
     
  17. SR_Seldon

    SR_Seldon SF Author

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    The article is a complaint list of how modern SF is more fantasy than traditional SF. From the context, it is obvious that the writer has an image of science fiction that they are basing the article on. As an avid reader of traditional science fiction, it needs no explanation. If you need an explanation, perhaps you need to read some Asimov, Clark, and Heinlein. They are traditional science fiction and created the "tropes" of science fiction that the author of this article is referring to.
     
  18. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    Artificial gravity is a trope. Tractor beams are a trope. Arthur C. Clarke talking about using an infra-red detector and comparing it to Plato's Allegory of the Cave in A Fall of Moondust is not a trope.

    This is a SCIENCE fiction story:

    Omnilingual (1957) by H. Beam Piper
    http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/03/scientific-language-h-beam-pipers-qomnilingualq
    http://www.feedbooks.com/book/308/omnilingual
    http://librivox.org/omnilingual-by-h-beam-piper/

    It contains tropes but there is science also.

    psik
     
  19. SR_Seldon

    SR_Seldon SF Author

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    By "troupe" I believe the author was referring to the common, or some might consider over used, standards of science fiction. You are quite right in your assessment of anti-gravity and tractor beams. Don't forget to include all FTL, communication with aliens, bipedal humanoid aliens, beam weapons, and a whole host of other things. With science fiction, if you start to eliminate those, you should end up with Hard SF, cutting out the implausible and leaving just the science. If you cut out the troupes and what you have lacks science, you have either migrated to literary fiction or fantasy and away from science fiction. That is this guys complaint, that by avoiding the troupes, avoiding the future, and avoiding science, there is a modern crop of "science fiction" that isn't really science fiction at all. I happen to agree with that part of the article.

    He also goes on to complain about stories and what message they might give and I think he reads too much into that. Steampunk is not about whitewashing our past, it is an offshoot of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells work. More of an homage to them than a deliberate attempt to rewrite our past. And I do consider steampunk to be science fiction when the science element is there. The key in my thinking is the science, be it hard SF or just the troupes common to the softer end of the genre.

    Again, a reminder. I am just sharing my opinion, not saying anyone else is wrong.
     
  20. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    This gets circular. As always.

    You are, of course, entitled to use whatever definition of a term you care to; but using that definition for "science" certainly puts you in the same camp as Humpty Dumpty in Alice:
    I think we can safely say that the terms "theoretical" and "plausible" as you used them (though with the Humpty Dumpty risk) are essentially identical in meaning. You are thus restricting the scope of scientific understanding of the cosmos to what an early twenty-first-century person might have (that is, to what is currently "plausible"). Do you not see that if someone living in, say, 1712, or even 1812, had so restricted the word "science", the vast majority of the things of significance we have discovered since then would not have been "science" to him or her? Space that is curved? Light that is particulate? And so on.

    The only constraint on "science"--by definition--is that it describe impersonal laws by which the cosmos appears to operate, which laws have been derived from exercise of the scientific principle. If those laws in an sf tale are drastically different from those we know or guess right now, a nod toward why we haven't yet seen them manifested would be nice, but that's about the limit, and it's not even truly a requirement.

    Any other restraint is entirely arbitrary and personal, and not well connected to the consensus concept of what "science" is.

    Mind, as I (and Kincaid) stress, for a science-fiction tale to be truly science fiction, the differing laws must somehow affect the tale such that it could not be told absent those differences. For example, a tale in which FTL is commonplace that really could, with little touching-up, be set in the early days of the historical exploration of our own world, with space ships replacing sea-going ships as merely a way to put the characters in a new and unfamiliar place, is scarcely sf--it is just a mundane tale with fancy window dressing.