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Science Fiction: A Definition


Everyone would agree that science fiction, as well as fantasy and horror, is a genre. ... 'Science Fiction is that class of prose narrative treating of a ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Science Fiction: A Definition

Science Fiction A Definition
  • Steve Wood
  • TCCC

Genre Theory
  • Genre means sort or type of work.
  • Everyone would agree that science fiction, as
    well as fantasy and horror, is a genre. Most
    would also agree that it can be defined the same
    way a Supreme Court justice once defined
    pornography I cant define it, but I know it
    when I see it.

Types of Genres
  • Isomorphic genres are genres defined by some
    technical characteristic. For example, a sonnet
    is a poem of 14 lines with a certain rhyme
    scheme. A novel is a prose narrative of a
    certain length.
  • Substantive genres are defined by their content.
    For example, a bildungsroman is a coming of age
    story. An elegy is a poem in honor of a dead
    person. An aubade is a poem about lovers parting
    at dawn.

Types of Genres
  • Isomorphic genres Science fiction occurs in such
    a variety of forms that it is clearly not an
    isomorphic genre.
  • Substantive genres While there are certain
    subjects that are common in science fiction,
    there do not seem to be any that are essential.

The Survey Says
  • Lets see what some of the experts say.

Kingsley Amis
  • Science Fiction is that class of prose narrative
    treating of a situation that could not arise in
    the world we know, but which is hypothesized on
    the basis of some innovation in science or
    technology, or pseudo-technology, whether human
    or extra-terrestrial in origin. New Maps Of Hell
    (London, 1960)

Isaac Asimov
  • Modern science fiction is the only form of
    literature that consistently considers the nature
    of the changes that face us, the possible
    consequences, and the possible solutions.
  • That branch of literature which is concerned
    with the impact of scientific advance upon human
    beings. (1952)

Gregory Benford
  • SF is a controlled way to think and dream about
    the future. An integration of the mood and
    attitude of science (the objective universe) with
    the fears and hopes that spring from the
    unconscious. Anything that turns you and your
    social context, the social you, inside out.
    Nightmares and visions, always outlined by the
    barely possible.

John Brunner
  • As its best, SF is the medium in which our
    miserable certainty that tomorrow will be
    different from today in ways we cant predict,
    can be transmuted to a sense of excitement and
    anticipation, occasionally evolving into awe.
    Poised between intransigent scepticism and
    uncritical credulity, it is par excellence the
    literature of the open mind.

Alvin Toffler
  • By challenging anthropocentricism and temporal
    provincialism, science fiction throws open the
    whole of civilization and its premises to
    constructive criticism.

Orson Scott Card
  • In his guide How to Write Science Fiction and
    Fantasy, Card points out four boundaries of the

c. Henderson Photography
Orson Scott Card
  • SF is a publishing category.
  • SF is a community of readers and writers.
  • What SF writers write is SF.

Orson Scott Card
  • The Literature of the Strange
  • All stories set in the future
  • All stories set in the past that contradict known
    historical fact
  • All stories set on other worlds
  • All stories set on Earth, before recorded
  • All stories that contradict some law of nature

Orson Scott Card
  • Science Fiction vs. Fantasy
  • If the story is set in a universe that follows
    the same rules as ours, its science fiction. If
    its set in a universe that doesnt follow our
    rules, its fantasy. Or in other worlds, science
    fiction is about what could be but isnt fantasy
    is about what couldnt be.

Frederik Pohl
  • If anyone were to force me to make a thumbnail
    description of the differences between SF and
    fantasy, I think I would say that SF looks
    towards an imaginary future, while fantasy, by
    and large, looks towards an imaginary past. Both
    can be entertaining. Both can possibly be,
    perhaps sometimes actually are, even inspiring.
    But as we can't change the past, and can't avoid
    changing the future, only one of them can be
    real. Pohlemic, SFC, May 1992

John W. Campbell, Jr.
  • The major distinction between fantasy and science
    fiction is, simply, that science fiction uses
    one, or a very, very few new postulates, and
    develops the rigidly consistent logical
    consequences of these limited postulates. Fantasy
    makes its rules as it goes along...The basic
    nature of fantasy is "The only rule is, make up a
    new rule any time you need one!" The basic rule
    of science fiction is "Set up a basic
    proposition--then develop its consistent, logical
    consequences. Introduction, Analog 6, Garden
    City, New York, 1966

Lester Del Rey
  • ... science fiction "is the myth-making principle
    of human nature today."

Transactional Genres
  • Following that definition, it is possible to
    classify science fiction, fantasy, and horror as
    transactional genres.
  • Transactional genres are created in the
    interaction of the author, the text, and the
  • They are, in effect, operational definitions
    they tell us what a certain genre does, rather
    than what it is.