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What Is/Is Not SF? (was: NPR top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy titles poll)

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  • Margaret Dean
    ... *chuckle* It s also one of SF fandom s favorite games. ... Considering that Damon Knight defined SF as what I m pointing to when I say it... Okay, I ll
    Message 1 of 5 , Aug 3, 2011
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      On Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 1:53 PM, Darrell A. Martin <darrellm@...> wrote:
      >
      >
      >
      > On 8/3/2011 2:39 PM, Margaret Dean wrote:
      > > On Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 1:28 PM, Darrell A. Martin<darrellm@...> wrote:
      > >
      > >> "1984" is an alternate history, or historical fiction. Not SF&F. "Animal
      > >> Farm" is in the same categories as "1984", but as a beast fable
      > >> qualifies for the list, I suppose.
      > >
      > > When "1984" was written, it was (dystopian) SF. Nowadays, it might
      > > qualify as alternate history, but I don't think that should
      > > necessarily bump it out of the SF category.
      >
      > Margaret:
      >
      > Arguing about categories definitely comes under the heading "de gustibus
      > non est disputandum". But that won't stop me....

      *chuckle* It's also one of SF fandom's favorite games.

      > I just don't see how "1984" qualifies as SF. A near future setting is
      > not enough, or the genre begins to lose all useful meaning.

      Considering that Damon Knight defined SF as "what I'm pointing to when
      I say it..."

      Okay, I'll bite. What is *your* definition of SF? Or maybe I should
      ask, what do you consider to be its qualifying features?


      --Margaret Dean
      <margdean56@...>
    • Darrell A. Martin
      ... Margaret: Unfair question, unfair answer: SF is what I am pointing to when I say, That is SF . OK, bad Darrell. So, what am I pointing to when I do
      Message 2 of 5 , Aug 3, 2011
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        >> Margaret:
        >>
        >> Arguing about categories definitely comes under the heading "de gustibus
        >> non est disputandum". But that won't stop me....
        >
        > *chuckle* It's also one of SF fandom's favorite games.
        >
        >> I just don't see how "1984" qualifies as SF. A near future setting is
        >> not enough, or the genre begins to lose all useful meaning.
        >
        > Considering that Damon Knight defined SF as "what I'm pointing to when
        > I say it..."
        >
        > Okay, I'll bite. What is *your* definition of SF? Or maybe I should
        > ask, what do you consider to be its qualifying features?
        >
        > --Margaret Dean

        Margaret:

        Unfair question, unfair answer: "SF is what I am pointing to when I
        say, 'That is SF'."

        OK, bad Darrell. So, what am I pointing to when I do point? It is very
        likely to involve several of these, probably three or more:
        - 1. The future
        - 2. Outer space, or a location on Earth where humans are unable to
        live without modern technology
        - 3. Scientific discoveries, or technological advances, that are not
        *merely* extensions of what we already know
        - 4. Non-human intelligent beings
        - 5. Unearthly life forms

        And what I call SF is unlikely to involve these, at least as major
        components:
        - a. A dream state, or other variations of the "all in someone's mind"
        theme
        - b. The supernatural, including traditional fairies and others of
        that ilk
        - c. Anthropomorphic but otherwise familiar animals

        Taking a look at a few on the PBS list:
        ---------------------------------------
        - "1984" -- 1 only. (For me, not SF.)
        - "Uplift Saga" -- 1-5; also c, but the context overcomes the
        objection. (For me, SF.)
        - "Flowers for Algernon" -- 3, and obliquely a. (For me, questionable.)
        - "Lucifer's Hammer" -- 1 and 2, both marginally. (For me, not SF.)
        - "Riverworld" -- 1, and trivially 4. Arguably b. (A thousand times
        no, *NOT* SF no matter how Farmer tries to put one foot in the genre.)
        - Lewis' space trilogy -- 2 and 4, b. (For me, SF. Barely. Ask me
        tomorrow, you might get a different answer.)

        Two classics on the list:
        -------------------------
        - "Frankenstein" -- arguably 3, possibly 4 and/or 5. (For me, not SF.)
        - "20,000 Leagues ..." -- This great story, with none of the listed
        characteristics, is a challenge to my definition. (For me, not SF.)


        Darrell
      • tuhonbillmcg
        From The Iliad and The Odyssey, to Beowulf, to tales of King Arthur and his knights, to Dante s Divine Comedy, to Milton s Paradise Lost, to Grimm s Fairy
        Message 3 of 5 , Aug 4, 2011
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          From The Iliad and The Odyssey, to Beowulf, to tales of King Arthur and his knights, to Dante's Divine Comedy, to Milton's Paradise Lost, to Grimm's Fairy Tales, and up to modern classics such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, fantasy has been among the most powerful and popular forms of fiction. When mankind wants to tell a story that people will respond to, the tool he most often turns to is fantasy.

          Here are my definitions of sf and fantasy from an article I did in defense of the fantasy genre for a Christian ezine.
          You can read the full article here:
          http://www.theswordoffire.com/a_fantastic_appeal.htm

          Regards,
          Bill McGrath

          While fantasy usually gets lumped onto the same section of the bookstore as science fiction, they are really very different genres. Science fiction tends to glorify man (or at least his intellect). The mind of man may bring forth amazing things that are good or evil, but in science fiction these things always spring from men or man-like intellects. It is rare to see any hint of the spiritual or supernatural in science fiction.

          So what, then, is fantasy? Shakespeare gives a pretty good definition in Hamlet, when the title character says, "There are more things in heaven and earth . . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

          At their roots, we might say that science fiction speculates on the possibilities within the natural world, while fantasy broadens its view to include the supernatural. God need not exist in most science fiction stories, while in most fantasy stories He must (even if He is never directly seen). Every fantasy story that says justice will prevail in the end, is really saying that the universe is ruled by a just God. All of the best fantasy stories, be they about the ultimate war between good and evil or the doings of the smallest of fantasy creatures, really say the same thing and suggest to the reader (whether consciously or not) the same ultimate conclusion: If the smallest of supernatural things exists, even if it is the smallest of fairies, then perhaps the greatest of supernatural things (God) exists.
        • John Davis
          ...All of the best fantasy stories, be they about the ultimate war between good and evil or the doings of the smallest of fantasy creatures, really say the
          Message 4 of 5 , Aug 4, 2011
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            "...All of the best fantasy stories, be they about the ultimate war between good and evil or the doings of the smallest of fantasy creatures, really say the same thing and suggest to the reader (whether consciously or not) the same ultimate conclusion: If the smallest of supernatural things exists, even if it is the smallest of fairies, then perhaps the greatest of supernatural things (God) exists."
             
            I like your definition of sci fi and fantasy as the former speculating on the natural and the latter broadening to include the supernatural - perhaps one alternatively say the former speculates on the possibilities inherent in the real world, and the latter broadens to include that which is impossible in the real world.
             
            But I'm not sure your above sentence quite follows. Or rather, granted, if a fairy exists then perhaps God exists. But then again if a fairy doesn't exist then perhaps God still exists, or conversely if a fairy exists then perhaps God does not exist. I don't see any connection between the two, beyond the fact that neither tend to be physically seen to exist in the real world. Besides, within the context of a secondary reality both fairies and God may or may not exist, but this says nothing of our primary reality (I'm aware you did not explicitly suggest this was the case, but it felt implied - apologies if I misread).
             
            And finally, an ultimate war between good and evil need not have any religious aspect - good and evil certainly exist in sufficient supply for such a war within the heart of man!
             
            John


          • dale nelson
            For some tasks, such as planning a course reading list, it may be important to define terms/develop categories: high fantasy, heroic fantasy, dark fantasy,
            Message 5 of 5 , Aug 5, 2011
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              For some tasks, such as planning a course reading list, it may be important to define terms/develop categories: high fantasy, heroic fantasy, dark fantasy, science fantasy (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Stars Wars), speculative fiction (Never Let Me Go), hard science fiction, near-future catastrophe/apocalyptic (Alas, Babylon), etc.!

              But I like the way the NPR invitation lumped sf and fantasy together.  My sense is that most people who read either, other than only occasionally, read both.  C. S. Lewis wrote an essay "On Science Fiction," and within a few pages he is citing the Kalevala, the Faerie Queene, The Lord of the Rings, The Worm Ouroboros, Phantastes, Titus Groan, etc.! 

              I do agree that the nominations seem guyed. 

              Dale


              From: tuhonbillmcg <tuhonbillmcg@...>
              To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
              Sent: Thursday, August 4, 2011 8:48 AM
              Subject: [mythsoc] Re: What Is/Is Not SF? (was: NPR top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy titles poll)

               


              From The Iliad and The Odyssey, to Beowulf, to tales of King Arthur and his knights, to Dante's Divine Comedy, to Milton's Paradise Lost, to Grimm's Fairy Tales, and up to modern classics such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, fantasy has been among the most powerful and popular forms of fiction. When mankind wants to tell a story that people will respond to, the tool he most often turns to is fantasy.

              Here are my definitions of sf and fantasy from an article I did in defense of the fantasy genre for a Christian ezine.
              You can read the full article here:
              http://www.theswordoffire.com/a_fantastic_appeal.htm

              Regards,
              Bill McGrath

              While fantasy usually gets lumped onto the same section of the bookstore as science fiction, they are really very different genres. Science fiction tends to glorify man (or at least his intellect). The mind of man may bring forth amazing things that are good or evil, but in science fiction these things always spring from men or man-like intellects. It is rare to see any hint of the spiritual or supernatural in science fiction.

              So what, then, is fantasy? Shakespeare gives a pretty good definition in Hamlet, when the title character says, "There are more things in heaven and earth . . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

              At their roots, we might say that science fiction speculates on the possibilities within the natural world, while fantasy broadens its view to include the supernatural. God need not exist in most science fiction stories, while in most fantasy stories He must (even if He is never directly seen). Every fantasy story that says justice will prevail in the end, is really saying that the universe is ruled by a just God. All of the best fantasy stories, be they about the ultimate war between good and evil or the doings of the smallest of fantasy creatures, really say the same thing and suggest to the reader (whether consciously or not) the same ultimate conclusion: If the smallest of supernatural things exists, even if it is the smallest of fairies, then perhaps the greatest of supernatural things (God) exists.



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