What is science fiction? (was Re: NPR top 100 Science Fiction ...)
- Myself, I have perhaps a broader, more inclusive definition of science fiction than any of you. For me, a novel is science fiction if it is fiction about or involving science, full-stop. A etymologist's definition, perhaps. Rather obvious, but it has always suited me. :)I definitely call "Frankenstein" science fiction; "1984" as well. Likewise, "The Dechronization of Sam Magruder" (George Gaylord Simpson). Although it's a bit like Robinson Crusoe in the dinosaur era (which some might argue disqualifies it from SF), it is a time travel novel and includes a fascinating chapter on the science behind the protagonist's time travel technique, one that is more specific and unique than most time travel novels I've read (which, I admit, is only a few).By the way, I wouldn't say that all "time travel" novels are science fiction by definition, though they usually are. As in everything, I think there is the occasional exception. Martin Amis's Times Arrow comes to mind. It's been a while since I read it, but from my recollection, there's nothing at all about it that I would call science fiction.Jason
From: Darrell A. Martin <darrellm@...>
Sent: Thursday, August 4, 2011 12:20 AM
Subject: Re: [mythsoc] NPR top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy titles pollOn 8/3/2011 9:52 PM, Larry Swain wrote:
> Well said. To give Darrell a slight break, 1984 has 2 of his 4 elements
> (though he only counts one), making it on his own terms SF. I suspect he
> would question my inclusion of technology in the book, but in 1949, that
> technology was grand stuff and highly speculative, not "mere" extension
> of what was then known.
I will readily, and cheerfully, admit that my "definition" of SF is
idiosyncratic. It was an answer to the question Margaret asked, "What is
*your* definition of SF? Or maybe I should ask, what do you consider to
be its qualifying features?" [emphasis in her original] I not only admit
but affirm it is not even a formula that *I* can apply without
certainty. And it is not exactly the same question as whether a title
belongs on the PBS top 100 SF&F list, either.
I did not expect my try at defining SF to identify a consensus. For
example, I do not consider extrapolative dystopias to be SF. Is there a
lot of fiction which is both SF and dystopic? Of course! Do many
consider all dystopic literature to be a sub-genre of SF? It appears so.
I disagree, which proves precisely nothing.
Four specific points:
First, "Frankenstein" is a great novel. One may call it SF if one
wishes, with my blessing. A good case can be made that it is.
Next, you suspect correctly that I question the inclusion of technology
in identifying "1984" as SF. The telescreens are merely televisions with
cameras. Over 19,000 TV sets were made in the U.K. *before* WW2. They
were commercially available beginning in 1928; "1984" was published in
1949. (That's longer than from the proposal to create the WorldWideWeb
[sic] to now.) I do not recall anything else important to the story that
involves a future technology as a necessary component, but it has been a
long time since I last read the book.
"Flowers for Algernon" is about a mental state, or rather the effects of
an altered mental state. However, I said "obliquely" and "for me,
questionable". So, if you question me, I guess you agree [grin].
Last, I adapted a quote attributed to Damon Knight on defining SF by
observation, but not because that is the only thing he said. Neither of
us stopped there, although he probably put more thought into his list
than I did mine. I would adopt his time travel element, e.g. However, I
do not think catastrophe stories are inherently "SF-ish". The same can
be said about SF and catastrophes as about SF and dystopian fiction. In
fact, I suspect that dystopic, catastrophic, and post-apocalyptic
literature have more in common with each other than with what *-I-* call
SF. And I remain unapologetic about not using what I called "mere"
extrapolation to identify SF.
For what little it may be worth,
- On Thu, Aug 4, 2011 at 7:31 PM, Lisa Harrigan <auntie_m_groups@...> wrote:
Most of these should not be on a Best of All Time list, because they are
Brand New, some trilogies have not even had book 3 printed yet, Series.
How do they get on a Best of All Times List?This is a fair point. I do think it's valid to want to include things that are new, so you get the full range of classic to contemporary. But series that aren't completed yet really shouldn't qualify.-Alana
Alana Joli Abbott, Freelance Writer and Editor (http://www.virgilandbeatrice.com)Author of Into the Reach and Departure, available at http://tinyurl.com/aja-ebooks
Columnist, "The Town with Five Main Streets," http://branford.patch.com/columns/the-town-with-five-main-streets
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