What is science fiction?

Not so easy, is it?

Science fiction…real science fiction is fiction that actually requires science we simply do not yet have.  Something beyond the scope that many think of.  Using the Star Trek example on the gadgets…cell phones are devices that Star Trek had first and, at the time, the Star Trek communicator was well above what we could imagine holding in our hands.

Let’s go through some obvious examples, shall we…and Star Trek will come up more than once.

These first are not science fiction but fall to science fantasy.  Nothing wrong with this at all, as some of these are still fantastic stories…just not real science fiction:

  • Lucas’ Star Wars…Stories could have taken place in the old west with the Jedi being some mystical native healers.  Lucas simply chose a futuristic setting.
  • Cameron’s Avatar…could have been a story of a missionary traveling to the deep jungle…wait, didn’t they do that film with De Niro years ago?
  • Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home…nope.  Who’s to say this is not a story about some mafia types who have stolen a dog and have to go get it back for the Don that just showed up looking for it…unlike Star Wars, Trek films are on a film by film basis and I will come back to Trek.
  • Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity…though this particular set is one of my favourites in all entertainment, just the western style alone shows it did not have to be set in space.
  • Ron Moore’s re-imaged Battlestar Galactica…some episodes one could argue strongly for, but overall, no.  The concept could just as easily been a Viking armada fleeing tyranny at home and in search of the mythical Newfoundland.

How about some that are real science fiction:

  • Asimov’s iRobot…This one is tougher than it looks as it could be a story set in early 20th, late 19th Century Georgia or Alabama and about giving slaves too much power.  The AI evolution, however, is what breaks this through the barrier.  A bit of irony, perhaps, but I have always found iRobot to be something of a prequel to Ron Moore’s Galactica that I list above.
  • Sunshine…a spaceship sent to re-ignite the Sun in order to save Earth.  With the spiritual and environmental sides to this story one could argue it is a story of a whaling boat crew fighting off Green Peace pirates…but the world ending ramification of this film takes it a step higher.
  • JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (the eleventh film)…yes.  Again, Trek must be viewed on a film by film basis for this.  Generally most parts of this film could be argued against being true science fiction.  Could have happened in any setting…could have been ships on the open seas, or Roman chariots racing off to hunt down their enemies.  One little story point, however, is required and pushes it to real sci fi…time travel.  Without that time travelling Romulan vessel, there is no story…and I can think of no way to get around that.
  • Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…is this a joke?  42!  Yes!  Unequivocally, yes!  If you take the humour out of Adam’s stories…well, they lose a helluva lot, but there is need for science here.  The only way for this story to fly across to another genre is to downsize the scope of it and the closest I could come up with was if someone was protecting their home from a nuclear bomb only to have their city blown up by one…but considering the story involves planet builders, that just cannot work.  So much of the fantastical science we do not yet have.

There are others, of course…2001 A Space Odyssey, Twelve Monkeys, etc…but you get the idea.  I like both, so long as they make me think…but I do still chuckle when they talk about Star Wars being science fiction.

5 Comments

  1. What about Pigs In Space?

    I love sci-fi and like you, I lump sci-fantasy into that genre. So many great stories, relevant and/or controversial to our time, can be effectively told through the prism of science fiction. And then there are just fun movies like Preditor or any of Arnie’s 80-90’s action movies. Although Running Man and (the first) Terminator both amazing sci-fi stories.

    Loves2Watch
  2. I have long classed science fiction & fantasy all in one breath. Much of the most successful media SciFi are simply “westerns in space” and in fact Gene Roddenberry said as much when he conceived of Star Trek.

    That said, it is (and has been since I was small) my absolute favourite genre outside of kink… and sometimes it falls within! Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, several bits of Bradley’s Darkover series… 😉

    ~Kazi xxx

    kazigrrl
    1. I prefer book stores and libraries that actually separate the two.

      And Roddenberry was right…part of why he recast and brought Shatner in after the pilot was to get away from that. As I said, Star Trek, unlike much of popular “sci fi” TV and movies is sometimes on either side of this.
      I may have to look up the two you mentioned, however…don’t know those two. Thank you.

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