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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My Mind is Melded

Over at the SF Signal blog they have a cool feature called "Mind Meld" where they ask a bunch different SF-type people a question and post the answer. This week's post is the second half of a two-parter on the definition of SF. I've made the following contribution, which expands a little on my prior post on the topic:


Defining SF has always been problematic, since there's no definitive plot element (as in Romance, or Mystery) or mood (as in Horror, Comedy, and Suspense) or setting (all Historical Novels) that helps us in defining most other genres. To this is added SF's Siamese-twin, Fantasy, a separate genre that carries the same lack of definitive plot elements, mood, or setting.

In most popular discourse the definition of SF and Fantasy ends up being definition via trope. (It has a starship, it goes here. A dragon, over there. What? Pern? Head'splode.) The other popular method of separating the twins is by splitting things up along a possible/impossible axis. This has its own consequences, such as slotting time travel and FTL into the fantasy realm. It also excludes from the SF fold stories whose point is to logically extrapolate from some fiddling with natural law-- I mean a novel about a box that adjusts the gravitational constant should be shelved in fantasy?

My own definition of SF comes in two distinct parts. First, while the story's world is not the same as the author's, there is some explicit or implicit congruency between the story's universe and the author's. There is a map from here to there, even if it's to go back to 1908 Siberia and take a hard right at Tunguska.

Second, and more important, the story is written from the perspective that the universe runs by predictable and knowable laws, and those laws are the same as those in the author's universe. If they differ at all, the difference must be explained in such a way that the story doesn't loose its connection to the author's universe.

3 comments:

Michelle said...

When I think Sci-Fi, I think starships and things that go boom. I like lots of action in a setting that is not like what we have now. It can be cool gadgets we don't have, planets we have yet to visit or species that don't currently exist, but I want it to be different. I expect to be entertained from a Sci-Fi book. I don't need deep thought provoking emotional crap in a Sci-Fi setting. I would much rather read about stuff going boom. I guess "Space Opera" is real Sci-Fi to me. I suspect I'm in the minority on that opinion, but then, I'm just an occasional reader.

RaveBomb said...

Personally, I like the "Can we get there from here?" critera to define SF.

"Magic" is my personal criteria to define fantasy. A universe that uses magic either explicitly or implicity to allow for fantastical creatures or abilities to exist.

Puttywad said...

Interesting post, Swanny.

I disagree about the conflation of fantasy into science fiction. Fantasy may use science fiction elements like a crack whore uses barkdust pipes or whatever, but fantasy is just that.

Out of bounds.

Sci-fi can be written *with* any other genre but it's reigned in by what could actually happen. Or have happened. That doesn't jive with teleporting elves and talking dinosaurs saving the day for four breasted women with nothing but a scimitar and a saltpeter mine.

Your commentary concluded well though. But come on man. More Random Walk. Less Hey Baby.