Me and Science Fiction: My Definition of the Genre

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Last entry in this series can be found here

Before I go into more depth in this series about recent space opera books I’ve read, more on things I like/don’t like in them, issues that are important to me and some of the themes that will be touched upon in the series I’m working on, I feel it is important to state my definitions of what is fantasy and what is science fiction.

Now to people who are casual fans of the genre this would seem to be an easy thing to define right, one is set in a made up world with dragons or magic or elves and the other takes place in space or the future. However, having started to follow parts of the science fiction blog community and some of the fan forums out there I’ve realised how important these definitions are to people and how they shape their views on both genres.

My definitions can be summed up as:

  • Fantasy – a genre that uses tales from our past and a world view based on human history and our collective past, or even the present, to tell stories. Remember that Tolkien based his works on old myths and legends, mostly Scandinavian.
  • Science fiction – a genre that uses future or skewed present settings to look at humanity and our development from the perspective of how we will progress.

So to me the two serve as a counterpoint, one reaching into our past or our myths and legends to tell tales. The other has its eye firmly on the future looking to tell stories about how progress may or is affecting our species.

I have to reiterate these are my views on how to define both genres, and obviously there will be overlap at the edges. Other people will have different views, this is just mine. You can of course check out the Wikipedia definition, but I personally quite like this long essay by the critic Paul Kincaid

There one big thing to note about the definitions above, technology or the amount of science in a story is not mentioned in the one for science fiction. I know there are a lot of people out for who both of those are vitally important but to me they are less so. I personally dislike stories that focus on the technology or scientific parts of things to the detriment of the plot and characters. To me those are how you show the world that has been built and how it differs and the message it has. Science of course has its role in the genre, it inspires many of the possible changes and futures that stories explore, but to focus on the particulars of the science itself misses the point as far as I’m concerned.

Science fiction to me is all about looking forward, trying to build stories about where we might go. They may project us into the far future or into strange worlds built by technology but they should fundamentally have something to say about who we are as a species. They should craft tales with characters and plots that draw people into believable, they don’t have to be realistic, worlds and galaxies. The stories are about us and should be full of people we can relate as they go through whatever crazy or mundane events are happening.

Science fiction is about looking forward or seeing how far a change to our society or technology could take us and then see what that says about us, and that’s why I love it.

You might think this doesn’t relate to too many of the series I talked about in my last post but it does. Sure some episodes in those were about the big awesome battles or cool effect, but the vast majority of the time they had a message about us as all good stories do. They told us something about compassion, sorrow, happiness, despair, and much more just in a setting that allowed those stories we have heard before be told in a different way. That is why I love this genre.

I hope that my books will be able to tell stories that talk to people about being human, and also about hope and a setting a thousand years in the future that people will be drawn into.

Next time, as I mentioned briefly earlier, I will be talking about some books I have read recently and what I did like as well as what I didn’t, and how those will relate to the kind of writing style I am aiming for and the kind of stories I want to tell.