How do you classify Science Fiction?

ray gower

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I know it looks a stupid question, but please think on a little.

Classic Hard Science Fiction usually depicts something that is just out of our knowledge as a species, but is also within our comfortable scientific grasp. Thus we have the likes of Arthur C Clarkes 'Space Odyssey 2001' or Ben Bova's 'Mars'.
Unfortunately both stories are well within our collective ability to achieve, it is merely politics that prevents them becoming a fact of life. So can they still be described as Science Fiction?
Another is Crichtons 'Jurrasic Park', it used a scientific theory that had not been proven when he wrote it, yet it was never classed as Science Fiction at all!

At the other end of the scale we have Fantasy Science Fiction. These can only be described as possible if the physical rules of science, as we understand them, do a quadruple somersault up their own vertex. Doc Smiths 'Lensmen Series' or even dear old Star Trek.

In the midst are a whole raft of others:
Jules Verne for instance is now often described as not being a Science Fiction writer. Much of the science that was available at the time of writing having been officially poo-poohed. Yet HG Wells has managed to hang on to the Science Fiction crown despite the same disproving by science and subsequent events.

Is Science Fiction classification merely based on the fact that there are aliens from a different world, or at least off of this one?
 

Highlander II

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oooh -- good question!

For a long time, when I thought of 'sci-fi' I would think of 'Farenheit 451' or 'Star Trek' -- neither of which I liked very much (things like "The A-Team" were more my style) --

but thinking now - 'sci-fi' - depending on who you ask - can be either very broad, or extremely narrow --

ie: I don't think I would have classed "Lord of the Rings" as 'sci-fi' per se - but as Fantasy --

The same w/ my current favorite series of books - "The Dresden Files" -- (even stretching, these still wouldn't be scifi, unless Vampires and Wizards are scifi) --

And I think, for a long time, to me, sci-fi had to be 'futuristic' -- and that may still be a common vibe, but sci-fi doesn't have to be - look at Stargate - it's present-day set and I would class it as Sci-Fi -- the creation of stable wormholes between two large metal rings? doesn't sound like something we're doing everyday right now (as far as we know, anyway)

I'm thinking that the 'definition' of what classes as 'scifi' changes w/ the 'minds of the ppl'? just like anything else --- it's a thought.
 

ray gower

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Fantasy, to me, brings in images of 'Swords and Sorcery', which comfortably envelopes books like Lord of the Rings.

But when one starts to include the likes of Vampires, again to me, we are rapidly encroaching on the world of Gothic Horror.

To that end how would you classify Frankenstein? It has a strong 'Hard' Science Fiction element- We can't build a creature like that from spare parts (quite) though most of the technology is either available, or soon will be. But there is plenty of 'Fantasy' and it is billed as 'Gothic Horror'.

Things are starting to look complicated!
 

Highlander II

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I think what happens, and why it's complicated, is that there are so MANY categories --

they almost need to be grouped into subcategories to work -

however - I have NO idea what those subcategories would be - and then it gets even MORE confusing w/ so many subcategories -

hmmmm - should we make our own system? :D
 

Dave

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IMHO I think that it means something different to everyone.

Highlander II mentioned the term "Sci-Fi" as being synonymous with "Science Fiction". I don't know if you realise it, but "Sci-Fi" as a term was only invented in 1954 by Forrest J. Ackerman.

Many prominant writers didn't like the term, and even actively dismissed its use, prefering instead the term "Scientifiction" and its abbreviation "STF" (pronounced "stef").

"Science Fiction" or "SF" is a much wider term which Hugo Gernsback introduced in 1929 (in his SF magazine "Science Wonder Stories"). Issac Asimov defined the term "Science Fiction" as: "That branch of literature which deals with the response of human beings to changes in science and technology."

Notice the "response" part of that. Science Fiction IMHO must deal with how the characters or the society reacts to the changes. It is not enough to simply be "Futuristic" alone.

Of course, Jules Verne, HG Wells and Aldous Huxley (well almost, 'Brave New World' is 1932) predate even "SF", I think that's why they didn't have trouble being categorised. They were simply "Fiction".

IMHO "SF" should still not include the "Fantasy" elements that tend to be included today, but you can't stop language changing and developing by itself.

"Swords and Sorcery" & "Gothic Horror" I guess are difficult to mistake for anything else.

As for "Hard SF" and "Space Opera" there are already threads here in the 'Books Forum' started by 'Red Queen'. 'Red Queen' made some good points on their meanings, but I'm still not convinced by her arguements, I think that to everyone it means something slightly different. No story is pure "Hard SF", pure "Space Opera" or pure "Fantasy". IMHO stories are better if they cross the boundaries, or even pull them crashing down around them!
 

EmilyH

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When I think of sci-fi, I think of stories that are more futuristic and have technology that is either based on science fiction or much more advanced than we do now. For example, Star Trek -- the science in the show is clearly fiction <g> but the technology in the show is often used to advance the plot.

I also think of HG Wells' the Time Machine as sci-fi too. Time travel can be explained away with magic, but more often than not, it takes the form of technology in sci-fi.

I tend not to think of things like vampires or ghosts as sci-fi, they fall into the category of dark fantasy or horror for me. But it depends on the story setting. If you have a ghost on a space station, then it's sci-fi for me. If it's just a ghost in a haunted house, it's fantasy/horror.

Same with vampires. Even in a modern urban setting such as Forever Knight or Angel, I tend to think of them as in the fantasy genre, although one could certainly do vampires on a space station as well.

I would definitely put Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter in the fantasy category. To me, anything with magic that's taking place either in the present or the past is clearly fantasy, especially if its on another planet with a medieval setting. When it takes place in the future is where it gets harder to categorize.

Star Wars blurs the line between fantasy and sci-fi. It's clearly drawing from a lot of ancient mythology, but also features futuristic technology. So, it's kind of both. IMHO, most folks tend to classify it as sci-fi because they're not familiar with the details. They see the spaceships and the lightsabers and think of Star Wars as sci-fi, even though it's really more in the fantasy genre.
 

timdgreat

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hmmi tend to think of scifi being the future or some having some form of technology that we have yet to invent. The reason i but Starwars in Scifi would definetly because of the idea of the advanced tech. but it is some what of a grey area. i have always wondered though if there really is a good defintion on what classifys Scifi, or if its just peoples opinions:rolly2:
 

gr8scott

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Good question. I've just accepted the way that the general public has classified it. I suppose it could be classified different, but Tim's right, it depends on the individual opinion. For example, there are some topics categorized as scifi that I ignore completely. I don't tend to lump "fantasy" into scifi, partially because I don't really read/watch it, partially because it doesn't fit into my definition of scifi. Does this mean that fantasy is NOT scifi - not really. To me it isn't.
 

bibliosylph

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hi there, i've enjoyed reading all your thoughts on this topic. i don't have a firm opinion (i tend to think those are unhealthful for me) but do have a few notions.

science fiction would be, literally, fiction about science. or scientific matters. naturally that must change over time. so, first, do you reclassify works that once met the current definition of fiction about science, or do you simply refer to them as "classic science fiction," or perhaps even "antique science fiction?" i like the latter idea, personally. maybe there's a better modifier than classic or antique, though.

second, what is defined as science? for my children i explain it as the study of how things are made and how things work. so fiction in this category would be a creative and (currently?) nonfactual look at how things are made and how things work.

even my favorite "sci-fi" works on dystopian societies have their roots in the above definition. they may seem mainly political or sociological, but usually came about because of the idea of some technological discovery, health calamity, furthered space travel, etc.

in the larger bookstores, fantasy is a separate section, and i think rightly so, from science fiction, and tends to include creative works about metaphysical realms, and those based on various mythologies. obviously, many have science fiction elements to them, but the only people lumping them all under the umbrella of science fiction are just being lazy or thoughtless, aren't they?

everything in our world is begin redefined and recategorized into sub-and sub-sub-categories. it can go too far, but on the whole, i think at least the discussion of how to organize it all can be sort of inspiring.
 

ray gower

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I think I prefer Asimov's definition, with one small difference:- "That branch of literature which deals with the response of beings to dealings with science and technology."

I don't care if the beings are human or pink elephants. Just as long as they are facing a situation that challenges them (and me through the pages) to experience, react, adapt, and respond. But those are the basic foundations of any good story, how many of us will admit to being bleary eyed at Black Beauty, or Watership Down and the characters here were horses and rabbits!

As an Engineer, I think I would dispute bibliosylph's definition of Science. I know how things are made and how to make them! What I don't necessarily know, not being a Scientist, is why things work. But I suspect describing a book as Engineering Fiction, because they do not explain the 'Why?' might well be marginally less popular than calling it Science Fiction?
 

bibliosylph

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erm, i don't deal with whys. but i like my loose definition for science in general, just how and what, searchings and explainings and questions and discoveries. my kids range in age from 5-16, so it is a malleable term this way. how we study what we know and how we study what we don't know, etc., all fit together.

as to your Asimov quote, i think it makes plenty good sense.
 

ZachWZ

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I think the lines between horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasyare blured enough for one genre to form cases in point.

Buffy(horror) has had dealings with robots.(Sci Fi).

Thor (Fantasy) and Iron Man (Scifi) have gotten together hundreds of times.

Superman (Sci Fi Alien) foes include (sp?)Mxypidlick (5 th dimensional Fantasy Imp) and lord Santanus (Horror, Demonic Sororeer).

Batman has met more than his fair share of mutants, aliens, vampires, and such.

i can think of many more. My point is how would you classified these broadadventures under the Sci Fi definition.


ZachWZ
 

bibliosylph

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cool. i like these two:

Donald A. Wolleheim
Science fiction is that branch of fantasy, which, while not true to present-day knowledge, is rendered plausible by the reader's recognition of the scientific possibilities of it being possible at some future date or at some uncertain point in the past.

Isaac Asimov
Modern science fiction is the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes that face us, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions.

That branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings. (1952)

a few others are interesting. some are just interesting blather. ;)
 

timdgreat

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hmm i really like Asimovs, but i still say that it all depends on the person, and that there really isnt a set definition(yes i realize that many of u may disagree with me, but that is just what i think);) :rolly2:
 

Finch

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In my Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is a forward by Isaac Asimov. He defines SF as events played out against a background that has not existed in the past or today . He then gives some examples , Gulliver's Travels and The Jungle Book . So there you go .
 

Randy M.

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I rather like the definition attributed to Damon Knight: Science fiction is what I'm pointing at when I call something science fiction.


Randy M.
 
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