The nature and meaning of science fiction literature

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
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Statement:

"Science fiction is primarily about exploring humanity's relationship with itself and in relation to the universe."


Questions:

1. Would you agree with this statement? Why?

2. Is the statement applicable to fantasy? Again, why?

3. Of all the priorities of science fiction, how does exploring humanity's relationship with itself and in relation to the universe, compare to an exploration of speculative science, or the need to entertain?


A start on the nature and meaning of science fiction literature.
 
I said:
Statement:

"Science fiction is primarily about exploring humanity's relationship with itself and in relation to the universe.".
In reality, this is what any fiction is about and much non-fiction. The difference with science fiction here is that the relationship to the universe can be any one of an infinite number of variations instead of our poor reality.

I said:
Questions:

1. Would you agree with this statement? Why?."
I agree and disagree with this statement. I would say that it isn't false but also isn't wholly true either. It is too simplistic for a specific genre. As I said, it defines fiction, not necessarily science fiction.

I said:
2. Is the statement applicable to fantasy? Again, why?."
Yes and for the same reason stated above.

I said:
3. Of all the priorities of science fiction, how does exploring humanity's relationship with itself and in relation to the universe, compare to an exploration of speculative science, or the need to entertain?.
I wouldn't think there was a generic list of priorities for science fiction. Some read mainly to be entertained. Other enjoy the use of their cognitive abilities. Some writers are the same way. Each individual has their own priorities and if anyone sets out to create a set of priorities for 'science fiction' as a whole, I hope they get a pie thrown in their face. Art. Art does not ever have a specific set of priorities that can be applied to the whole. Sure you could guess that so and so has these priorities, but you couldn't say that for everyone out there using the same medium.
 
I'd agree in general with the statement but, like dwndrgn, feel it need not only apply to SF

I posted recently that what I saw as the strength of Science Fiction was the 'laboratory effect'. Sometimes it's easier to deal with an issue in an artificial manner (take the Star Trek episode where two guys hated each other because one had half his face white, the other black whilst his nemesis had the same colours but on opposite sides - clearly a way of tackling racism when it wasn't easy to get such stuff on telly. Disguising it as Science Fiction made it easier to deal with).

2. I suppose the fact that you also create worlds when creating Fantasy means that the same should apply there.

3. For me stories are, ultimately about people but, in saying that, it needs to entertain - so I also think that there are no one set of priorities. It's like a cake - it might look perfect, but if there's no sugar, it won't be very sweet. It needs all its ingredients to work properly. :)
 
1.

Do you mean the sf genre, or literary sf. Either way, I would partially disagree for similar reasons to the others, but also on the grounds that science fiction is about utilising science, in fiction, in ways that extend beyond what is currently actually possible, or even probable. Namely, it is using science in the way that Fantasy uses magic.

What you actually write about within that framework is entirely-independent of the genre. It just so happens that some genres are more suited to certain approaches than others, and that historical circumstances have led people with various similar motives to colonise the genre. I had one Lit tutor who, when I mentioned that I enjoy pulp sci-fi (of the Burroughs variety) he chuckled and said that 'pulp sf' was almost an oxymoron. A common misconception.

Also, it is inevitable that if you face-up a bunch of humans against an alien, something about our view of ourselves in relation to the universe must appear, no matter how vaguely, even if this is entirely subconscious.

2.

See above.

3.

They both seem to be quite well-balanced at present, and should stay as such - about fifty-fifty with a very gradual meld into either extreme.

I'm sorry if I've missed a point or come-across as a jerk. This has a tendancy to happen.
 
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Heinlein's "short definition" of science fiction:
...realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.
Asimov...
...the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes that face us, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions.
 
Science fiction can give us a hopeful view of the future, as demonstrations of speculative science solve earthly problems. Planet earth is not a cinder, and man is cruising deep space for new worlds.

Kirk: "Bones, are you afraid of the future?"
Bones: "I believe that was the general idea that I was trying to convey."
Kirk: "I don't mean this future."
Bones: "What is this, multiple choice?"
 
Good answers, and no worries about disagreeing - what I'm essentially asking is about science fiction's role as a literary genre, and I'm enjoying the responses. :)
 
Its inspiration isn't it?

Who's ever sat in an astrometry lecture? With the math, the equations and the man teaching who happens to be only too satisfied with standing in the cold winter nights looking for a tiny pin-prick of light that just happens to be Venus.



I remember a conversation with one such teacher back in high school.

“What do you think of warp drive?” I asked.

“Nonsense, even if you could create those kinds of gravitation effects, you’d never be able to generate the type or amounts of energies.” He replied.

“So you don’t believe it’ll be ever possible to travel faster than light?” I later questioned
”I think it’ll be highly unlikely” That being the typical physics teacher response, never wanting to commit to a definite answer. “Not in your life time, or your sons life time or your sons, sons, sons life time.” He added


To him, astrometry was like physics done in a glass jar, you can look and imagine, but you can’t touch it.



With science fiction we can explore the future, our reality, societies, individuals and even our past, examine it, question it and change it – it just happens to be the same with all arts

I said:
"Science fiction is primarily about exploring humanity's relationship with itself and in relation to the universe."




And by doing so we inevitably borrow from or question speculative science naturally entertaining all who have interest this area.



Fantasy, for me, tends to be the same, but different.

A lot of fantasy tends to generate entire worlds or environments that disconnects us from out own reality, an escapist adventure allowing people to ignore the rules for pure entertainment, plot or character dynamic values. Although often in fantasy, it mirrors past events, satires or blatantly reflects them (George Orwell’s Animal Farm) for instance. This also has the same effect as SF, but on a much more subtle level.



Those are my opinions, and I await them to be contested by any who are brave enough :D :D.
 
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dreamwalker said:
Its inspiration...
Science Fiction can inspire invention which can inspire more science fiction...Science Fiction Ideas, Inventions and News Related to Space Tech

The starships were Bussard ramjets. They caught interstellar hydrogen in immaterial nets of electromagnetic force, compressed and guided it into a ring of pinched force fields, and there burned it in fusion fire. Potenially there was no limit at all on the speed of a Bussard ramjet.—Larry Niven, A World Out of Time, 1976
 
I think that Heinlein and Asimov are, somewhat conveniently, limiting their definitions to include only the sort of SF that particularly interests them.
But if you take both those definitions and add on Brian's original proposition, I think you have an excellent definition of the best science fiction.

As for Fantasy, I would say that the sort of exploration that Brian describes is definitely a feature of the best fantasy. But where SF concentrates mostly on exterior landscapes, Fantasy is all about interior landscapes, what you might call the terrain of the human heart, the flora and fauna of the human psyche. And it does take research -- at the very least the research of living and observing, but some sort of grounding in history, anthropology, psychology, etc. certainly helps.

And just as even the worst SF reflects, in a pale sort of way, the qualities of the best, I think that even some of the worst Fantasy being published addresses (no matter how superficially, no matter how clumsily) certain issues that we, as individuals and as a society, need to work through sooner or later. That may be why some of us keep gravitating back to the same sorts of books again and again -- because even if they don't provide the answers we are looking for, they at least touch on whatever it is we are trying to understand.

Of course it's also possible to be attracted only to books in either genre that reaffirm what we've already decided -- that science is dangerous, or that progress is necessarily a good thing, or that people are essentially good or evil. Books that reflect current thinking on any of these subjects can be enormously successful, but the books that last are usually the ones that explore the human condition in an honest way rather than just bouncing back whatever ideas are popular at the time.
 
As unique styles of literature, fantasy, science fiction and science fantasy(genres born of fantasy) have different ways of stirring the psyche, presenting world views and ideologies—all being just as influential.
...science fiction is the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode..."—Brian Aldiss
...science fiction is the mythology of the modern world—or one of its mythologies....For science fiction does use the mythmaking faculty to apprehend the world we live in, a world profoundly shaped and changed by science and technology, and its originality is that it uses the mythmaking faculty on new material.—Ursula Le Guin
Science Fiction reflects traits of his mother, Fantasy.
 
Below is an example of the importance of science fiction as a genre.

Zero point energy emerges from realm of science fiction, may be key to deep-space travel

Advanced Technology

At least two large aerospace companies and one U.S. Defense Dept. agency are betting that "zero point energy" could be the next breakthrough in aerospace vehicle propulsion, and are backing those bets with seed money for ZPE research.

If their efforts pay off, ZPE-driven powerplants might enable Mach 4 fighters, quiet 1,200-seat hypersonic airliners that fly at 100-mi. altitudes as far as 12,000 mi. in about 70 min., and 12.6-hr. trips to the Moon."—William B. Scott, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 3/01/2004,http://users.erols.com/iri/EnewsApril5,2004.htm#2
 
cyborg_cinema said:
Below is an example of the importance of science fiction as a genre.
I've read that article before
I never really understood how ZPE could be harnessed, but your point stands. 15 years ago, that phase would be something that would only be used by the cast and crew of star trek, now its been researched by the defence departments - Sets timer for jan 1st, 2012 heh
 
ann_meg.jpg

...patent constitutes absolute proof that zero point energy is real. ....We now have a working model to prove it....the United States patent office granted US Patent #6,362,718 to the four inventors: Stephen L. Patrick, Thomas E. Bearden, James C. Hayes, and Kenneth D. Moore.

The MEG (Motionless Electromagnetic Generator), with no moving parts, will give a steady flow of 2.5 Kilowatts forever without the input of any fuel whatsoever. The science under which the MEG operates is being called Longitudinal Scalar Electromagnetics.
A "patent constitutes absolute proof..." It does?

Free Energy Is Here Now Sounds like a title one might see in a supermarket checkout line.
 
dreamwalker said:
That can't be right? Can it?
The reasearch has been around since at least the 1950s, but it sounds too good to be true. Unlimited energy from a vacuum—two and a half kilowatts forever. Electric companies would go bankrupt. But I would love to see all the power grids come down.
 
I said:
Statement:

"Science fiction is primarily about exploring humanity's relationship with itself and in relation to the universe."


Questions:

1. Would you agree with this statement? Why?

2. Is the statement applicable to fantasy? Again, why?

3. Of all the priorities of science fiction, how does exploring humanity's relationship with itself and in relation to the universe, compare to an exploration of speculative science, or the need to entertain?


A start on the nature and meaning of science fiction literature.

1. Yes. Scientific possibilities are the foundation of science fiction. If it is not in some way a believable relationship, then we would-and do-call it fantasy. It is also largley how we define ourselves, as many cultural relationships can be examined through thier cultural history and entertainment (Romans, ect) context, however it is also fiction because it gives us the extremes of good and evil, justice and injustice, fear and hope.

2. Not so much, I think. I believe that fantasy is defined by its ability to take the scientifically disproven and impossible and make it possible. However, the ideals of good fiction-strong protagonist and antagonist still apply.

3. I am not sure what this question is asking. I do not think we would have the science we have today without the science fiction writers of the old days who entertained us and opened the doorways to another universe. I also think that speculative science is entertainment in its own form, proving the previously unkown, going the distance, learning and discovering. Which, in a sense, is another point that makes sci fi so entertaining.
 
I'm fairly certain that scientific research inspires science fiction rather more often than the other way around, and that scientists were quite good at coming up with ideas before the (extremely recent) development of science fiction literature.

Which is not to say that science fiction hasn't contributed anything. It seems to me that the value of science fiction is that it creates an environment that is friendly to new modes of thought and new ways of living, which is in turn friendly to scientific research. Also that it inspires young people with a desire for more knowledge and/or careers in science.
 

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