All About Genre #3
By Leigh Holland
Science Fiction, or “Sci Fi”, is a difficult genre to pin down but incredibly easy to recognize when we see it. Perhaps it’s so hard to pin down because Science Fiction has no boundaries other than what we choose to give it. Let’s start by looking at how others have tried to define the genre in the past.
“To be science fiction, not fantasy, an honest effort at prophetic extrapolation from the known must be made.” -John W. Campbell Jr.
“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. To make this definition cover all science fiction (instead of ‘almost all’) it is necessary only to strike out the word ‘future’.” -Robert A. Heinlein
“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” -Rod Serling
“Science fiction then is the fiction of revolutions. Revolutions in time, space, medicine, travel, and thought…Above all, science fiction is the fiction of warm-blooded human men and women sometimes elevated and sometimes crushed by their machines.” -Ray Bradbury
“Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.” -Isaac Asimov
“Science fiction is something that could happen – but you usually wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though you often only wish that it could.” -Arthur C. Clarke
Simply put, the reason it’s hard to define is because science fiction evolves as science itself discovers new facts and possibilities, which occurs daily. Just when we think we’ve got it wrangled into a neat definition, scientific knowledge expands, and a whole new world of speculation flows forth.
Rather than defining it, it would be more useful to examine some of its elements. Science fiction often involves one or more of the following elements:
- An alternative history that contradicts our present understanding in some way
- An alternative future or a setting realistically in the future
- Outer space setting, such as moons, planets, and spacecrafts
- Subterranean settings
- Characters such as aliens, mutants, robots, evolved humans who differ from present humans, and androids.
- Alternate dimensions or parallel universes
- New or different political and social settings blended with technology
- Time travel, wormholes, warp drive, advanced communications
- Future plausible technology
- Paranormal abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis, etc.
There are two general categories within Science Fiction, “hard” and “soft”.
Hard Science Fiction strives to ensure that close attention is paid to details of scientific fields such as physics, chemistry, and biology, so the fiction is as realistically and faithfully grounded in scientific fact as possible. Because of this attention to “getting it right”, an intriguing number of predictions within hard science fiction stories of the past have become reality since then. It’s not difficult to imagine that technology and other advances envisioned in hard science fiction today will one day be available to us in the future.
Soft Science Fiction focuses more on character, social structures, and emotion than hard sci-fi and stems from the soft sciences, such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and political science. Utopian and Dystopian works are classified under Soft Sci-Fi.
What is the PICS focus for Science Fiction?
Are there “secret” Sci-Fi categories you can unlock at Amazon?
Yes, there are.
You can find more information about those helpfully here. The main reason to want to unlock these categories, if appropriate to your work, is because there is often less competition in these categories as they are not selectable at the outset of publishing.
Click the link to learn more about the subgenre.