Monday, 23 January 2012

Science Fiction: A Definition

Is anyone else having a really bad month?  I know people are because my friends and family are telling me about their awful Januarys.  It seems every week brings with it more bad news.  To add to that, for some reason, work is also very busy.  This means that I haven’t been writing as much as I should have been this month.  In fact, I’m very behind.  I’ve rewritten my plan for my current novel three times since the New Year and while I’ve printed out and started editing Chapter One of Silver, I haven’t got very far.

I’ve also been thinking hard about what to write about here on this blog.   What with stressful, long days at work, no writing and throbbing headaches, stories were not very forthcoming.  Until last night when we watched the first episode of the new series of Room 101.

Fern Britton joined Frank Skinner and told the nation that she wanted to put Science Fiction into Room 101.  I was in shock and so was Robert Webb.  Now, I am well aware that this should not have been taken seriously.  Honestly, though, I felt my blood rush and I instantly started to build a defence for Science Fiction. 

It seemed to me that Fern has only seen or heard of Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr Who so I began to scan through my DVD collection in search of other Science Fiction titles that might stand up in a debate.  This then led to a problem; what is the definition of Science Fiction?

Aliens are the first thing that comes to my mind when Science Fiction is mentioned.  Aliens and space travel, so the obvious picks from my collection are Firefly and Serenity, District 9, Independence Day, Cloverfield and Paul.  Of course futuristic titles also fall under the category; I, Robot, Terminator and its sequels and the Fifth Element. 

Then I became a little stuck – The Walking Dead.  This television series is a perfect example to me of beautiful writing encapsulating the reality, horror and social and individual meltdown that a plague of this scale might cause.  It is about a disease (possibly) infecting the living, killing them and then reanimating their corpses.  It is therefore a futuristic and scientific concept.  These concepts are usually categorised under Horror, but could it also be called Science Fiction?

I have found a number of Science Fiction definitions;

Science Fiction
a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc.

Well that’s just vague and unhelpful.

How about;

Science fiction reflects scientific thought; a fiction of things-to-come based on things-on-hand.’ By Benjamin Appel
SF is a controlled way to think and dream about the future. An integration of the mood and attitude of science (the objective universe) with the fears and hopes that spring from the unconscious. Anything that turns you and your social context, the social you, inside out. Nightmares and visions, always outlined by the barely possible.’ By Gregory Benford

The argument, really, then is whether Science Fiction is just wholly about the science.  That limits it to space travel and time travel and everything that comes with them.  It still doesn’t answer my question regarding zombies.

In the bookshops, Science Fiction is often shelved with Fantasy and Horror. The lines between these genres are so easily blurred and a novel can easily be classed in more than one of these.  Zombies usually fall under Horror but I find that Horror is another one of those vague, blurred genres.  Anything can be Horror – Literature, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Comedy, Romance.  Ok, perhaps Romance doesn’t often collide with Horror but it is possible.  Does this mean that these three genres that always share the same corner of the bookshop are so interwoven that they cannot be parted?  This would mean that zombies are Science Fiction by default of simply sitting in that corner under Horror.

Of course, that’s not strictly true either.  For avid Horror readers and viewers, Horror is light years away from Science Fiction.  Although in my experience, Horror fans are often Science Fiction and Fantasy fans too. Perhaps this is why these three genres are grouped together, not because of the similarities between genres but because of the shared fan base.

On a similar point, has anyone else noticed that the Horror channels on Sky are regularly showing War of the Worlds (Science Fiction), Firefly (Science Fiction) and Angel (Fantasy)?

If you search online for a definition of Science Fiction, the internet seems just as confused.  To me, Science Fiction will always mean space and time travel and all that those entail but I am glad that the lines are blurred.  Every time I enter a bookshop, I head over to that corner to get my Fantasy/Horror/Science Fiction fix and often find something shiny in a genre I didn’t expect.  My favourite definition of Science Fiction, found by my search engine, was by Damon Knight;

"...[Science Fiction] means what we point to when we say it."

P.S.  This is the blog of a writer and I have every intention of actually putting some fiction up here.  Promise.


  1. Science fiction, sci-fi, my first love...

    Interesting that as a writer you cite the medium of film.

    Lets see your top 10 (making it easier) sci-fi books (fantasy too maybe) and i will show you mine :o)

  2. I cited the medium of film because the theme given to Fern Britton when she chose Science Fiction to go into Room 101 was TV/Film so my defence was also TV and Film.

    To be honest I don't have a top 10 sci-fi books as I'm not a huge Sci-Fi book fan for some reason. I get on with Sci-Fi films but not books...but if I'll have a think about my top 10 sci-fi/fantasy/horror books and get back to you! :)