|Synonyms:||SF, Sci-fi, speculative fiction|
|See also:||Science Fiction Fandom|
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Also known as Speculative Fiction, and frequently abbreviated to SF or SciFi, science fiction as a genre is sometimes difficult to define, as it includes a wide range of subgenres and themes. Today it is considered to be closely related to the horror and fantasy genres. Some overlap exists between the three, particularly science fiction and fantasy -- in recent years, SFF has become a common catchall abbreviation for the two combined genres. Still, there are 80-90 years of controversy as to what makes "proper" science fiction. (See also Space Opera.)
The term "sfnal" (or SFnal) is sometimes used to describe something with an SF feel or background.
From Datazine #6: "Sci fi is a dated term that identifies the user as being either a neo or a clinger to bygone days of former glory. Sci fi was coined by Forrest Ackerman around the time that hi-fi was also a new catch phrase. When the the next science fiction innovation (commonly referred to as 'New Wave') began to catch on, some readers complained justifiably that stories which had no science in them could not correctly be called science fiction. The generic title became, by more or less popular demand, speculative fiction, there after referred to as sf. It is reprehensible to the advocate of sf to use the term sci-fi as it is to the trekker to use the term trekkie."
From Southern Enclave #15: "About the only fannish word that bugs me is "sci-fi" which was created by Forrest J. Ackerman because didn't like "sf." Well, Forrie, I like sf, and only use sci-fi to describe grade Z sf movies such as "Plan Nine From Outer Space"! Actually, I've heard other fen pronounce sci-fi as "skiffy" when used in this way. I approve of that whole-heartedly."
Some people have tried to claim Gilgamesh as the first science fiction story (though it's a better fit for the first fantasy story). There are ancient Greek works, such as Plato's descriptions of Atlantis, that have SF aspects. And Lucian's 2nd century satirical True History contains an interplanetary trip that certainly has aspects of science fiction or proto-science fiction. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, first published in 1818, is often mentioned as the first true sf novel and Jules Verne and H. G. Wells as the first true sf authors. But sf began in earnest in the early twentieth century.
Hugo Gernsback is credited by many with creating science fiction as a genre in its own right. He started publishing Amazing Stories, the first sf-only pulp fiction magazine, in 1926.
Some Common Subgenres and Themes
Professionally produced science fiction comes in a variety of flavors. Here are some of the most common elements that appear in sf pro works:
- Spaceflight (sub-genres: space opera, life on other planets, galactic empires)
- Aliens, Alien Contact, Alien Invasion
- Time Travel
- Alternate Reality, Alternate History, Parallel Universes
- Lost Colony
- Apocalyptic or Post-Apocalyptic Future
SF is sometimes split into "hard" and the less often used complementary category "soft." Hard science fiction is supposed to take the science of the narrative seriously, and does not engage in hand waving, whereas soft SF is more concerned with character development and narrative, like space opera. Soft SF is also defined as SF concerned with the "softer" sciences (anthropology, psychology, sociology, etc.), as well as cultural and social issues generally. This taxonomy has come under some criticism for the way that it seems to define male writers and concerns as hard, and female writers as soft; for example, Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood stories may be considered soft by some, dealing as they do with biology, whereas Greg Bear's stories on the same subject or Asimov's Foundation stories on social engineering may be considered hard.
Fanwork Tropes & Genres
Although all of the above standard subgenres can be used in fanworks, there are yet more fannish tropes and genres that are grounded in science fiction:
- Aliens Made Them Do It
- Mirror Universe
- Alien Kink
Science fiction in movies
Some literary sf fans have claimed that Science Fiction and movies don't mix -- that all of the movies we think of as 'classic science fiction movies' are actually horribly watered down sf, with only the explosions remaining, or at best, "science fantasy", containing the markers for SF (machines, robots, spaceships), but none of the science that should animate it. Others believe that the visuals and effects of modern wide-screen movies are a natural fit for pictures of an otherwise unseeable future.
It does, however, seem that the runaway success of many sci-fi movies (Star Wars, The Terminator, Jurassic Park, etc.) has contributed to a new surge of popularity for science fiction; as a genre, it appears to have moved closer to the mainstream.
Science Fiction and Fandom
The genre of science fiction intersects with fans and fandom in several ways. The creation of the genre goes hand in hand with the advent of Science Fiction Fandom, which dates back to the 1920s. When Media Fandom branched off from SF fandom with the introduction of either Star Trek or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (depending on who you ask), sf fandom could be characterized as focused on written sf, whereas media fandom was interested in television. SF fandom no longer exclusively concerns itself with written fiction, but it is still sometimes seen that way.
Although media fandom no longer focuses mainly on science fiction media, its roots in sf live on in recurring themes and tropes in fanworks for non-sf media fandoms. For example, while fanfiction and fanart with robots are consistent with Battlestar Galactica canon, Robot AUs can just as easily turn up in American Idol or Due South fandoms. All the above subgenres are used in fanworks as well as professional works.
- "Speculative Fiction" was proposed by Robert A. Heinlein in 1948 as a more accurate description of the genre, but was later used by Judith Merril and other "New Wave" sf writers in the 1960s and 70s "to express dissatisfaction with the genre". Sometimes speculative fiction is used as a broader term that includes, but is not limited to, sf. [See Speculative Fiction article on Art and Popular Culture and Isaac Asimov, "The name of our field," in Asimov on Science Fiction (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981), 25-28.] However, "science fiction" is by far the more frequently used term.
- Marion Zimmer Bradley, in Darkover Newsletter #61 (1993)
- Wikipedia: History of Science Fiction
- See Isaac Asimov, "Science fiction and society," in Asimov on Science Fiction (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981), 103-111.
- See Hugo Gernsback: The man who invented the future by Michael A. Banks.
- Full record for soft science fiction n.. SF Citations for OED. (accessed March 22, 2009.)