What is Science Fiction?

9262561366_05ea466cff_bMy family and I discussed some of the more recent Frankenstein movies, and the conversation drifted into the original novel by Mary Shelley. Inevitably, that brought out discussion of the original novel being the first science fiction novel. Apparently, this was a position Brian Aldiss held as well.

Now, I believe that science fiction, as a form of literature, is not so easily defined. As such, a distinct division between what was and was not science fiction is nearly impossible. However, I believe that there are various requirements that a story should meet to be considered science fiction:

1. It must have been written during or after the Enlightenment.

I would argue that science fiction didn’t exist until the Enlightenment. I would say that prior to this, any sort of fantastical or imaginative speculative fiction wouldn’t have had any concern for scientific ideas.

Now, the timing is intentional. Books like Gulliver’s Travels and Icosameron fit this element.

2. It must have been concerned with a scientific idea.

Even if that idea is as simple as “could we go to another planet?” or “what will life look like in 1,000 years?” Works that explore the possibilities of a hollow earth or people who live on the moon also fit this requirement, and if they were after the Enlightenment, fit the first as well.

I would also include some “soft” scientific ideas in here, such as psychology or politics. Thus, utopias or dystopias can be explored in detail in science fiction. I would exclude current politics or military science from this, if they were by themselves as scientific ideas.

3. It must have been concerned with speculation.

This means that a direct, realistic explanation of an even does not fit. Likewise, general fiction that doesn’t speculate anything isn’t a science fiction novel.

Now here’s the issue: space opera and military science fiction can speculate on the use of space faring technology or fighting aliens, but they don’t expound on those ideas. Nor do they need to!

I think these three elements must be included. Rod Serling once said, “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible”.

So was Frankenstein the first sci-fi novel? No, I don’t think so, though it may have been the first “hard” science fiction novel, but that’s a different story. Perhaps this is overthinking it, or maybe I’m missing some element that would define certain stories and not others.

What do you think?


You may like some of my other work on this site. Make sure to check me out on Twitter and Instagram.

Maybe some of my reviews:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Maybe some of my work on writing:

Writing Descriptions

Finding Your Writing Style

Maybe my poetry:

Poetry: “Cardinals in Spring Snow”

Advertisements

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

science-fiction-1864571_960_720

My background was originally in philosophy. Science fiction, while my preferred fiction choice, wasn’t what I wanted to do in college. I pushed myself to study philosophy because I found the ideas interesting. Yet, the career prospects were null and the hobbyist possibilities the same.

In thinking about philosophy in science fiction I think about the short story from the July 2017 issue of Apex magazine: The Turing Machines of Babel by Eric Schwitzgebel.

One day I may review the short story, but I mentioned the story on my twitter account. In the mean time, let’s talk about philosophy in science fiction. There are a few possible ways to incorporate a philosophical question:

  • 1. Directly asking the question.

You could, simply, have a character wake up one day and ask, “is there a god?”

It’s been done to death and often feels forced, but it’s a possibility.

  • 2. Indirectly answering the question.

Instead of making your main character or side characters ask the question, have them deal with an outsider who wonders about why they do a certain thing, which is tangentially related. So, instead of asking “is there a god?” you could have an observer watch the characters perform their actions and ask “do they do this for their gods?” Make it assumptive, and instead of answering the question of “is there a god?” we deal with the moral argument for god’s existence, for example.

  • 3. Showing a world where the question isn’t asked.

If you want to explore the question “how do you know what you know?” Then show a world where it’s all just assumed and no one questions themselves. In this way, you create a reality in the mind of the reader that you can explore and confront. How do these characters know what they know? Is that right?

  • 4. Showing a world that explains the question and your answer.

This is how The Turing Machines of Babel did it, in my opinion. The universe was explored in the story, with its explanations and questions all laid out in how the universe was constructed. Coming to that universe was the main character, and everything was explained through his research and understanding.


 

Well that’s a few examples and suggestions. I hope it helps!

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and check out some of my other blog posts:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Dodging Derivatives

warrior-563172_960_720

Have you ever written a story that you soon realized was clearly lifted from another author’s work? Have you ever come up with an idea only to discover it was actually developed by someone else?

Science fiction is a genre that can easily fall into derivatives. Far too often writers of genre fiction either copy ideas from others without thinking about it, or develop ideas from the same source material.

Here’s 3 tips on how to avoid that:

1. Don’t Just Read the Science 

The “science” part of science fiction is important. But taking all your inspiration from the science periodicals is a recipe for disaster. Every submission season, it’s obvious when a new article came out with an interesting scientific breakthrough, because multiple people write about it!

Try breaking out the philosophy magazines and the histories and classics. Maybe there you’ll find inspiration that other people won’t also write about!

2. Take the Tropes and Twist Them

There are a ton of tropes in genre fiction. Science fiction especially suffers from the same sort of ideas time and again. Whether it’s the “AI will kill us” scenario or the “humans are their own enemy” story, it’s a recurring thing when these plot elements are used so frequently.

Take these ideas, and flip them around! Instead of AI being a killer, make it the one suspected of the murder. In reality, people killed and made the AI look like a murderer on purpose! How about the “humans are their own enemy” story? What would an alien race look like who was worse to themselves than humanity is to themselves?

3. Write Down Your Dreams

This seems silly, but I’ve had so many great ideas in the twilight hours! While I’m on the edge of consciousness, my brain just spits out random ideas and thoughts. It’s helpful to write them down so you have unique images and ideas to work from!


I hope you enjoyed that! Let me know in the comments below if anything else has helped you avoid falling into the “same old, same old”. Thanks!

Do We Have to Pick Between Fun and Art?

science-fiction-441708_960_720

This is something I’ve been thinking about for some time. In science fiction, the “hard” sci-fi is considered the artistic works while the “soft” sci-fi is considered the “fun” works.

This dichotomy doesn’t help.

When you go to pick up a book, whether it’s Elizabeth Moon’s Trading in Danger or David Weber’s On Basilisk Station, there’s no shortage of creative ideas and interesting characters. However, these are considered “soft” due to their lack of literary merit. However, they contribute much to the story of science fiction, and writing them off because they’re not Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is unfair.

When I studied philosophy I was mystified by the concept of “art”. Within philosophy the concepts of beauty and art are tackled in the realm of aesthetics, but I always just stayed at the basic concepts and tried to argue those.

I truly believe something is artistic when you enjoy it for its style. Because of this, it is completely subjective and the concept of “high art” doesn’t exist but in the cocktail lounges of the fanciest hotels. That is to say, a group of people with social status can get together and declare something “high art” that isn’t. See, that was the entire point of Andy Warhol’s pop art movement.

Book Review: Count to a Trillion

I went into Count to count-to-a-trillion-by-john-c-wrighta Trillion hearing about how John C. Wright was considered an interesting author. He’s considered controversial in some circles, but I didn’t hear about any of that as I started reading. In that way I avoided having my enjoyment of this book diminished in any way.

Science fiction has been a love of mine for a long time. When I was a kid I read Jurassic Park and got into Michael Crichton. I never stopped reading science fiction throughout my life, taking short breaks and spend
ing time doing other times, perhaps, but never halting entirely.

I can honestly say Count to a Trillion is one of the greatest science fiction books I’ve read since Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.

It seems to be space opera in the roughest of senses: a space princess, starship expedition, secret society, and ancient aliens all play a role. However it’s elevated to a level that I couldn’t do justice with my limited language skills.

The book focuses on Menelaus, a genius who grows up loving science fiction, to the chagrin of his mother. He’s a Texas-grown duelist who is able to out think people using their smart bullet type guns. After a stint as a lawyer, he ends up being recruited for a ship called the Hermetic, which is setting out on a century long expedition to a diamond star. Menelaus ends up experimenting on himself in order to create the next stage of evolution. In doing so, he misses the trip, remaining in cryostasis for the most part. Once he wakes up, over a century has passed and he is called on to assist in preparing the world for an alien invasion.

There are many interesting elements to the book including transhumanism, the philosophy of science, and the nature of evolution. The aliens in the universe are not seen so much as felt, and they are so far beyond humanity that it’s scary in a “fear of god” sort of way.

I am a student of philosophy, and as such I was able to understand a great deal of the philosophical underpinnings and thematic elements that Wright wrestles with in his prose (I was giddy when I actually saw the words “Russell-Whitehead”). This isn’t gloating, because I could hardly understand the physics language. The more scientific elements and heavily mathematical elements were beyond my limited understanding, but I enjoyed it none the less.

About the only thing I didn’t like was a seeming lack of character development. Menelaus is flawed genius who struggles in adolescence and flourishes as an adult, but Princess Rania is quickly introduced as a love interest without much development at all. She’s interesting, and her mysteriousness might be the part that Wright wanted to emphasize, but it made me (as a reader) unattached to her and unconcerned with her machinations. Also it felt like some characters just sort of drift and change without a catalyst, like Exarchel.

Ultimately, I can’t encourage people to read this enough. I would say the only people this wouldn’t appeal to are those who don’t like hard science fiction. It’s clearly a form of space opera, but it’s so advanced that it’s like a genre unto its own. The depth with which Wright explores the universe in this book is incredible and the prose is moving and expertly manipulated. This book is not for everyone, but if you like depth in your science fiction, you will like this book.