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”

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Book Review: Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick

seven-views-of-olduvai-gorgeI don’t know if it’s cheating to review this, but I received a small pamphlet, about 40 pages long, of Mike Resnick’s novella “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”. Since I read it as a single bound material, I guess it counts as a “book review”.

I liked this story! I really enjoyed it after a small adjustment period.

The story follows alien scientists researching the origins of humanity, who has gone extinct thousands of years ago. Humanity was an empire that stretched across the stars, but they began from a small world called Earth. There are seven flashbacks related to seven artifacts recovered related to humanity, and the scientists learn more about human nature as it goes on. Ultimately, it shows how humanity came about, and how it grew to become the dominant force in the galaxy.

Mike Resnick is renowned for his prose, and this story is no exception. His still with words is fantastic, and as a writer, his ability to plot out fiction shines through.

“Seven Views” is a fantastic story, and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in science fiction. It’s a great story about human nature.

The ending, without getting into spoilers, is a great way to cap the crescendo on human nature.


 

You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

TheSirensofTitan(1959)Kurt Vonnegut is an author I was exposed to early on in my life. In high school I read the short story “Harrison Bergeron” which impacted me the rest of my life.

However, when I was older I truly appreciated Vonnegut as an author when I read The Sirens of Titan.

It’s difficult to put down what this book was about. A succinct summary seems impossible. It follows a history laid out in detail that spans multiple worlds and times.  The ideas, the concepts, and the setting are all interesting and hold up for the most part. Some of the science is a little dated, but it’s charming in a way that Triplanetary was not.

The image of the sirens will always stay in my mind, as will the idea of the Unmoved Mover being a power source. Vonnegut is a skilled author and this is one book I recommend to anyone who enjoys science fiction.

I know this is a short one, but it’s a really complicated story to delve into.


You may like some of my other posts:

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

You may also like my posts about writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Finding Your Writing Style

Book Review: Willful Child by Steven Erikson

20518786Steven Erikson is well known for his series “Malazan Book of the Fallen”, a dark fantasy series. When I heard he had written a Star Trek parody called Willful Child, I was intrigued.

There are a few points that I should tackle up front. First, I understand there have been comparisons made between Willful Child and Redshirts by John Scalzi. To be fair, I’ve never read Mr. Scalzi’s Redshirts, so I can’t speak to any comparisons. Second, the book is considered by many to be lacking in the quality department. I don’t believe this is accurate, as I’ll explain later, but there is an element of humor related to the original series of Star Trek that many people may not catch.

With that out of the way, let me say this: I loved this book. I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece, as people have said about Malazan, but I would say it was entertaining and drove me to read it within a short time period.

Erikson hit a perfect stride with the character of Captain Hadrian Sawback. The character is an extreme parody of Captain Kirk. He’s brash, intelligent, extremely chauvinist, and sexually driven. He hits on basically every female character and breaks protocol to travel on away missions (despite being the captain).

Honestly, some of the jokes don’t hit. He makes many jokes and absurd situations, many of which made me smile or outright laugh. There’s many that don’t work, though, and it’s a shame.

To be fair, the book is entertaining and fun and exciting. It’s somewhat episodic (it’s a parody of Star Trek: The Original Series, remember?) but it’s a good read.

I’d recommend it if you like absurd science fiction.


If you like this review, you may like these others:

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

The_Voyage_of_the_Space_Beagle_(book)_front_cover

Older science fiction can be a little tricky. Sometimes you find yourself bored while reading the yellowed pages of an old hard sci-fi novel, or become enamored by the simple pleasures of pulp covers and ray gun wielding heroes.

In the case of The Voyage of the Space Beagle, I found myself fascinated.

Here is a set of basically found stories crammed together in a singular setting: the Space Beagle, a human vessel using futuristic technology (from the 1930’s) to travel through space and explore galaxies.

The book itself is interesting and fun. I’ve found that van Vogt’s writing style is a huge plus to his ability to address philosophical and psychological concepts in science and apply them to specific characters. In this book, the main character is a scientist named Dr. Elliott Grosvenor, a Nexialist.

Nexialism was coined in this book, and it is defined as the science that mixed all other disciplines together to the benefit of the whole. Interestingly, it was almost prescient in its understanding of cross-disciplinary studies, but modern science is still fractured by fields of study.

There are certainly interesting ideas in the book, but ultimately it’s a simple exploration story with several aliens and confrontations. The final story I found the most interesting, with an enemy that has to be read to be believed, and Grosvenor coming into his own finally.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes hard science fiction or older science fiction. It’s definitely a good read!

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Sc48The story of a military recruit entering into a space program seems commonplace in science fiction these days. There have been any number of attempts, from Marko Kloos’ Terms of Enlistment to Ender’s Game, but the original “Space Cadet” novel was by Robert Heinlein in 1948.

This book was one of Heinlein’s “Juveniles“. These were books meant to appeal to a teenage boy audience and inspire scientific ideas. Interestingly, he also wrote three stories for girls with a female protagonist, but that’s for another day.

The main character is Matt Dodson, but he often takes a secondary role. In the beginning, we learn about the Patrol and their efforts in our solar system. We learn about aliens and colonists and the state of governments in the future. It’s explained early on that the Patrol exists to make sure war never breaks out again.

However, things are a little more confusing than that. 

Space Cadet is one of those books that grabs you half-way through and forces you to keep reading. I was hooked at that point and refused to put it down. The part on Venus is a little odd, and almost jarring. It was interesting to see the characters interact in a situation like that, but the main character stopped feeling like the main character at that point. Also, the ending felt a little underwhelming.

Ultimately, I would recommend this for anyone who’s interested in some of Heinlein’s earlier work; it was the second of his “Juveniles”, which culminated in Starship Troopers as his thirteenth attempted entry.