The other day I discussed why science fiction is more of a worldview than an actual genre. But if that's true, exactly what type of worldview is SF? I'm trying to figure this out and I'd love to hear from people about what they consider as the science fiction worldview, or what they consider to be the markers of science fiction.
I almost asked people to define science fiction before realizing that a worldview doesn't fit with the idea of a hard and fast definition. Part of this is because worldviews continually change and flow across time and place. The other part is because I agree with what Nnedi Okorafor wrote in her must-read essay "Can you define African Science Fiction?", which is that all too often "labels suck."
As Okorafor says of labels:
So I'm not looking for definitions or labels to slap onto science fiction. But I am looking for viewpoints on what science fiction might be in our 21st century world. But to get us started I've also collected a number of famous and not-so-famous definitions of SF. But I hope no one considers these definitions as anything more than the beginning of a much larger discussion.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below. If you'd like to offer your thoughts in private, email them to me.
Jason's incomplete list of SF definitions even though definitions often suck
Here's my initial take on the science fiction worldview: The present as seen through a science-based view of the future.
In addition, here are a few of the definitions of SF which have stuck with me over the years:
- "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 giving a traditional definition of science fiction.
- "Fiction in which things happen that are not possible today." — Margaret Atwood, who has often said she doesn't write science fiction.
- Science fiction is about "events that have not happened." — Samuel R. Delany. I also love Delany's statement that "Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking about how that world might be — a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they — and all of us — have to be able to think about a world that works differently."
- "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." — Robert Heinlein giving another traditional definition of SF. Is it just me, or are the traditional definitions of science fiction often mind-numbing and boring?
- Science fiction is about "subverting paradigms." — Nalo Hopkinson. The full quote is "Science fiction and fantasy are already about subverting paradigms," which was said in response to her fiction being described as "subverting the genre." The complete interview is found in the excellent book Report from Planet Midnight.
- "Science fiction: the unknown is to be understood and thereby changed." — Nancy Lebovitz
- "Science Fiction is the improbable made possible." — Rod Serling
- The "literature of ideas" — Niko Silvester and many others
- The "literature of cognitive estrangement" — Darko Suvin
- The "literature of change" — Richard Trietel. Also make note of Tom Shippey's comment that "Science fiction is hard to define because it is the literature of change and it changes while you are trying to define it."