Last month, I covered what Fantasy is. I ended up ultimately happy with that post, so let’s do it again with Science Fiction. I’m going to look around to see what other authorities have to say on what Science Fiction is, and look into the history of the genre. What surprised me this time around was that there were so many Universities that have Science Fiction departments!
University of Pittsburgh:
The University of Pittsburgh is one of those such Universities. The Pitt website says: “Usually futuristic, science fiction speculates about alternative ways of life made possible by technological change” and “science fiction envisions alternative worlds with believably consistent rules and structures, set apart somehow from the ordinary or familiar world of our time and place.” Pitt goes on to say Science Fiction is distinguished from Fantasy through the use of technology.
University of Kansas:
The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s website fits its topic, and is another universite that has courses on Science Fiction. Their defining sci-fi page is amazing. Their first sentence is perfect and says it all: “Science fiction is the literature of the human species encountering change, whether it arrives via scientific discoveries, technological innovations, natural events, or societal shifts.”
The Purpose of Science Fiction:
Zach Berkson writing in Hieroglyph, a project from Arizona State University wrote an article on this topic in 2016 here. He says that instead of predicting the future, science fiction is more often written with a social purpose or goal in mind. That it is easy to find the ones that predicted the future, but there are many more that don’t predict anything. He also goes into why we read science fiction.
Science Fiction vs. SciFi vs. SF:
Damien Walter wrote an article in The Guardian in 2013 amusingly detailing the bitter fight between the terms that I never even knew existed. The gist is that people gatekeep over what stories belong with which terms based on how real the science in their science fiction is. Because we really needed another layer to this.
While seemingly easier to define than Fantasy, Science Fiction is still pretty complex and difficult to define. Everyone has their own ideas about what Science Fiction is and what Science Fiction isn’t.
Now, A Brief History of Science Fiction:
Largely taken from this wikipedia page on the History of Science Fiction.
There are elements of Science Fiction dating back to some of our earlier texts, with elements like flying ships, time travel, and robots, but many classify this as fantasy more than science fiction. During the early 1800s, we would see more stories that more resemble what we know as Science Fiction today notably Frankenstein, Jules Verne.
Stories became more Science Fiction as time went on. By the 1930s there was a growing demand for Science Fiction stories and by the mid-1940s Science Fiction stories became normal to see and read. Many of the genre’s ideas and tropes were established during this time. And it is also during this time that John W. Campbell Jr. undeniably shaped the genre, though he is seen as controversial and even detrimental to the genre today.
Through the decades, Science Fiction has become popularized. It has branched out into many subgenres and ideas popularized and thought up in Science Fiction have become reality today. Scientists are using the ideas in Science Fiction to look towards the future to make fiction reality.
An inexhaustive list of Subgenres: androids, cyberpunk, steampunk, and other punk subgenres, alternate history, military, superhuman/superhero, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, space opera, space western, time travel, dystopia and utopia, hard and soft science fiction, and many more.