1.15.2006

Science fiction..that's not science memoir is it? I'm aFREYed to ask


Is it still considered science fiction when you write about science that is not fiction?


The reason I ask is because I don't want my novel to be considered sci/fi.

I think one of the requirements of science fiction is that the science be real. When the science isn't real it's called fantasy. I could be wrong, but I know we've got experts on this reading the blog. Set Miss Snark straight if needed!

If you don't want your book to be science fiction, call it commercial fiction. And what the heck is wrong with science fiction? Some of the very best writers, and biggest sellers are in that field. Plus, they have a very very cool Society of SFF Writers that really does yeoman's work.

17 comments:

Linda Adams said...

Some thrillers also have a science base. There's an article on science thrillers on the International Thriller Web site at http://www.thrillerwriters.org. A number of Michael Crichton's thrillers are science based, as well as Clive Cussler, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child.

Andrew Wheeler said...

The science fiction field can also be a bit insular, so, if a writer doesn't really feel like part of it to begin with, pretending to belong can cause trouble.

The other side of the "insular" coin, though, is "collegial" and "chummy," which the SF world also is -- writers tend to know and befriend each other, and there's a very active fandom. So it can also be a benefit to promote your books into that world, if you're comfortable in that world.

It sounds like MS's correspondent wouldn't be comfortable, so he might be better off using Crichton-esque terms to describe his book. There's certainly a lot of the thriller genre that uses SFish ideas and plots without getting stuck in that bookstore category.

rkcooke said...

If the science is possible--even if it's so far beyond our technology that we currently consider it impossible--it's science fiction. If it requires supernatural (or other non-possibilities such as hobbits) it's fantasy.

And science fiction, unlike other genres, can contain all other genres. Thus, Chrichton's thrillers and Asimov's mysteries are equally science fiction.

moi said...

Science fiction is a fictional story with a strong scientific bent. Usually super science, but it doesn't have to be.

Fantasy is pre-technology. It has a more historical feel to it and fantastic, rather than scientific, elements are integral to the fantasy plot.

Anonymous said...

rkcooke gave an excellent definition. But the writer sounds like he/she doesn't like SF or thinks it "not literature" - if so that could be a problem in general.

The other consideration is that if the science isn't possible (yet) and you don't call it SF then those of us in science/engineering for our day jobs have a great desire to throw your book against the wall

Stephen Gallagher said...

Someone came up with the description "lab fiction" for fiction-about-science as opposed to science fiction.

It's a neat distinction. But it does also kinda say to the reader "avoid this".

Jodi Meadows said...

The science in SF doesn't have to be real; you just have to make it seem like it *could* be real.

Fantasy isn't necessarily the absence of science, either. Urban fantasy is typically modern-ish setting with fantastical elements.

SFF isn't all Star Wars (space opera), Lord of the Rings (high fantasy), Dragonlance (sword and sorcery), and Ender's Game (science fiction). It's perfectly acceptable (and preferable!) for it to have other aspects in addition to the fantastic or scientific elements.

M. Atwood claims her book _Handmaid's Tale_ isn't SFF. But genre readers and writers certainly think it is, and she gets more publicity because of that. I wouldn't have picked up her book if I hadn't been told it had bits of SFF.

Anonymous said...

As an avid reader of Thorne Smith (among others), I'd take issue with the contention that fantasy is by definition pre-technology.

I believe Smith was a gin-drinker, for that matter. Or at least a devoted fan of the martini.

A newly converted snarkling

Janet McConnaughey said...

But, then, *is* it science fiction? The writer doesn't make clear whether a's story is a projection of possible science and the implications thereof, or something else entirely.

For instance, it might be a novel about an astrophysicist without considering what stars, stardust, the Big Bang, neutrinos, or any of the various other fascinating facets of the science might inflict on or bequeath to society.

Perhaps astrophysics becomes an extended metaphor for whatever else the writer is contemplating. Or perhaps it's a framework for the book's philosophy. Or it might illustrate a major theme.

One example might be "The Same Stuff as Stars," a YA novel by Katherine Paterson. (Patterson?) It's about a kid whose family is just awful, and who survives partly because a stranger teaches her about the stars.


Janet

Mark said...

I'm writing about global warming and the take I'm using is indeed real, but used in a fictional story with made up characters. Crichton just did it but got it so very wrong. As a scientist myself it's my duty to set things right.

Mostly though sci-fi mixes fantasy with science that hasn't been discovered yet. Which is still fantasy. I'm not into that, so "we're back to one" as we used to say in show business.

rkcooke said...

Mark, what are you talking about? "Sci-fi mixes fantasy with science that hasn't been discovered yet?" No, science fiction generally does not mix with fantasy--you rarely find hyperspace and elves on the same page.

And it's not "still fantasy" when the science is currently undiscovered, unless for you 'fantasy' and 'fiction' are synonyms.

You asked a genre question. We gave you some pretty good answers, frankly. But write what you wish, and don't obsess about the genre....

Jodi Meadows said...

Eh, well you *can* find hyperspace and elves. I s'pose if you look hard enough. *grin* But really. Star Wars: space ships, sciency swords, and the force (magic). There you go! :D

Mark, technically, yes. Fiction, including SF, is fantasy. It's all fantasy. That's what fiction is. Made up stuff.

But if we're talking about genres, SF and F, SF isn't fantasy if it has science that hasn't been discovered. Not necessarily.

It sounds to me like you (er, I am assuming you are the person who emailed MS) need to do some reading in both genres so you can understand them better. If you still don't want to be considered SF (totally fine) after that, then don't market yourself as that. But figure out what you write, and please understand that yes, the genre lines are blury, but not *that* blury.

Mama Rose said...

Yes, you can. Try Wen Spencer's Tinker . There are elves in it. And magic. And science. Tinker has spaceship parts in her scrapyard. In the upcoming sequel, Wolf Who Rules , Tinker, who is now an elf and can do elf magic, is on a spaceship. The old "rules" are being redefined these days. It's one of the things I like about the sff genre. :)

Linda

rkcooke said...

Well, right, you CAN find elves and hyperspace (or light sabers and The Force). And I could take refuge in my use of the word "generally," implying that I realized the genres aren't absolute, but that'd be me copping out.

I stand corrected, but still stand by my comments. And I agree with most of you, especially Jodi.

One last point: I don't think new writers should shoot for creating a new type of book that doesn't really fit in a genre. Start in a genre, then blur the lines in your second, or twentieth, book. It's easier to sell....

Jodi Meadows said...

Right, rkcooke, and it's easier to understand the genre before you decide to go breaking the rules.

It's like learning the "no passive!" and "show don't tell!" rules for basic prose, then breaking them when you need to. The important thing is to know when you're doing it, and why.

Same with genre.

Rei said...

Well, this thread is a bit old to say the least, but just let me add this. There are two main categories of science fiction: Soft and Hard.

Hard Sci-Fi means that the technology is what you're most concerned about, and you care about getting it right. Hard sci-fi often delves into the social rammifications of changing technology. It's often viewed as more intellectual, and if you get things wrong, expect readers to bite your head off ;) It's for the geekier side of science fiction audiences. Sagan's works are generally hard sci-fi.

Soft Sci-Fi means that the technology is simply setting for the book. It can be character driven or plot driven, but is not focused on the technology or the rammifications of it. It's audience tends to be more toward the mainstream, and thus mistakes/BS are more easily forgiven. Heinlein's works are generally soft sci-fi.

There's also a variant of soft sci-fi called "Space Opera". A space opera is, broadly, a fantasy book set in space. Star Wars is the classic example. Take away the "space" aspects of Star Wars, and you have a typical fantasy plot arc. To put it another way: if you took the Lord of the Rings, had Sauron be an evil galactic emperor, have Frodo flying around in Gandalf's custom starcruiser, have the ring contain an exotic form of matter capable of destroying star systems, and Mount Doom be a black hole deep in Sauron's region of space, you've got a space opera.

Anonymous said...

I think it's fair to categorize sci-fi as distinct from fantasy and to say that there are types of sci-fi beneath the main label of "science-based fiction". To me, "hard" sci-fi is based on extrapolations made by writers who are also scientists or who are well-versed in the concepts of science as we know it. Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars" trillogy or David Brin's "Earth" are examples of these.

Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica et al. I consider to be science-fantasy. The concepts contained in the latter might not stand up to scientific scrutiny per se, but contain science-like themes or elements.

Fantasy is just that. Elves, dragons, magic -- flights of fancy that are definitely not based in science.

As for mixing the genres, my own novel does just that, incorporating dark fantasy with modern technology & science-fantasy elements.

I'll leave it up to the publishing industry and fans (should I get it published & have fans!) to decide how to market/label it.