Science fiction is a work of imaginative or speculative fiction in which the actions and effects of science and/or technology, as opposed to works of pure fantasy, are significant factors. Science fiction appears in every entertainment medium including short stories, comics, novels, games, films, and television.
Defining science fiction
Science fiction is a broad genre, and works may be included in this category for any of several reasons. Critics and fans have proposed many different definitions, and do not always agree on what makes a work science fiction. Perhaps the best operational definition (although in theory almost completely recursive) is "Science Fiction is that which is published in science fiction magazines." (although now one would need to extend the definition to include "books labeled science fiction" as well.)
Factors which often lead to a work being generally considered as science fiction incude:
- The development of new technology. If a work contains as a major plot element developments such as those listed below, it is likely to be labeled science fiction.
- Space travel
- Time Travel
- New power sources, such as fusion
- The work's setting. If a work is wholly or largely set in a "science fictional milieu" it is likely to be labeled science fiction. Such settings include:
- Another planet or solar system
- The future
- A spaceship in flight.
A problem with the above definitions is that fictional but realistic works about scientists at work, which include fictional or fictionalized scientific discoveries, are usually not considered to be science fiction. The classic cases are Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis, In Vivo by Mildred Savage, and The Citadel by A. J. Cronin. Note that all of these are novels whose main character is a medical researcher, doing research very similar to actual research which had already been accomplished by the time the books in question were published. So called "Technothrillers", such as the works of Tom Clancy, involve considerable discussion of technological developments, sometimes quite fictional ones, but the focus is on the thriller aspect, and such works are also not generally considered science fiction
Alternate timelines, fantasy and speculation
The specialized genre of Alternate History is sometimes considered to be a form of science fiction — this consists of stories in which some element of history has occurred differently: What if the South won the US Civil War; What if Rome never fell; What if Mohammad had converted to Christianity; What if Homo Erectus had survived in North America; etc. When a method is provided for people to travel between alternate histories these are pretty clearly science fiction, when no such method is provided some critics and fans consider this a separate genre.
Fantasy is sometimes an aspect of science fiction, but is generally considered to be a separate but allied genre. However, there are some cases where the distinction between the two is not always clear as in the Gor novels by John Norman. In general, science fiction tends to be grounded in some form of "what if?" scientific theory exemplified in the more plausible "hard science" novels of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Isaac Azimov. By contrast, works of fantasy usually ignore scientific explanation entirely and instead rely on the fairy tale elements of myths, magic, folklore, and the supernatural.
The broader category of speculative fiction (first suggested by Robert A. Heinlein) includes science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and even literary works in which the only fantastic element is the strangeness of their style, such as the "Magical Realist" tradition including The Milagro Beanfield War, and some of the works of Jorge Luis Borges. Utopian or dystopian fictions are also speculative fiction — some of them will also fall into the category of science fiction more narrowly defined.
Spanking and science fiction
Some mainstream science fiction includes spanking scenes: see Spanking in science fiction for a discussion of these.
- in editorial material at the front of the 2/8/1947 issue of The Saturday Evening Post,