Today I’ve decided to stir away from general writing advice, and try being genre-specific. Over the years science fiction has been critised as a nothing-to-do-with-science, second-rate fiction. Is that so, and if yes, can science fiction be anything better?
It surely can. Now, for the specifics.
I myself am writing a science fiction novel at the moment, which is why I picked this topic. I love the genre—well, the good works in it—and it hurts my feelings to hear something like that. Heresy, my friends, heresy.
In the best traditions of medieval fiction, heretics prove right. In most cases.
“Though by definition, science fiction is not science.”
“It has the word in it.”
“That’s an excellent point.”
—“Castle” TV series
Reputedly, science fiction is about things that don’t exist at the moment—fictional things—but could exist according to the laws of science. A possible scientific explanation is all that separates this genre from fantasy, horror, and other types of speculative fiction.
There is one little hiccup. Most of the science fiction works describe concepts either ridiculous or yet unexplainable from a scientific point of view. Robots taking over, the Mayan doomsday, human-like aliens—every scientist, even a shabby physics-slash-IT student like myself, will tell you, all of that is not bloody likely to happen. Moreover, as I’ve said before, those are and have always been the most ludicrous ideas, if you’re thinking logically. Hell, “Doctor Who” is best recounted by its catchphrase “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff”. Oh, and did I mention uncannily human aliens?
Even so, we watch and read and love science fiction, some of us anyway. If it isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, why does it still exist?
To tackle this problem, let’s see what the (arguably) most respected Internet resource is saying about it.
Science fiction is a genre of fiction with imaginative content such as settings in the future, futuristic science and technology, space travel, parallel universes, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”.
You see, all the angry shouts about science fiction being not serious about science are in fact irrelevant, because the genre doesn’t have to be. The public is right about one thing though: the margin between science fiction and fantasy is really thin, and might wash off almost completely in case of aliens and very remote future.
Science fiction still exists because science makes such cool stories. Its possibilities are forever overlooked and not entirely explored. It broaches mind-boggling questions of philosophy and existence itself, a lot of which, to writers’ luck, are probably unanswerable. Think of the paranormal stories: we don’t read them to elicit precise facts as to what awaits us after, but because of the great mystery of life and death.
Mind you, if you’re reading paranormal fiction for kinky vampires, it’s not paranormal fiction. Although lately, it’s been zombies, and one of such books is among my favourites; I try not to think about diagnoses. You get the point, at any rate.
Yes, that was an arguable idea, but let me explain it before you question it.
Genres exist to separate works of art (or whatever) and make it easier to find the one that suits you. It’s partially how you select a book to read, a film to watch. Consciously choosing something dubbed science fiction means you anticipate seeing elements of this genre in the centre of the events occurring—this is why you chose the product. This is also the reason I rejected all the science fiction related titles for my current novel: funny devices isn’t why you should read it. Its most recurrent, valuable and prominent (to my mind anyway) topic is human struggle against the forces we, seemingly or actually, cannot control. The same plot could in essentials happen in Medieval Europe as well as on a different planet. And so the title of my novel, the shortest way to tell what it’s about, is not genre-specific at all.
Returning to paranormal fiction again, I tried to read “Twilight” because I like vampires—no, no, not that sort of vampires, the scary bloody fangy stuff—and, as you can imagine, it didn’t work out. It isn’t about vampires. I’d say, “Twilight” is more “Titanic” than “Dracula”. That and the most tedious protagonist ever, but those who don’t mind Bella are not likely to enjoy the series solely because of the vampire element, either. You might argue that no book is about dragons, vampires, time-travel and all those things, and you will be right. It’s a slippery path I’m walking here. Even so, imagine said “Doctor Who”, still one of the greatest arguments for such abstract things as exploration, peace, and tolerance, but without science fiction. Say, it’s set in the 17th century, and the Doctor is an explorer who penetrates jungles, arctic deserts, and whatnot. Sure, some people would still love it, but a good part wouldn’t even pay attention. It misses the gripping feeling of the unanswerable, the never-ending possibilities of the universe, and, well, the sonic screwdriver. Even if you alter all those things with non-science-fiction elements, it will not be the same show, and its audience will shift. And I struggle to imagine “Warm Bodies” (yeah, you got me; I love the voice in that book) with a hero that isn’t a zombie.
To conclude, and return to the statement in the title, whether a work of literature is a science fiction piece depends on the emphasis, and the reasons you read this book in the first place. You might not agree with my subjective genre theory, yet you should admit that most people read science fiction because it’s so fiction, not because it’s science.
What about you? Do you like science fiction, and if so, why? Do you feel like it should deal with more science? And, finally, why do you think we cling on to genres, and are they subjective? Also, subjectively or objectively, please, like, share, sign up, and be aware that you can propose a topic for me yourself. I would love that.