Subject: To define science fiction...
Posted on: 2020-03-21 05:25:59 UTC

I think we must first define science.

I suspect most of what we think of as science fiction deals with the modern, empirical science that came about in the wake of the scientific revolution. Science fiction is about biologists, physicists, and chemists, not naturalists, philosophers, and alchemists. Not that you can draw a sharp distinction based solely on vocabulary pulled out of a hat, but you get the idea. {= )

Another thought: at some point, I came across the idea that science fiction looks forward, either optimistically or pessimistically projecting consequences of the amazing/scary new things we're dealing with in the world today. Stories about space travel and alien invasions in the wake of the moon landing; stories about gamma rays and superpowers in the wake of the Manhattan Project; stories about virtual realities and killer AIs in the wake of the digital revolution. I'll bet we're heading for a bajillion new zombie apocalypse (or just regular apocalypse) stories in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just wait and see. It'll be interesting to see if the scientists get painted more often as the heroes or the villains, considering there are already plenty of fictional accounts of conspiracy floating around...

Ahem. Lemme just sweep up that salt. Moving on now.

Fantasy, in contrast, looks backward or inward, reminding us of where we come from, what our cultural values are, and that, e.g., even the smallest of us still have their part to play. Science fiction is more likely to challenge the status quo; fantasy is more likely to reinforce it. Again, it's not cut and dry, you can't say there are never any elements of the one contained in the other, but in general.

That helps classify something like Pern, which contains both fantasy and sci-fi tropes: a low-tech feudal society and fire-breathing dragons on the one hand, space travel and genetic engineering on the other. It's sci-fi of the optimistic sort, because it leans into the use of technology to better the lives of the people and the need to overturn old ways of thinking when they're no longer beneficial—while still valuing morality and honoring traditions that have served well.

... Y'know, I think it might be thematically significant that proper noun and proper noun verb at the same time? They're both obsolete, in a way. Necessary and honored, even loved, in their time, but doomed to be crutches or weights if not let go. It seems so obvious, but I never really thought about it before. (Am I an adult now? Can I have a sticker?)

But, it's late, and this post has meandered a fair way from where it started. That's enough for now. ^_^


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