Along with fantasy, horrors and Westerns, science fiction is one of the highly metaphorical categories of story.
WHAT IS SCIENCE FICTION?
THE UNIVERSAL EPIC
Science Fiction is about human evolution on the grandest scale, literally the universal epic.
Science fiction stories often use the myth form, not only because myth is about the journey but also because myth is the story form that explores the most fundamental human distinctions. What Is Meant By Mythic Structure?
Science fiction is the biggest of all genres, as huge as the universe and beyond. That’s why it’s so notoriously difficult to write well. It has a broad, loose structure that covers vast scales of space and time.
Science fiction is the most creative genre, because you can take nothing for granted. The writer must literally create everything, including the space-time rules by which human life itself operates.
THE MODERN PROPHECY
Howard Suber points out that science fiction is the modern ‘prophecy’ story, which has been popular forever.
As is true for any prophecy, one must understand not only the specifics of what is predicted but also the yearnings and fears they express.
THE FICTION OF IDEAS
Ray Bradbury broadly defines science fiction as ‘the fiction of ideas’. He also thinks science fiction as a genre is not taken seriously enough.
Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. […] Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible. […] The mainstream hasn’t been paying attention to all the changes in our culture during the last fifty years. The major ideas of our time—developments in medicine, the importance of space exploration to advance our species—have been neglected. The critics are generally wrong, or they’re fifteen, twenty years late. It’s a great shame. They miss out on a lot. Why the fiction of ideas should be so neglected is beyond me. I can’t explain it, except in terms of intellectual snobbery. […] I often use the metaphor of Perseus and the head of Medusa when I speak of science fiction. Instead of looking into the face of truth, you look over your shoulder into the bronze surface of a reflecting shield. Then you reach back with your sword and cut off the head of Medusa. Science fiction pretends to look into the future but it’s really looking at a reflection of what is already in front of us. So you have a ricochet vision, a ricochet that enables you to have fun with it, instead of being self-conscious and superintellectual.
— Ray Bradbury
FEATURES OF SCIENCE FICTION
A typical science fiction film has a form as predictable as a Western, and is made up of elements which are as classic as the saloon brawl, the blonde schoolteacher from the East, and the gun duel on the deserted main street.
Science fiction is defined more by setting details than by other story elements.
Sci Fi is often set on other planets, in outer space, or on a future version of Earth. But these settings are not limited to sci-fi. In war films, also, the setting takes place on ‘a front’ — in sci fi and Westerns it takes place on ‘a frontier’. Dramatically, these are equivalent places. At the front/frontier, the organised forces of society are weak, get in the way, or trap the hero.
Technology is a major component of the setting.
Sci Fi requires an extrapolated or theoretical future science in order to fit the genre.
SCIENCE FICTION AND GENRE
As long as there is science, technology and a future/alternative history, the conventions of almost any other genre may be blended, including comedy, action-adventure and mystery.
HARD VS SOFT SCIENCE FICTION
An ongoing debate in the science fiction community is about the merits of “hard” vs “soft” science fiction. And the role of gender is significant here.
Hard science fiction tends to be a boys’ club, while soft science fiction can be seen as more accommodating to female writers. There is a perceived hierarchy of merit operating in these classifications as well: “hard” sounds masculine and virile, while “soft” connotes a weaker, less potent, feminised form of the genre. This is why “hard” science fiction is more likely to be considered among the “best” science fiction, and why the “soft” science fiction that more women tend to write doesn’t often make the cut.The Digital Reader explains that SF written by women is more likely to be called fantasy:
In 2013, the judges of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Britain’s most prestigious science fiction prize, disqualified a number of submitted books on the basis that they were not “technically” science fiction. They were deemed by the judges to be fantasy – a genre that does not require the realism of science – which has twice as many female authors compared to science fiction. As Damien Walters has observed, women’s writing is “dismissed as fantasy, while the fantasies of men are granted some higher status as science fiction”.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
The major distinction between fantasy and science fiction is, simply, that science fiction uses one, or a very, very few new postulates, and develops the rigidly consistent logical consequences of these limited postulates. Fantasy makes its rules as it goes along . . . The basic nature of fantasy is “The only rule is, make up a new rule any time you need one!” The basic rule of science fiction is “Set up a basic proposition—then develop its consistent, logical consequences.”
— John W. Campbell (1910–1971), American science fiction writer, editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Many disagree with this distinction. That was written in the 1960s and speculative fiction has come a long way since then. Obviously this explanation has implications for the gender divide described above.