One-Minute Book Reviews

August 8, 2008

A New Definition of Science Fiction (Quote of the Day / Bookseller Stephen E. Andrews)

Filed under: Fantasy,Quotes of the Day,Science Fiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:32 am
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Few questions will start an argument among science-fiction fans faster than, “What is the definition of science fiction?” More than 30 years ago, Michael Crichton wrote in The Critic As Artist (Liveright, 1972): “As a category, the borders of science fiction have always been poorly defined, and they are getting worse. The old distinction between science fiction and fantasy – that science fiction went from the known to the probable, and fantasy dealt with the impossible – is now wholly ignored.”

But if the old distinction doesn’t work, what does? Here’s a proposed new definition of science fiction from Stephen E. Andrews, a bookseller and co-editor of 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels: Bloomsbury Good Reading Guides Series (A&C Black, 2007)

“SF is the literature that suggests the significant, scientifically explicable changes that may potentially occur in the sphere of human knowledge and experience, exploring how they might affect our minds, bodies and culture.”

For more on this topic see “What Is The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy?”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved. and

1 Comment »

  1. The only reason the boundaries between SF and Fantasy ‘are getting worse’ is because readers have spent insufficient time thinking about SF, reading it and remembering that its novelties must be ‘explained’ as science, not ‘excused’ as magic. Once you have magic in a story (or the supernatural, call it what you will), it’s Fantasy, not Science Fiction.

    To decide on the exact nature of a genre work, a lot of rigorous looking at the content ‘evidence’ of a individual novel or story is necessary. Once you have eliminated the improbable (advanced science), then only the impossible (the supernatural) remains. Try my definition against any story or novel that is a Romance (the term we should use for fantastic literature generally, as it can encompass SF and Fantasy) as opposed to Realism, and see if the content that makes it a Romance is explained ‘scientifically’ by the author – do they use extrapolation of biology, physics, sociology to explain thier novelty ? Or do they rely on involing the supernatural?

    Arthur C Clarke once said that to a less advanced civlisation, a highly advanced technology looks like magic. Some have seen this as muddying the waters, suggesting that magic (if it exists) is simply science we don’t understand yet. Once magic (if it exists) is explained scientifically, it will cease to be supernatural and become science…in which case all Fantasy will become SF.

    Stephen E. Andrews

    Comment by jackprussia — August 12, 2008 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

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