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Science fiction is futuristic science of the mind.

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Science fiction is often called sci-fi or SF. Science fiction is a popular genre of fiction in which the narrative world differs from our own present or historical reality in at least one significant way. Science fiction difference may be technological, physical, historical, sociological, philosophical, metaphysical, etc, but not magical. Exploring the consequences of such differences (asking "What if...?") is the traditional purpose of science fiction, but there are also many science-fiction works in which an exotically alien setting is superimposed upon what would not otherwise be a science-fiction tale.

Definition of Science fiction.

Science fiction.
Science fiction books, magazines, film, TV, gaming and fandom material.

Science fiction includes such a wide range of themes and subgenres that it can be difficult to define. Author and editor Damon Knight has summed up the difficulty of defining science fiction by stating that "Science fiction is what we point to when we say it". Similarly, critic Bonnie Kunzel: "Science fiction has been called the books that science fiction writers write! In other words, it can be about anything in or out of this world."

Vladimir Nabokov argues that if we were rigorous with our definitions, Shakespeare's play The Tempest would have to be termed science fiction.

According to science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, "a handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method." Heinlein immediately adds that if you "strike out the word 'future' it can apply to all and not just almost all SF."

Science-fiction author Theodore Sturgeon wrote that "a good science-fiction story is a story about human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, that would not have happened at all without its science content." Frank Herbert has stated that "...science fiction does help, and it points in very interesting...relativistic directions...saying that we have the imagination for these other opportunities, these other choices." Herbert pointed out that while "Humans tend not to see over a long range. Now we are required, in these generations, to have a longer range view of what we inflict on the world around us."

Science fiction and other genres.

A science-fiction story may be firmly rooted in real scientific possibilities (see hard science fiction) as they are understood at the time of writing, as in Arthur C. Clarke's novel A Fall of Moondust, or highly imaginative, set in an extraterrestrial civilization or a parallel universe, as in Isaac Asimov's novel The Gods Themselves.

Some science fiction portrays events that fall outside of science as currently understood, as in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. But one alternate viewpoint on such tales is to view them not from the current era's understanding of science, but to view the tale in the context of the known science during the time the tale was written. Another example of that would be Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold the Moon", which postulated a private enterprise exploration of the earth's moon decades in advance of the real events in 1969 - thus a contemporary reader might instead take the work as a member of the subgenre alternate history, rather than the hard science fiction work it was at the time of its publication.

Also, different readers have different ideas about what counts as scientifically "realistic"; an uneducated person will have different expectations about what science can do than a professional physicist. As Clarke himself stated, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" (third in Clarke's three laws). Thus, even fiction that depicts innovations ruled out by current scientific theory, such as stories about faster-than-light travel, may still be classified as science fiction, as they are in the popular Honorverse novels and stories by David Weber.

The Dying Earth subgenre of science fiction gives particularly strong examples of the genre-boundaries being blurred; Jack Vance's Dying Earth works, first published in 1950, depict an Earth so old and desolate that it has receded into a sort of dark age, where the line between magic and technology is blurred. This technique is later used in M. John Harrison's Viriconium sequence and particularly Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun, which depicts objects like aliens, androids, and ancient crashed spacships while retaining a very medieval setting, described by a narrator who does himself not comprehend any of these technological relics.

Accordingly, the borderline between fantasy and science fiction is blurred, and many bookstores and libraries shelve science fiction and fantasy together. There is a substantial overlap between the audiences of science fiction and fantasy literature, and many science-fiction authors have also written works of fantasy. Fans often nominate works of fantasy for science fiction awards such as the Hugo and Nebula, clearly indicating a substantial overlap among readers.

Indeed, it can be argued that science fiction is simply a modern form of fantasy. According to this view, the elements that would previously have been presented as fantasy (e.g., magic, shapeshifting, divination, mind-reading, fabulous beasts, and so on) are rationalized or supported through scientific or quasiscientific explanations such as marvelous devices, mutation, psychic abilities, aliens, etc. An example is The Force and the conflict between the Sith and Jedi in Star Wars. Star Wars could be considered both science fantasy and standard science fiction due to the massive technological warfare in its story.

This definition is resisted by some scholars and writers who attempt to define the genre's aspects more sharply, and advocate an aspiration to present a world without mystical or supernatural forces. For example, in such works as Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, Darko Suvin emphasises a cognitive element in science fiction. According to Suvin, the purpose of science fiction is to introduce scientific or technological novelties in order to create narratives that enable us to perceive everyday reality at a reflective distance. He uses the term cognitive estrangement to label this effect.

Some science fiction clearly exhibits this aspiration, but not all. As a result, some theorists are able to emphasise the difference between science fiction and fantasy, while others emphasise continuity. It is also common to see narratives described as being essentially science fiction but "with fantasy elements." More recently, the term "science fantasy" has been increasingly used to describe such material.

Science fiction and mainstream literature.

If the society, the person, the technology, and the scientific knowledge base in the story are all drawn from observed reality, without much detail about the scientific aspects, the story may be classed as mainstream, contemporary fiction rather than as science fiction, like Marooned by Martin Caidin, or virtually all the novels by Tom Clancy. If the characters' thoughts and feelings about the laws of the universe, time, reality, and human invention are unusual and tend toward existential re-interpretation of life's meaning in relation to the technological world, then it may be classed a modernist work of literature that overlaps with the themes of science fiction. Examples include Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, William Burroughs's Nova Express, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, and much of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, and Stanislaw Lem.

Speculative science fiction.

The broader category of speculative fiction - derived from the initials 'SF' of Science Fiction - includes science fiction, fantasy, alternate histories (which often have no particular scientific or futuristic component), and even literary stories in which the only fantastic element is the strangeness of their style. Jorge Luis Borges's short stories are particularly known for their speculative style, and Olaf Stapledon's Darkness and the Light, which presents two possible futures for mankind defined by developments in ethics and philosophy, is a good example of speculative fiction. Another branch of speculative fiction is the utopian or dystopian story. These are sometimes claimed by science fiction on the grounds that sociology is a science. Many satirical novels with fantastic settings qualify as speculative fiction. Gulliver's Travels, The Handmaid's Tale, Nineteen Eighty-four, and Brave New World are examples. "Magic realism" could be regarded as a form of speculative fiction.

Slipstream science fiction.

Slipstream is a term coined for fiction that does not fit comfortably either inside or outside the science-fiction genre. A good example is the Hugo-nominated novel Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

Precursors of science fiction.

Lucian around 160 A.D. wrote Vera Historia. A whirlwind transports a ship sailing beyond the Pillars of Hercules to the Moon, where the voyagers find the King is about to go to war with the Emperor of the Sun over rights to colonize Venus. Fabulous beasts such as flea archers the size of elephants are employed. The battle outcome was decided when long-waited reinforcements from Sirius arrived to support the Emperor at the end. Following this the Emperor's forces surrounded the Moon with fog clouds, leaving it without solar power. The inhabitants of the Moon were forced to surrender and the decision was made to colonize Venus with joint efforts. Given the scientific knowledge of the day, this could fit the definition of science fiction, while Johannes Kepler's Somnium is more marginal, as his explorer reaches the Moon by witchcraft, even though the Moon itself is described as accurately as contemporary astronomy permitted.

Voltaire's "Micromégas" (1752) is a significant development in the history of literature because it originates ideas which helped create the genre of science fiction itself. It's a tale of the visit to Earth of a being from a planet orbiting Sirius and his friend from Saturn, and is regarded as the first example of science-fiction philosophical irony.

Precursors of the contemporary genre, such as Mary Shelley's Gothic novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818) and her post-apocalyptic The Last Man (1826), and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) are frequently regarded as science fiction, whereas Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), based on the supernatural, is not. A borderline case is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, where the time travel is unexplained, but subsequent events make realistic use of science. Shelley's novel and Stevenson's novella are early examples of a standard science-fiction theme: The obsessed scientist whose discoveries worsen a bad circumstance.

science fiction: According to J.O. Bailey:

The touchstone for scientific fiction, then, is that it describes an imaginary invention or discovery in the natural sciences. The most serious pieces of this fiction arise from speculation about what may happen if science makes an extraordinary discovery. The romance is an attempt to anticipate this discovery and its impact upon society, and to foresee how mankind may adjust to the new condition. (Pilgrims Through Space and Time [New York, 1947])

science fiction: Subject matter.

Science fiction covers numerous distinct subjects ranging from time travel to alien invasion. Many of these were originally treated by early science fiction pioneers such as H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.

Verne's fiction depicted the future (Paris in the 20th Century), 1863, Space travel (From the Earth to the Moon), 1865, Technology not yet invented (Submarines Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), 1870, Terraforming (Invasion of the Sea), 1904, and mental changes in humans (The Green Ray), 1882

H.G. Wells' fiction treated the subjects of time travel (The Time Machine), 1895, biological changes in humans or animals (The Island of Dr. Moreau), 1896, Humans with extraordinary powers (The Invisible Man), 1897, Contact with aliens from other worlds (The War of the Worlds), 1898, The future (When the Sleeper Wakes), 1899, Space travel (The First Men in the Moon), 1901, Nuclear warfare (The World Set Free), 1914, and the evolution of the human race (Men Like Gods), 1923.

Media and science fiction.

Early science fiction was published in books and in general circulation magazines.

Science-fiction film.

Beginning early in the history of silent film, the science-fiction film established a tradition of its own, generally more sensational and less scientific than written science fiction. Some examples of early silent science-fiction films include Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon (1902) and Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). Many of the movie serials of the 1940s and 1950s were science fiction, and led into early science-fiction television programming (see below).

It has often been said that science-fiction film lags about fifty years behind written science fiction. For example, George Lucas' landmark 1977 film Star Wars has been compared to the pulp science fiction in Planet Stories, first published in 1939. Following the success of Star Wars there was an explosion of science-fiction films. Films in the genre now regularly achieve blockbuster status, for example, Alien, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Matrix, and many others.

Science-fiction films also explore more serious topics and some aim for high artistic standards, especially following Stanley Kubrick's influential 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Contemporary filmmakers have found science fiction to be a useful genre for exploring political, moral and philosophical issues, such as 1997's Gattaca (the question of genetic engineering), 2001's Kubrick/Spielberg brainchild A.I. Artificial Intelligence (the question of what makes a being human), 2002's Minority Report (the question of civil liberties and free will), and 2005's Serenity (the question of government secrecy and social engineering).

Science fiction on television.

Science-fiction television dates from at least as early as 1938, when the BBC staged a live performance of the science-fiction play R.U.R.. The first regularly scheduled science-fiction series to achieve a degree of popularity was Captain Video and his Video Rangers, which ran from 1949 to 1955 on the American DuMont Network. The Twilight Zone, originally broadcast in the United States from 1959-1964, was the first successful science-fiction series intended primarily for adults, although it often blurred the distinctions between science fiction, science fantasy and fantasy. The TV serial Doctor Who first aired on BBC in 1963 and continues through to the present (with a hiatus from 1989 to 2004), introducing generations of UK viewers to the science fiction genre. Star Trek aired on NBC from 1966 to 1969, introducing a wider U.S. audience to the tropes of real science fiction. Stargate SG-1 is currently in its 10th season with more than 200 episodes and a spinoff series, Stargate Atlantis.

Several once-popular science-fiction shows have recently experienced a resurgence as the genre's popularity has increased. The Twilight Zone, for example, has seen two major revivals, from 1985-1989 and from 2002-2003. The most successful of the revivals in the late 20th century was undoubtedly the Star Trek franchise, which generated one (unofficial) spin off in 1973 and four spin-off series between 1987 and 2005. Doctor Who has also been revived recently by BBC Wales (and is being broadcast in the United States on the Sci Fi channel and Australia on the ABC network) and is now one of the most highly rated shows on British television. Sci-fi-Western series Firefly had a short yet stunning life, resulting in a feature film, Serenity. The recent remake of Battlestar Galactica has won both critical praise and increased viewership on the Sci Fi channel.

Science fiction comics.

Science fiction entered the comic strip medium in 1929 with Buck Rogers, followed in 1934 by Flash Gordon. The majority of Americans before the 1950s never encountered any science fiction other than in the "funny papers," and assumed all SF was like this comic strip material; the phrase "that crazy Buck Rogers stuff" was often used to describe it, originally as an insult but later fondly by some fans.

The comic book began by reprinting comic strips, and Buck and Flash both had their own comic book reprints. As soon as original comic books began to appear, science fiction was a major genre. Planet Stories had a comic book companion. Hugo Gernsback published Wonderworld with art by pulp artist Frank R. Paul. Later EC Comics published the much beloved Weird Science and Weird Fantasy which first stole and later actually paid to adapt stories by Ray Bradbury. DC Comics published Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space, edited by Julius Schwartz.

Whether superheroes themselves are science fiction or fantasy is a matter of opinion - they routinely break the laws of physics - but superhero comic books often use science fiction tropes such as alien invasion, time travel, space travel, and giant robots. Many writers have worked in both prose science fiction and comic books. Examples include Alfred Bester, Gardner Fox, Edmond Hamilton, and J. Michael Straczynski.

Science fiction on the radio.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
An audio release of the radio program The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Early radio science fiction began by adapting Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon stories for radio, but later brought some of the best magazine science fiction to a larger audience with Dimension X and X Minus One, which adapted stories by Asimov, Heinlein, Leiber, and other major writers for radio.

The most famous example of radio science fiction was Orson Welles' 1938 adaptation of The War of the Worlds on CBS Radio. Structured as a series of "news" bulletins, the program caused people across the U.S. to panic when some listeners believed it was real.

Contemporary SF radio continues the tradition of adapting sources originally produced for other media. For example, the BBC has broadcast a number of audio plays based on the Doctor Who television series. Less frequently in the modern era, science-fiction programs initially developed for radio have spread outwards to other formats. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is perhaps the best known property of this type, beginning on BBC radio in 1978 and subsequently spawning a series of best-selling novels, a computer game, a full-length movie, comic books, audio recordings of the radio program and other products. George Lucas licensed the three original Star Wars films - along with the films' sound effects and music score - to National Public Radio affiliate KUSC for adaptation into radio dramas. Several of the films' actors reprised their roles for the radio broadcasts.

Science fiction: Other media.

There have been a few science-fiction stage plays, notably Los Angeles theater adaptations of Bradbury stories. The Czech authors the Capek brothers wrote the play "Rossum's Universal Robots" in the 1930s using a plot that presages many more recent stories of the end of mankind. There have been science-fiction View-Master reels, notably "Sam Sawyer's Trip to the Moon." There have been original science-fiction albums, such as Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds and The Firesign Theatre's Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers. There is also a small but growing number of science-fiction operas.

Science fiction museums.

One of the most important museums of the genre is Maison d’Ailleurs ("House of Elsewhere") in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland. It houses one of the world's largest collections of literature relating to science fiction, utopias, and extraordinary journeys. It was founded by the French encyclopedist Pierre Versins in 1976 and now owns over 40,000 books, thousands of old pulps and magazines, as well as many other items related to science fiction and its imagery. It also has a gallery with temporary exhibitions exploring the main themes of the field.

Paul Allen and Jody Patton founded the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, located at the base of Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.

Science fiction terminology.

The term "science fiction" first came into popular usage in the 1930s with the publication of Science Wonder Stories magazine by Hugo Gernsback. Gernsback had previously coined the portmanteau word "scientifiction" for the genre, but the term did not gain acceptance. Before then, stories in this genre were often referred to as "scientific romances."

Two competing abbreviations for "science fiction" are in common usage. "SF" (or "S.F."; also sf) is the term most commonly used by science-fiction writers and serious fans. In fannish circles in the forties and fifties the abbreviation "stf" (pronounced "stiff" or "stef"), from Hugo Gernsback's coinage "scientifiction", was sometimes used, as was the adjectival form "stfnal". The use of SF is not unambiguous, however. It is also used as an abbreviation for speculative fiction, usually defined as a broader genre including, but not limited to, science fiction.

The euphonic "sci-fi," popularized by Forrest J Ackerman in 1954, but used five years earlier by Robert A. Heinlein, has grown in popularity and is today by far the most common term used in the popular press, although many hardcore fans and authors continue to wince at its usage or even consider it offensive. Brian Aldiss, defending the abbreviation "SF," notes that it is flexible enough to stand for science fantasy or speculative fiction, as well as science fiction. Some detractors of the term "sci-fi" have corrupted its pronunciation to "skiffy," which itself has become a sub-genre term for poorly made science fiction. Harlan Ellison has derided the term "sci-fi" as a "hideous neologism" that "sounds like crickets fucking," a comment to which Ackerman responded by producing buttons bearing the slogan, "I love the sound of crickets making love."

Some commentators make a distinction between "sf" which they use to describe fiction in which science or speculation are integral to the plot or theme of the work, with "sci-fi" which they use for entertainment, typically in another genre such as action/adventure or horror which merely uses the trappings of traditional science-fiction stories, such a space ships, futuristic technology, bug-eyed monsters.

Another source of dislike for the term sci-fi term is the tendency for the mainstream to use it as a collective term that lumps together not only true science fiction but fantasy, horror, comic books, cult films, special effects action films, only marginally related genres such as anime and gaming, and completely unrelated fields such as ufology. (The term "science fiction" itself has also been used at various times as a collective marketing term for these genres.)

Despite this controversy, two high-profile science-fiction based cable networks in the United States and the United Kingdom take their name from this term, although both networks air programming which may not fit into everyone's definition of "science fiction." The channel name may be particularly suitable for those who dislike the term sci-fi since, according to Dave Langford, "SF people [pronounce sci-fi] in tones of heavy irony to describe bad TV or movie sf."

A variation of the term is "sci-fantasy."


The science-fiction genre has a strong fan community of readers and viewers, of which many authors are a part. Many people interested in science fiction wish to interact with like others who share the same interests; in time, an entire culture of science-fiction fandom evolved. Local fan groups exist in most of the English-speaking world, as well as in Japan, Europe, and elsewhere; often, these groups publish their own works. Also, fans (or 'fen', in the common argot) have created science-fiction conventions as a way of meeting to discuss their mutual interests. Although some fan conventions are larger, the longest-running convention is the Worldcon.

Many amateur and professional fanzines ("fan magazines") exist, dedicated solely to keeping the science fiction fan informed on all aspects of the genre. The premiere literary awards of science fiction, the Hugo Awards, are awarded by members of the annual Worldcon, which is almost entirely run by fan volunteers; the other major science-fiction literary award is the Nebula. Science-fiction fandom often overlaps with other, similar interests, such as fantasy, role-playing games, and the Society for Creative Anachronism. The largest, annual, multi-genre science fiction convention is Dragon Con, held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Fans of science fiction have whole-heartedly embraced the Internet. There are fan fiction sites which include additional, fan-created stories featuring characters from the genre's books, movies, and television programs. Although these may be technically illegal under copyright law, they often are permitted when no profit is made from them, and there is clear understanding that the copyright remains property of the characters' original creators. There are fan sites devoted to Frank Herbert's Dune, Michael Moorcock's Multiverse, Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity, etc. and to television shows such as Doctor Who, and Star Trek and its derivatives.

SF fandom has frequently served as an incubator for special-interest groups which originally coalesced within it and then hived off to form organizations or entire subcultures of their own. Examples include the Society for Creative Anachronism, the L-5 Society, LARP gaming, Furry fandom, and anime. SF fandom also has close historical links and a large population overlap with the hacker culture, and has been a significant vector in the spread of both neopaganism and libertarianism.

References to science fiction.

  • "Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults and Virtues" in The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism, Advent Publishers, 1959. This is a collection of lectures by Heinlein, Cyril Kornbluth, Alfred Bester, and Robert Bloch given at the University of Chicago in 1957.
  • Aldiss, Brian W. with David Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (Atheneum, 1986) ISBN 0-689-11839-2.
  • Barron, Neil, ed., Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction, 5th ed. (Libraries Unlimited, 2004) ISBN 1-59158-171-0.
  • Blish, James, More Issues at Hand: Critical Studies in Contemporary Science Fiction (Advent Publishers, 1970) ISBN 0-911682-18-X.
  • Clarke, Arthur C., "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination" in Profiles of the Future (Macmillan, 1973). ISBN 0-330-23619-9.
  • Clute, John, Peter Nicholls, eds., The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (St. Martin's Press, 1995) ISBN 0-312-13486-X.
  • Disch, Thomas M., The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of (Touchstone, 1998) ISBN 0-86482-405-1.
  • Ellison, Harlan (1998). "Harlan Ellison's responses to online fan questions at ParCon". 2006-04-25, 2006.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir, Strong Opinions (McGraw Hill, 1973). ISBN 0-679-72609-8.
  • Rabkin, Eric S., Beyond The Fantastic In Literature (Princeton University Press, 1976).
  • Suvin, Darko, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (Yale University Press, 1979).
  • Weldes, Jutta, ed., To Seek Out New Worlds: Science Fiction and Politics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) ISBN 0-312-29557-X.
  • Westfahl, Gary, ed., The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders (three volumes) (Greenwood Press, 2005).
  • Wolfe, Gary K., Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy: A Glossary and Guide to Scholarship (Greenwood Press, 1986) ISBN 0-313-22981-3.

Links For Science Fiction.

33GEE - Online SciFi comic book. The adventures of an escaped AI an its band of odd humans.
chronicles-network: books and authors - Science fiction books and literature reviews, author interviews, synopses and bibliographies.
Kensforce - Links and information on the best SciFi on the internet. Articles on Star Wars, Logans Run, Planet of the Apes, and more...
OutpostTerra - This is the Official site regarding the OutpostTerra sci-fi universe.
Prometheus Crack - Reviews of sci-fi and fantasy books and movies.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America - site provides information, practical writing advice, and news about SF/F.
SciFi Art Posters - Scifi Art Posters has free sci-fi wallpaper and sci-fi posters. From space castles to space battleships, SciFi Art Posters has it.
Ain't It Cool News
Analog Magazine
Bruce Boston: SF Poetry Grand Master
Strange Magazine

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