Science Fiction

I think my favorite of his books has been Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America.

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I’d agree that those are good movies. I’m not sure I’d agree that any are “science fiction” in the sense I mean. I don’t mean it as a good/bad judgment. Nothing wrong with sci-fi/space-opera. I just think it serves a separate purpose from science fiction.

2001’s space scenes are amazing and fairly true to reality (except for the Bonestells, but I’ll take a Bonestell lunar landscape over a realistic one any day of the week), but the framing story is theological.

Blade Runner is kind of interesting because the (sorta) source material, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a horror story. The hilarity of Scott insisting that Deckard is an android completely subverts the theme of the book, which is that Deckard doesn’t know what’s real, beyond himself. That is the raison d’être of the book (and a lot of Dick’s work from that period).

Also, in the movie context, if androids are “real” then Deckard is a monster. If they’re not real, it’s all a sham. If he’s not real, then it’s unreal things destroying unreal things, so who cares?

Anyway, there’s no science to be found anywhere in the movie. Heh.

I guess The Martian is an honest attempt. Gravity. Uh…that Gene Hackman flick…Marooned

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We purely have separate guiding methodologies on our measuring moviegique. There is ideal Science Fiction in conception and there is the trend of Science Fiction architecture as it’s expressed in the arts and in motion pictures. 2001’s (1968) is theological possibly whereas its Darwinism, evolution, advanced technology, AI, and aliens behave as fine fodder for Science Fiction. The theology if there is one is not ageold religion but new age belief. You gauge its tone and mentality disqualifying. I’m at a loss to call it anything else except Science Fiction frankly. “To each his own…” Blade Runner (1982) clasps Film Noir and Thriller trappings however the existential properties of existence, artificial intelligence, living in the future, and its dystopian society mouth Science Fiction ambiance and thinking gelling it altogether. Specially The Final Cut. The Martian (2015)? Magnificent Science Fiction and a masterpiece of a flick. Gravity (2012)? I’d have to say Yes. Marooned (1969)? At that instant, it was nearly Science Fact since Apollo 11 was that year.


Yes, the Hugo awards cover both SciFi and Fantasy, and has more than one category. Perhaps I should not have said “hard” enough for me, but rather “good” enough for me. Lord of Light was very SciFi to teen aged me, regardless of how you interpret that Zelazny quote. A quote which goes on to say “because I wanted it to lie somewhat between both camps and not entirely in either”. So placing it precisely in the Fantasy camp ignores the point of what he was trying to say.

At risk of being argumentative (I love a good argument!), I wholly disagree with the idea that Science Fiction, SciFi, and SF are somehow referring to different things. The latter two are simply shorter ways of saying the same thing. All humans, with the sole exception of Germans (I kid!), love to shorten words to be able to communicate more quickly and concisely. When I type SciFi, it is because I don’t feel like typing out the long form. Of course SyFy is different, that is a cable TV channel that changed their name so they could show wrassling, and other crap that bears absolutely no relation to SciFi, and that really pissed off their fan base. I think there is a bit of gatekeeping involved when it is said that “X has science fiction elements, but it is not Science Fiction, it is Fantasy”. Here’s the way I see it, all Science Fiction is Fantasy, and gatekeeping does a huge disservice to the Science Fiction community at large.

Finally (for now), the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” was not a person, it did not try to convince anyone of anything as a whole. Just like today’s Science Fiction, it was writers trying to make a living by selling fantastic stories. Each may have had other additional motivations, and some of those may even have been exactly what you put forth, but I think most were just plying a trade, while attempting to entertain themselves as well as their audience.


And more power to ya.

Dean Koontz takes a very strong stance that he is not a horror writer, because the horror tradition is one of nihilism, which is very much against his worldview and the tone of his books. And if you look at Poe, Lovecraft, even more modern guys like Ramsey Campbell or Clive Barker, you can certainly see this tradition at work.

But if I were talking to him about in person, the discussion might go something like this:

“But, Dean, surely not all horror is nihilistic. What about the Gothic tradition? Walpole, Mrs. Radcliffe…”
“That’s Romance!” he might (hypothetically) say.
“Well, what about Dracula? That’s one of the most famous horror novels of all time!”
“That’s Adventure!”

At this point, the truculent, imaginary Koontz would have a point: The Gothic tradition is very romantic, and Stoker’s novels were almost entirely adventure/romance, the spirit of which pervades even Dracula! But I would press on:

“But if you say the horror tradition is nihilist and a big part of what people generally recognize as horror, like Dracula, have the strongly human-affirming aspects, who do you expect to understand your claim not to be a horror writer?”

And, at that point, my imagination fails. Even my imaginary Koontz can’t answer that. Which is my way of saying, I can’t really do more than define what I mean when I say the word.

For me, “science-fiction” is something that is oriented around a possible scientific idea, or possibly a number of ideas—though the more ideas there are, the more likely it is to fall afoul of the second requirement, which is: That if it primarily uses the genre as window dressing, it at least must not offend science (and engineering).


No one should get the idea—and I have repeatedly stated this—that any of this is a good/bad issue.

If you have a science-fiction story where guys are fighting with laser guns and then someone pulls out a magic wand that shoots harmful-light-rays, you have a fantasy story. So, I’m not ignoring it, and I’m not refuting that (as an experience) he blurs the lines expertly. But I’m refuting that the end product remains science-fiction.

Sorry, this is abuse. Arguments are down the hall, room 12A.

I think “SF” also commonly means “speculative fiction”, which was the cool kids’ way (back when Harlan Ellison was a kid) of distancing themselves from the previous generation, and it was a blanket term for science-fiction, fantasy and horror/the weird. But you’re right that people use the terms interchangeably and to be more concise; I’m aware of that, and that’s fine.

But it’s just a reflection of what you care about, and the context you’re in. Bruce set up this thread with “Science Fiction knows no bounds”. Well, fine, but what then makes it different from fantasy?

Over in the game thread (What games have you played recently?), I mentioned that I’m a fan of Heroes of Might and Magic 3, which for all the world looks like a bog-standard fantasy world. There was a big controversy at the time, because an expansion for the game was going to include a faction that was, essentially, DOOM-type monsters (cyber-demons, arachno-trons) that were bio-machines. The backlash against adding SF elements was enough to kill the expansion, sadly, but people were quite fierce about it remaining “pure” fantasy, even though the author of the series said that it had always been envisioned as a post-apocalyptic science-fiction world. (And there were plenty of clues on that front.)

Would it have been any less fantasy had they gone through with it? I don’t think so. It “knew no bounds” all along.

You know, I don’t disagree with this paragraph on the whole, but there are such things as artistic movements, and the GAoSF was one, just like the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood or the Bauhaus. John W. Campbell had a vision, and that not only influenced the contents of Astounding but the contents of all the science-fiction magazines—and the culture as whole.


Thanks for the clarification, and while I do not necessarily agree, I certainly understand where you are coming from. To me, a work does not need to revolve around science to earn the Science Fiction label. I think that Science Fiction is broad enough and encompasses varying degrees of relying upon science to tell a story. That is not to say that I do not see the appeal of your more strict definition of Science Fiction. My method of determining what is and is not SciFi is certainly much more messy, and prone to failure. To paraphrase Justice Stewart, I can’t define Science Fiction, but I know when I see it.

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Oops, sorry, didn’t mean to imply you had. I guess my point was, back when I first read Lord of Light I remember thinking that it was exactly what I wanted SciFi to be. The fact that it had already won a Hugo decades before I ever read it, validated for my young teen-aged self that I was not the only one who thought that way. I probably only read it because I had just read all of the Amber books that had been published, and was craving more Zelazny. It was quite formative of my tastes in SciFi during my late teens and early 20’s.

As I noted before, I consider Science Fiction as a whole to be a sub-genre of Fantasy. Guys fighting with laser guns is a fantasy, at that point it doesn’t matter what crazy trappings you add. Sometimes, the crazier the trapping the better. I think we are all MST3K fans here, so to some degree we revel in the crazy, whether it be crazy bad or crazy good, regardless of genre.

I also see Science Fantasy as a sub-genre of Science Fiction, so when I see something labelled as Science Fantasy, I may entirely concur, but I will still maintain that it is Science Fiction.


What’s fantasy and what’s SF are largely a matter of perspective. Has anyone but me read ‘Enchantress From the Stars’ by Sylvia Louise Engdahl?

The story is told from two points of view - from one it’s straight SF, from the other it’s a straight fairy tale. I learned something very important when I read that book.

In the end I don’t think it’s important to draw a hard line - a good story is good, no matter what category you plunk it in.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”


We three are living evidence of variable opinion. Parallel to moviegique, I must profess Star Wars (1977) as a total work is not Science Fiction to me and yet even 2001 (1968) fails to meet his litmus. I myself fall somewhere in-between the two of you. To be candid, no gatekeeping is occurring in this debate. We three abide by individual measures that occasionally overlap and often stand alone. My defining of Science Fiction in the realm of filmed media consists of fantastic elements dealt with fascination or dispassion, intellectual complexity, handling of the essential concept(s), and a certain realism that this world could plausibly be an extension of our own. Maybe not now but some day. This is the recipe I’ve come to know as Science Fiction over the course of my life.

I love cinema as many do cooking. I speak of the genres or elements as others would ingredients. It’s what I learned growing up. Movie genres are like Italian, Mexican, Greek, or Polish cuisine. All are their own category still you have Mexican Lasagna and other experiments that fuse various variables together. Same here. I so innately lived and breathed this as a lad it hits me automatically not as a form of elitism or segregation but simply how I see things. I so adore the Western and have watched so much of it when I look at A New Hope it makes me smile and I detect the spirit of Ford and Howard Hawks in the movie. It is Space Opera in its outer exterior and how it frames its performances though its mysticism and reverence to higher meaning coupled with the Saturday Matinee derring-do dwarfs the universe and the technology which normally would be of interest to Science Fiction and it isn’t. Not there. THAT is a prerequisite of Science Fiction to me.

Fantasy harkens to acceptance of its odyssey and immersing one in the spirit of the proceedings versus Science Fiction’s eyeing of the world(s), presenting details, posing quandaries to stew on, and resolving the dilemma by thought not finishing a quest or destiny. Star Wars is unquestioning and highly passionate in its plunge into The Force and the Empire and this enthusiasm is devoid of any explanation of what allows the galaxy to function, indifferent to the Science behind Light Speed or The Death Star, and the “A Long Time Ago” of the crawl nods to history not the future in its suggestion. These are traits of Fantasy not Science Fiction as I’ve come to know them.

I myself do not subscribe to Fantasy as a larger box where Science Fiction is a part. This explains your interpretation Hippy and I respect that. I now grasp how you got there. My view which explains why I refer to Westerns, Fantasy, and Science Fiction as individual specialities not subservient to any other pertains to the autonomy and character of those disciplines as their own beast with set conditions and qualifications that have been established and met in the past which become a barometer I listen to. Science Fiction and Fantasy taste differently to me and obey distinct voices and priorities in how they proceed and weigh their composition and stories. THIS is the reason I diverged on Trek and Wars with you.

Trek largely operates as Science Fiction in its exploration, its Prime Directive, the use of tech to solve difficulties, and the manipulation of concepts in each story that test the thinking of its audience. Wars is a rich decadent telling of a tale not entirely seen in 1977 where the fable and the continuing story are where the narrative focuses and the spaceships, lasers, and lightsabers are trappings and decorations and not of primary interest to the plot or its filmmaker. That’s not a slam but it is a distinction we differ on in forming our particular vantages.

You gaze on Science Fiction as a subgenre in Fantasy and their aspects interchangeable. I see Science Fiction and Fantasy like German and Polish food. Each have sausages and cabbage in their diet nevertheless the Polish embrace Ashkenazi Jewish approaches and flavors whereas the Germans don’t. Over time this made them unique from one another despite certain shared qualities. This is where I’m at. Science Fiction and Fantasy are not one and the same. They each shine in their own way and I love them both for specific personalities I find native to themselves.

Inevitably films akin to dishes blur a bit of this and a dash of that though depending on the soul of the picture and how it operates is where I sense what it is for my mileage. Further flicks may flirt on multiple tastes and types whilst the essence points somewhere. We won’t entirely agree though you might gather my angle better with this explanation. No matter “Live Long and Prosper…”

Well, I’m not sure about that. The line between “science fiction” and “science abuse” is pretty blurry. But I do feel there should be SOME definition, however imperfect. Not just “space wizards”.

I just want to make sure nobody gets their feelings hurt. Some people take this very seriously where I just view it as a semantic issue: Can we find a term that communicates what we mean?


This is where I go cross-eyed. Fantasy is the encompassing descriptor of which Science Fiction is a subset of which Science Fantasy is a subset? :dizzy:

I think it’s impossible but I think there should be some kind of line. English is plagued with words that once had specific meaning and now mean…like, whatever, man.

Eh, I gotta backtrack on that, Bruce. As a van Vogt fan, I can’t really support that. It’s actually pretty hard-science (as is the first story, “The Sentinel”) except for the part you’re not supposed to understand.

There’s another element to this, in that there is such a thing as “bad” science-fiction. By which I do not mean science-fiction-which-is-not-good but science-fiction-where-the-science-is-bad.

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@moviegique So… IF we were to erase the opening ten minutes and final twenty or so of 2001 (1968) you’d be comfortable describing it as Science Fiction?

Oh, totally, and what I’m also getting at is that—I actually went to a conference of Science Fiction writers last fall where this came up—there is a fair amount of elasticity. It’s unrealistic, IMO, to have science-fiction where there is no “wonder”, where no new revelation can astound* us, or turn our knowledge of physics on its head.

And I think the difference between Fantasy and Science Fiction lies in how the wonder is earned. Science Fiction (setting aside space opera) is more like “magical realism”, where we’re going along in a largely recognizable world that works more or less as we know except for this small advance here or there, and then when you get something like a giant monolith floating in space it blows you away all the more because you thought you knew what was going on.

That said, “a fair amount” isn’t infinite. The audience should not feel like you’re cheating.

*The word “astound” used deliberately here.

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Indeed. Seconded. Suspension of disbelief as Science Fiction. The Science attributes ought to account for most of the alteration from today and the storytelling in Science Fiction and be of fascination to the filmmakers somewhat aside the notions of Science Fiction it desires to dabble in. Fantasy fully stands as the realm you’re entering into and has no casual tie to the world we know hence it being Fantasy.

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I’m going to veer heavily off topic here for just a minute and say that I agree with this. The worst offender for me? The current use of the word literally. I hear my students say, “I literally died last night!” or “I was literally flying through the air.” And I want to shout at them, “No! You figuratively died and you figuratively flew! Literally means the exact opposite of what you’re saying!”

Ahem. Back to science fiction.

This current discussion is fascinating because I’ll fully admit that I have never thought deeply about it. For me, it’s really a simple definition, although I’ll fully agree that Lord of Light does an amazing job of blurring the line between scifi and fantasy. But having read through this, I think there’s a reason why fantasy and scifi are often lumped together. There’s a degree of… sameness (although that’s not the word I really want here) of what the two genres are attempting to achieve.

I could actually get behind @KHalleron 's delineation, i.e. putting science fiction as a sub-genre of fantasy. But I can also see the value in keeping the two separate as well.

And really… to a certain degree, my reaction about whether something should be called science fiction or not isn’t very strong. …except Sharknado. That should absolutely 100% not ever be put in the scifi category. It besmirches the genre to be affiliated with that movie. :smiley:

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It’s like watching a friend being murdered in slow-motion.


No reason why most people should. For me it’s just a matter of liking to know where things come from and how they were shaped over the years. It’s interesting to me, but also tragic, that you have people ripping off people who ripped off people and even those guys didn’t know where they were coming from. (And it’s not just literary: You can see it in dance, music, visual arts, etc.)

Schlock is its own genre.


Ah, that is a good word for it. (And I’ll admit that once I decided to watch all seven Sharknado movies while I was prepping a new class. Yeah, it’s best not done…)

Is it always ripping off or can it be an homage or even simply taking an idea and running off in a different direction?


Emphasis matters Teri. Science Fiction and Fantasy run after dissimilar things. Due to the persona and objectives of the two genres I can not place one under another. They sometimes blur while you’re able to tell by what the picture is and which dynamics it chases what genre it is. Thus Science Fiction and Fantasy have specific zip codes they hail from while they intersect and could be near one another identical to California and Texas the two aren’t so the same as to be grouped together. My opinion.

Thanks Teri on the kind words on this topic. Pardon my devotion to my own stance, I comprehend the logic of mixing the two together owing to visuals and the improbable manifesting in either. On which I walk away is eyeing the moving parts, motifs, and thematic and structural points of how the two genres develop, grow, and end themselves underneath the skin is where my sense of the two as singular genres derives from. We all have particular things we respond to after all. Cheers! :slightly_smiling_face:

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While I do agree with you on that, I think my lack of concern (and my willingness to blur the line separating them, putting them more like Cali and Nevada, rather than Texas) probably somewhat stems from the particular scifi I have read and enjoyed. I’ve read a few authors who do both. I myself have enjoyed writing stories where I take something that is a fantasy/supernatural trope and trying to give it a scientific explanation. Would they fit the pure science fiction definition that @moviegique prefers? I highly doubt it, and yet, by trying to give a scientific explanation to something that does typically dwell in the fantasy realm, I think it’s pulling it more toward scifi than fantasy.

I also have enjoyed more of the New Wave scifi authors than the Golden Age authors so I think that my definition is likely looser just by virtue of how I came into reading these stories.

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