The browser I trust.
This leads up to my loose definition of ScF as fiction set in a world that differs from our everyday world in a way that importantly involves science or technology. Some people add that ScF should make you think about possible future worlds and alternatives thereto, but I'm quite glad to have some fiction that's purely entertainment. If history is any guide, there will always be plenty of ScF that asks questions (and usually supplies ready-made answers) about changes in the world and the futures to which they may lead.
About a year after inscribing the above onto my hard disk, I was reading an introduction by Isaac Asimov to a novel by a younger author and found this:
A science fiction story must be set against a society significantly diferent from our own -- usually, but not necessarily, bcause of some change in the level of science and technology -- or it is not a science fiction story.He was contrasting ScF with detective stories, where criminals are caught and order is restored:
... the science fiction story destroys our own comfortable society. The science fiction story does not deal with the restoration of order, but with change and, ideally, with continuing change ... we leave our society and never return to it.
Another widely-held view is that ScF is fiction
that describes the impact of science or technology on people.
To the extent that its readers
are "science buffs" (never mind whether they know any science!), this may
well be the chief reason they enjoy reading it. Its
heroes are often those who understand the science or technology, which can
add an element of wish-fulfillment. It can also contribute to the ghastly
stereotype of the ScF reader as someone with no accomplishment or merit
other other than science, and no interest in the impact of
art on people, or for that matter of people on people. For my opinion of
this definition, see below.
A kind of fiction that could only result from a scientifically-influenced worldview.I like this one, though it has to be read carefully. It's also rather flexible, depending on what you regard as a scientific influence on your view of the world; which is probably a point in its favour.
Short & to the point. It covers explicitly technological SF, and also stuff like Phil Dick and even Thomas Pynchon....
Shippey offer interesting observations about how ScF relates to fiction in
general and to "pastoral" fiction.
Satires: Laputa and Erewhon
There is a centuries-old tradition whereby authors who have something
really pungent to say about the society in which they are living will
present their criticism as a work of fiction, ostensibly about another
society living in a remote place to which the protagonist
is somehow transported. Is this kind of thing science fiction? When I
was too young to see through the veil of fiction to the kernel of
satire, I used to read it eagerly. Certainly most of it is about worlds
that differ from ours, but only to the extent necessary to make the
author's point, and sometimes by a simple reversal: in
Erewhon, Butler depicts people being punished if they have
a cold or a fever, and attended by a doctor if they defraud someone.
These days I find it hard to see much of either science or fiction in
such works, though I find them much funnier than I did as a child.
OTOH there's a fine line between satire disguised as ScF and fiction which tries
to show how society could change radically if the rest of the world changed just
a little (a playful example is Edmund Cooper's Five to Twelve).
By my definition above, the latter is genuine ScF.
People have argued whether books like Clancy's The Hunt for
Red October are ScF. Undeniably they describe the impact of
technologies on people, and the technologies are not the ones found in
my everyday world. OTOH these technologies do exist now, and
are part of the everyday worlds of people like the characters
in the books (e.g. military personnel). Thus they fall outside my
definition of ScF but within some others. I feel safe in claiming that
they are not much more speculative than the average detective story.
And after all, there are a fair number of Westerns that describe the impact
of steam train technology on people who used to ride horses; does this make
them into science fiction?
Neyir Cenk Gokce has compiled an excellent list of short definitions of ScF given by authors (and by some people whose names I don't recognise). I rather like the one by Pohl. I've put a few longer definitions that I found interesting onto a sub-page.
Another such list can be found at Magic Dragon, who also has a link back to this site, so it seems only fair that I should link to his.
Hard versus soft ScF
ScF versus Fantasy