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It is not a Genre (Sci-Fi)

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Starships, Laser Beams, Computers, and Aliens do not Science Fiction make!

One mistake people make about science fiction is it’s not really a genre. It’s a setting. Mystery is a genre. Romance is a genre. Action/adventure is a genre. Thriller is a genre. You can do any of those things in a sci-fi world; you can do any of them in a swords & sorcery world.

Science Fiction is part of the larger Speculative Fiction category. The Speculative Fiction cateogry includes what most people will call sci-fi and fantasy, with a small dip into horror. Speculative fiction category is used by many larger bookstores to lump sci-fi and fantasy together in one category so their staff do not have to make judgement calls on which book is which.

The main problem with the concept of genre is that it is fairly ill defined by the literary community, with problems compounded by its uses in the film, comic, and gaming communities.

The best generic definition is from Websters:
genre Gen"re, n. Kind; genus; class; form; style, esp. in literature.

A particular demand . . . that we shall pay special attention to the matter of genres—that is, to the different forms or categories of literature.—W. P.
Trent.

Source: Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, ©
1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

Working from that, Sci-fi defines any story revolving around Science, while Fantasy defines any story revolving around Magik. These are broad, sweeping, generalizations that I hope you all forgive me for. There are books that overlap Sci-Fi with psionics (the sci-fi codeword for magik) in it like Darkover and Pern and countless others. There are fantasy stories that have science (Mercede’s Lackey’s later Valdemar books had the impact of science- watchtowers and other things- on their world). Lets just stick to the generalization for the moment.

The Sci-Fi genre has the primary tropes of, or tends to deal with, science and technology, space and aliens, and the future (near or far). A story can have romantic, adventure, or mystery subplots or story arcs, but still focus on the one of the tropes listed above, and be in the science fiction genre. It is the focus that makes a story science fiction. Hard Science Fiction revolves around the Science. Soft scifi, tends to have “fuzzier” science. However, the focus of the sci-fi genre story needs to revolve around the science and technology (and people’s response to it), space, aliens, or the future of humankind. 

Asimov’s Robot Detective series is sci-fi, even though they are mysteries because the mysteries revolve around the technology of robots.

A story can have these elements, but focus on something else. This would be stories that have a sci-fi setting, but have the tropes of another genre
(romance, action, or mystery). There are dozens of romances set in fantasy, sci-fi, horror settings. We don’t call them fantasy or sci-fi or horror, we call the Romance novels. It is all on the emphasis.

Star Trek stories tend to focus on the people and their interaction, with the technology/ science taking a back seat. Most episodes and books could be set in another time and place and still work as a story. Many Robin Cook and Cricton books are not sci-fi genre, but are definitively of the sci-fi setting.

These are just my thoughts. If you want to discuss this more, you know what to do….



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Comments ( 6 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Michikawa
November 9, 2005, 15:03
0xp
A good point. I think I have used genre in wrong connections quite often - haven't really thought about it's true meaning a lot. But when you mentioned the word/term "setting" it became quite clear.

If one had time, one could for example write sort of an interactive novel - after a few pages, the reader could choose from different options, what happens next or for example, what decision the currently active character does. And depending on his/her choice the story branches to different line.

The trick would be, that even though the first part would define the setting sci-fi, the first choices would decide, what kind of atmosphere, or what genre the story itself represents. One choice would make it a horror novel, one would make it romantic drama etc. Setting stays the same but the whole story would be completely different.

This could of course be demonstrated with actual role-playing campaign or one-shot. Scifi setting, but what kind of game - possibilities are endless.
Zylithan
November 10, 2005, 13:13
0xp
I don't know how to vote on this so I'm not. It's a good point I guess. I don't have much to add, but I try to comment when I read so... amen.
Voted Iain
November 13, 2005, 4:34
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A good article - as always Moonhunter!
Voted Cheka Man
May 1, 2006, 19:52
0xp
I like Moon's articles.
Voted valadaar
April 23, 2013, 14:43
Voted axlerowes
April 23, 2013, 15:05
0xp
A nice introduction to the discussion.


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