What is Science Fiction?

What is Science Fiction?

/ˈsīəns ˈˌfikSHən/
noun: science fiction; noun: SF; modifier noun: science-fiction; noun: Sci-Fi; plural noun: Sci Fis
fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.

Doug Harned Headshot

Science Fiction as defined by Doug Harned;

Science fiction is fiction that uses speculative science to create a story. “Speculative science” because more often than not, the stories often break all sorts of rules of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, mathematics, and hydrology.  The science fiction genre expansively includes fantasy– with medieval knights , swordfights, devils, fairies, and magic; horror — with zombies in a post-apocalyptic world, and comic-book superheroes. Of course, anything with star and it qualifies – Star Trek, Star Wars, Battle Star Galactica. And it is all dystopia, all the time. Only a few Star Trek fan films diverge from the default dystopian worldview – giving them a nostalgic anachronistic quality.

All Science Fiction has a Wildman, or more recently a Wildwomen, in the form of an alien, a robot, a cyborg, a mad scientist, a zombie, a radioactive monster, a crazed emperor or corporate capitalist, or simply an ordinary person with super-human powers. The Wildman character serves to teach us about what it is to be human.

The horror film genre requires a creature or a monster, an extreme Wildman, who is in conflict with God, Society, or Nature. Vampires which are derived from superstition and myth are pure horror; Frankenstein – created by a mad scientist– grades into science fiction. The scary 1950s creature features movies I watched early on Saturday mornings as a kid – with their slimy amoebas, giant irradiated women, impossibly large ants, and mind-controlling crystals in the neck, fried my little brain, which could then only be revived with a bowl of sugary cereal.

The monster in science fiction is often not biological, it is technological. It is the expression of fear that we will lose touch with what is human, that we will become machines. In the spectrum of the Wildman from animal through human to machine, science fiction often skews to the machine. The Borg, HAL 2000, the robot. Where the horror film often dwells in sublimated and demented sexual desire, the technological machine monster is the fear of loss of self.

So, is science fiction also horror with technology? Must we have countless stories of dystopian worlds, where technology has gone awry, producing a split of the hungry underclass, and the privileged kings, dictators, or the one percent? Apparently so.

Special-effects. The key to the magical appeal of filmmaking. The cinema began as a sleight-of-hand with its newfound ability to plausibly re-create and manipulate life. We had voyeurism kisses we could watch, trips to the moon, cartoon violence that left no injury, and impossible aerobatics, ghosts, fairies, vampires, villains, swash buckling heroes, and beautiful helpless women – have I left anything out? Current brain scanning studies have shown that when watching film our brains fire neurons to mirror the observed action – are brains are doing what we see. Film action is processed in our heads as if we were acting it out ourselves. Even if our natural world contains no magic, and needs none-given its vastly complex incomprehensibility, we will create it. We will create the Wildman to help us comprehend human nature, we will create religion to explain what science hasn’t figured out yet, or religion to avoid thinking any further, we will create technology to emulate and sell magic, and we will use magical words, magical objects to calm and protect us. The special effect is psycho-engineering.

Nonfiction is science, and fiction is modeling. Science observes, gives us the data, orders the data, and develops formulas to explain that order. Modeling uses those formulas to re-create the data, and then to predict scenarios for which we can have no data. Models make fiction. Films are modeling experiments. There are the genre models – film noir, chick flicks, the drama, westerns, superhero movies, monster movies, alien invasion movies, food movies – all models built from formulas. Fiction and especially science fiction gives us “what if” scenarios, as different initial conditions, and different data are provided as input to the models. The variables are tweaked – sensitivity analyses are run – the output is compared to the observed data by the viewers, the audience, who pronounce it “a reasonable fit”.

What is Science Fiction? Join us at MiSciFi and judge for yourself.

A Video Essay from Trekspertise, What is Science Fiction

“What is Science Fiction?” as defined by author David Brin.  We share a re-edit of David Brin’s original video, “Science Fiction: The Literature of Change.”

Why our world needs science fiction: Etienne Augé at TEDxErasmusUniversity


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