2: The SF Approach
Science fiction is something I came not just to like but to love over the years, a reaction based upon the massive consumption of sf itself, and a reaction to the comparison between sf and non-sf fiction. But then, what the heck is science fiction? I know that there are dictionaries to look this up, and I will quote the article in my American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition:
science fiction n. Abbr. sf, SF A literary or cinematic genre in which fantasy, typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or developments, environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets, forms part of the plot or background.
I do not really like those definitions as they seem to know how to de-fine something, but then there is no real formula as what really counts to sf. I do not say that I think this definition would be wrong; it is a very short one, that's clear. I could have cited a longer quote, but then this wouldn't have changed anything. Every definition, every attempt to approach this kind of fiction would be of a restricted success.
How to successfully define science fiction? I can't. I can only give examples - that's the same thing the article does. But what's the matter then? The problem is that we have a term for something but no one has exactly the same interpretation of it. It is a basic problem, the problem of language made clear by philosophers like Michel Foucault or Jacques Derrida (I've tried to explain those theories on my General Discussion Pages. The discourse of science fiction cannot be confined between words or symbols or even examples. Every attempt to do so will offer a temporary but incomplete answer.
But then, how to write when even the words I use cannot perform the function of objectivity and authority? What to say when by the very process of speaking the uttered utterance becomes obsolete? Silence is no alternative - but why do I say things like that? To make you and me aware that in the end it is the individual mind that has to solve the problems, not a dictionary, not a professor, not a friend. All memorizing without understanding will sometime prove futile. But then - how to arrive to a solution, and to what solution?
Analyzing the words science fiction, the thing is about a kind of fiction as the second word determines the basic meaning of the compound,
linguistically spoken. So sf is a kind of fiction that deals with science in some way or another. That's what can be determined from the mere word. But normally, sf is associated with the fantastic, with imagination, with something that is not really real, mostly with the future. Sf has created cliché for itself, a convention it came to by itself, conventions like extraterrestrials, time travel, space travel. Somehow the scientific part seems to be important. But then there is something like Star Wars or Alien - those films would rather belong to fantasy or horror, but not really to science fiction as the scientific "technobabble" is very restricted or not present. The sf background is merely present, not being reflected upon - it is like as if it were some kind of modern fairy tale, but now called sf. The sf definition is something really irrelevant as it usually does not form the major story element. Star Trek, although a good example for sf concerning technobabble, is mainly concerned with problems of society or with character interactions. Fiction doesn't work just because of the background - it is the character stories that determine the plot much more than any kind of fictional background.
The background sf creates just enables something to happen, it is like a catalyst and not the object of storytelling itself. That's why a movie or tv show
or a novel can be both horror or sf or fantasy or comedy. To try to determine one's options by limiting them doesn't work. The sf approach proves that:
One might be able to assign certain sf properties to a piece of fiction, but it can never really be sf exclusively. Sf is an artificial construction
that might help sorting statistics or tables, but it is not really a definite way to structure fiction. The borders by far too flexible.
July 27th, 1998