Monday, August 17, 2009

Science Fiction in a nutshell

So what is Science Fiction? What is Fantasy? Why do some people hate them and others find them the coolest stuff around?

Science Fiction is nothing more than fiction based in science. If you tell a story where technology of some sort plays a part, you're technically telling a science fiction story. However for the term Science Fiction to be meaningful, something else is necessary. Here's an example. Assume the story is about 2 cave men. One of them creates a brand new device that comes to be known as the wheel. Technically, that's a science fiction story. The wheel is certainly technology. But would we, today, consider a simple wheel to be all that amazing? Not as amazing as the cavemen do. So for the story to meet what the majority of readers consider science fiction, the technology needs to be something that they themselves consider at least a little bit amazing. Either that or the plot needs to be written so well that they are able to identify with the characters to the point that for the short time they are reading the story the science that the characters are encountering feels amazing.

In the example of the cavemen and the wheel, if the story is all about Og and Blog fighting over Oola and her cave, and the wheel just gets a side mention, the reader isn't likely to feel any amazement about the technology. But if the story is written through Og's eyes about the amazing things that suddenly happen in his life because of the wheel, it stands a far better chance of being considered some form of science fiction by those that read it.

Science Fiction comes in a wide variety of flavors as well, from "Hard" science fiction where the story is mostly about the technology and the plot is secondary to "Soft" science fiction where the entire setting is in some kind of technological setting but the plot and characterizations are primary. Space opera, science fantasy (such as star wars) and other sub-genres such as space westerns serve to muddy the waters when trying to define science fiction.

Fortunately for most readers, it's not necessary to worry about what subcatagory a book they happen to be enjoying might fall into. Those are details that marketing people, publishers, bookstore owners and the like agonize over, but for the general reading public if the story is fiction (I.E. made up), it's written well, and they can connect with the science then it qualifies as good science fiction.

If you're looking for a few science fiction authors to check out, I suggest starting with the greats: for example Issac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. Then move on to some new, fresh authors such as Sarah Wagner, Michael H. Hanson and Douglas E. Richards.

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