Although we’ve all seen science fiction movies or read science fiction books, although we all know about Darth Vader, the USS Enterprise, and the number 42, no one seems entirely sure what science fiction is. What’s the definition? What determines that this story is Sci-Fi and this one is not?
Some say science fiction must have some scientific fact at its core. If you take that fact out and the story falls apart, then it’s science fiction. However, this definition might include many stories we don’t think of as Sci-Fi. Many action thrillers involve nuclear weapons, many mysteries use forensic science, and you could even argue most romances depend heavily on biology.
Another definition says science fiction is no different than fantasy except in science fiction the “magic” must have a scientific explanation. However, this runs into problems when the scientific explanation is not consistent with real science. Many Sci-Fi purists argue that Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and so forth are not science fiction because of alleged inaccuracies. They say these stories belong in a new category called “science fantasy.”
I prefer to describe science fiction as anything that depends on a fictional science. It’s pithy, but it works. Star Trek has the fictional sciences of warp drive and transporter beams. Dune has the fictional science of planetology. The Hitchhiker’s Guide has the fictional science of the number 42. Nuclear weapons, forensics, and biology are all real sciences, so thrillers, mysteries, and romances can’t sneak into the Sci-Fi section under my definition, and we don’t have to create a whole new genre for the less-than-perfect depictions of science in Star Trek and Star Wars.
Obviously this ongoing debate doesn’t end here. What do you think science fiction is? Do you like any of the definitions here, or is there another you prefer?