Science fiction

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Alien invasion, H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds War-of-the-worlds-tripod.jpg
Alien invasion, H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds
Space exploration, Imagination, August 1958 Imagination 195808.jpg
Space exploration, Imagination , August 1958

Science fiction (often shortened to Sci-Fi or SF) is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas". [1] [2]

Genre is any form or type of communication in any mode with socially-agreed upon conventions developed over time. Genre is most popularly known as a category of literature, music, or other forms of art or entertainment, whether written or spoken, audio or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria, yet genres can be aesthetic, rhetorical, communicative, or functional. Genres form by conventions that change over time as cultures invent new genres and discontinue the use of old ones. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions. Stand-alone texts, works, or pieces of communication may have individual styles, but genres are amalgams of these texts based on agreed-upon or socially inferred conventions. Some genres may have rigid, strictly adhered-to guidelines, while others may show great flexibility.

Speculative fiction literary and cinematic genre that includes science fiction, horror, fantasy and alternate history

Speculative fiction is an umbrella genre encompassing narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes, but is not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror, utopian and dystopian fiction, supernatural fiction as well as combinations thereof.

Imagination creative ability

Imagination is the ability to produce things, peoples and clubs in the mind without any immediate input of the senses. It is also described as the forming of experiences in the mind, which can be recreations of past experiences such as vivid memories with imagined changes or that they are completely invented. Imagination helps make knowledge applicable in solving problems and is fundamental to integrating experience and the learning process. A basic training for imagination is listening to storytelling (narrative), in which the exactness of the chosen words is the fundamental factor to "evoke worlds".



"Science fiction" is difficult to define, as it includes a wide range of subgenres and themes. James Blish wrote: "Wells used the term originally to cover what we would today call ‘hard’ science fiction, in which a conscientious attempt to be faithful to already known facts (as of the date of writing) was the substrate on which the story was to be built, and if the story was also to contain a miracle, it ought at least not to contain a whole arsenal of them." [3]

James Blish American author

James Benjamin Blish was an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He is best known for his Cities in Flight novels, and his series of Star Trek novelizations written with his wife, J. A. Lawrence. He is credited with creating the term gas giant to refer to large planetary bodies.

Isaac Asimov said: "Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology." [4] According to Robert A. Heinlein, "a handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method." [5]

Isaac Asimov American science-fiction and non-fiction writer

Isaac Asimov was an American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. He was known for his works of science fiction and popular science. Asimov was a prolific writer who wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. His books have been published in 9 of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification.

Robert A. Heinlein American science fiction author

Robert Anson Heinlein was an American science-fiction writer and aeronautical engineer. Often called the "dean of science fiction writers", He was among the first to emphasize scientific accuracy in his fiction, and was thus a pioneer of the subgenre of hard science fiction. His work continues to have an influence on the science-fiction genre, and on modern culture more generally.

Scientific method mathematical and experimental techniques employed in the natural sciences; more specifically, techniques used in the construction and testing of scientific hypotheses

The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. It involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings. These are principles of the scientific method, as distinguished from a definitive series of steps applicable to all scientific enterprises.

Lester del Rey wrote, "Even the devoted aficionado or fan—has a hard time trying to explain what science fiction is", and that the reason for there not being a "full satisfactory definition" is that "there are no easily delineated limits to science fiction." [6] Author and editor Damon Knight summed up the difficulty, saying "science fiction is what we point to when we say it", [7] while author Mark C. Glassy argues that the definition of science fiction is like the definition of pornography: you do not know what it is, but you know it when you see it. [8]

Lester del Rey Novelist, short story writer, editor

Lester del Rey was an American science fiction author and editor. He was the author of many books in the juvenile Winston Science Fiction series, and the editor at Del Rey Books, the fantasy and science fiction imprint of Ballantine Books, along with his fourth wife Judy-Lynn del Rey.

Damon Knight American science fiction writer, editor and critic

Damon Francis Knight was an American science fiction author, editor and critic. He is the author of "To Serve Man", a 1950 short story adapted for The Twilight Zone. He was married to fellow writer Kate Wilhelm.

The phrase "I know it when I see it" is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters. The phrase was used in 1964 by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio. In explaining why the material at issue in the case was not obscene under the Roth test, and therefore was protected speech that could not be censored, Stewart wrote:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

Alternative terms

Forrest J Ackerman is credited with first using the term "Sci-Fi" (analogous to the then-trendy "hi-fi") in 1954. [9] As science fiction entered popular culture, writers and fans active in the field came to associate the term with low-budget, low-tech "B-movies" and with low-quality pulp science fiction. [10] [11] [12] By the 1970s, critics within the field such as Knight and Terry Carr were using sci-fi to distinguish hack-work from serious science fiction. [13] Peter Nicholls writes that "SF" (or "sf") is "the preferred abbreviation within the community of sf writers and readers". [14] Robert Heinlein found even "science fiction" insufficient and suggested the term speculative fiction to be used instead, which has continued to be applied to "serious" or "thoughtful" science fiction.

Forrest J Ackerman American collector of science fiction books and movie memorabilia

Forrest James Ackerman was an American magazine editor, science fiction writer and literary agent, a founder of science fiction fandom, a leading expert on science fiction, horror, and fantasy films, and acknowledged as the world's most avid collector of genre books and movie memorabilia. He was based in Los Angeles, California.

Popular culture is generally recognized by members of a society as a set of the practices, beliefs and objects that are dominant or ubiquitous in a society at a given point in time. Popular culture also encompasses the activities and feelings produced as a result of interaction with these dominant objects. Heavily influenced in modern times by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of people in a given society. Therefore, popular culture has a way of influencing an individual's attitudes towards certain topics. However, there are various ways to define pop culture. Because of this, popular culture is something that can be defined in a variety of conflicting ways by different people across different contexts. It is generally viewed in contrast to other forms of culture such as folk culture, working-class culture, or high culture, and also through different theoretical perspectives such as psychoanalysis, structuralism, postmodernism, and more. The most common pop-culture categories are: entertainment, sports, news, politics, fashion/clothes, technology, and slang.

B movie Low budget commercial film genre

A B movie or B film is a low-budget commercial movie, but not an arthouse film. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicized bottom half of a double feature. Although the U.S. production of movies intended as second features largely ceased by the end of the 1950s, the term B movie continues to be used in its broader sense to this day. In its post-Golden Age usage, there is ambiguity on both sides of the definition: on the one hand, the primary interest of many inexpensive exploitation films is prurient; on the other, many B movies display a high degree of craft and aesthetic ingenuity.


Illustration for Lucian's A True Story by Aubrey Beardsley Aubrey Beardsley spider battle in 1894 True History.jpg
Illustration for Lucian's A True Story by Aubrey Beardsley

Science fiction had its beginnings in the time when the line between myth and fact was blurred. Written in the 2nd century AD by the Hellenized Syrian satirist Lucian, A True Story contains many themes and tropes that are characteristic of modern science fiction, including travel to other worlds, extraterrestrial lifeforms, interplanetary warfare, and artificial life. Some consider it the first science fiction novel. [15] Some of the stories from The Arabian Nights , [16] [17] along with the 10th century The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter [17] and Ibn al-Nafis's 13th century Theologus Autodidactus [18] also contain elements of science fiction.

Lucian 2nd-century satirist and rhetorician

Lucian of Samosata was a Syrian satirist and rhetorician who is best known for his characteristic tongue-in-cheek style, with which he frequently ridiculed superstition, religious practices, and belief in the paranormal. Although his native language was probably Syriac, all of his extant works are written entirely in ancient Greek.

<i>A True Story</i> work by Lucian of Samosata

A True Story is a novel written in the second century AD by Lucian of Samosata, a Greek-speaking author of Assyrian descent. The novel is a satire of outlandish tales which had been reported in ancient sources, particularly those which presented fantastic or mythical events as if they were true. It is Lucian's best-known work.

<i>One Thousand and One Nights</i> collection of Middle Eastern stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age

One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. It is often known in English as the Arabian Nights, from the first English-language edition, which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights' Entertainment.

Products of the Age of Reason and the development of modern science itself, Johannes Kepler's Somnium (1634), Francis Bacon's The New Atlantis (1627), [19] Cyrano de Bergerac's Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1657) and The States and Empires of the Sun (1662), Margaret Cavendish's "The Blazing World" (1666), [20] Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), Ludvig Holberg's novel Nicolai Klimii Iter Subterraneum (1741) and Voltaire's Micromégas (1752) are some of the first true science fantasy works. [21] [22] Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan considered Somnium the first science fiction story. It depicts a journey to the Moon and how the Earth's motion is seen from there. [23]

Following the 18th-century development of the novel as a literary form, Mary Shelley's books Frankenstein (1818) and The Last Man (1826) helped define the form of the science fiction novel. Brian Aldiss has argued that Frankenstein was the first work of science fiction. [24] Edgar Allan Poe wrote several stories considered science fiction, including one about a trip to the Moon. [25] [26] Jules Verne was noted for his attention to detail and scientific accuracy, especially Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) which predicted the modern nuclear submarine. [27] [28] [29] [30] In 1887 the novel El anacronópete by Spanish author Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau introduced the first time machine. [31] [32]

H. G. Wells H G Wells pre 1922.jpg
H. G. Wells

Many critics consider H. G. Wells one of science fiction's most important authors, [33] [34] or even "the Shakespeare of science fiction". [35] His notable science fiction works include The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). His science fiction imagined alien invasion, biological engineering, invisibility, and time travel. In his non-fiction futurologist works he predicted the advent of airplanes, military tanks, nuclear weapons, satellite television, space travel, and something resembling the World Wide Web. [36]

In 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs published A Princess of Mars , the first of his three-decade-long planetary romance series of Barsoom novels, set on Mars and featuring John Carter as the hero. [37]

In 1926 Hugo Gernsback published the first American science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories , in which he wrote:

By 'scientifiction' I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision... Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading—they are always instructive. They supply knowledge... in a very palatable form... New adventures pictured for us in the scientifiction of today are not at all impossible of realization tomorrow... Many great science stories destined to be of historical interest are still to be written... Posterity will point to them as having blazed a new trail, not only in literature and fiction, but progress as well. [38] [39] [40]

In 1928 E. E. "Doc" Smith’s first published work, The Skylark of Space written in collaboration with Lee Hawkins Garby, appeared in Amazing Stories. It is often called the first great space opera. [41] In 1928 Philip Francis Nowlan's original Buck Rogers story, Armageddon 2419, appeared in Amazing Stories. This was followed by a Buck Rogers comic strip, the first serious science fiction comic. [42]

In 1937 John W. Campbell became editor of Astounding Science Fiction , an event which is sometimes considered the beginning of the Golden Age of Science Fiction characterized by stories celebrating scientific achievement and progress. [43] In 1942, Isaac Asimov started his Foundation series, which chronicles the rise and fall of galactic empires and introduced psychohistory. [44] [45] The "Golden Age" is often said to have ended in 1946, but sometimes the late 1940s and the 1950s are included. [46]

In 1949 George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was an important example of dystopian science fiction. [47] [48] Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 novel More Than Human explored possible future human evolution. [49] [50] [51] In 1957 Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale by the Russian writer and paleontologist Ivan Yefremov presented a view of a future interstellar communist civilization and is considered one of the most important Soviet science fiction novels. [52] [53] In 1959 Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers marked a departure from his earlier juvenile stories and novels. [54] It is one of the first and most influential examples of military science fiction, [55] [56] and introduced the concept of powered armor exoskeletons. [57] [58] [59] The German space opera series Perry Rhodan , by various authors, started in 1961 with an account of the first Moon landing and has since expanded to the entire Universe and billions of years; becoming the most popular science fiction book series of all time. [60]

In the 1960s and 1970s New Wave science fiction was known for its embrace of a high degree of experimentation, both in form and in content, and a highbrow and self-consciously "literary" or artistic sensibility. [21] [61] [62] In 1961 Solaris by Stanisław Lem was published in Poland. [63] The novel dealt with the theme of human limitations as its characters attempted to study a seemingly intelligent ocean on a newly discovered planet. [64] [65] 1965's Dune by Frank Herbert featured a much more complex and detailed imagined future society than had been common in science fiction before. [66] In 1968 Philip K. Dick’s best-known novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was published. It is the literary source of the film Blade Runner . [67] 1969's The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin was set on a planet in which the inhabitants have no fixed gender. It is one of the most influential examples of social science fiction, feminist science fiction, and anthropological science fiction. [68] [69] [70]

In 1976 C. J. Cherryh published Gate of Ivrel and Brothers of Earth , which began her Alliance-Union universe future history series. [71] [72] [73] In 1979 Science Fiction World began publication in the People's Republic of China. [74] It dominates the Chinese science fiction magazine market, at one time claiming a circulation of 300,000 copies per issue, with an estimate of 3–5 readers per copy (giving it a total readership of at least 1 million) making it the world's most popular science fiction periodical. [75]

In 1984 William Gibson’s first novel Neuromancer helped popularize cyberpunk, and the word "cyberspace" – a term he coined in his 1982 short story Burning Chrome . [76] [77] [78] In 1986 Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold began her Vorkosigan Saga. [79] [80] 1992's Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson predicted immense social upheaval due to the information revolution. [81] In 2007 Liu Cixin's novel, The Three-Body Problem , was published in China. It was translated into English by Ken Liu and published by Tor Books in 2014, and won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. [82] Liu was the first Asian writer to win "Best Novel." [83]

Emerging themes in late Twentieth and early Twenty-first century science fiction include environmental issues, the implications of the global Internet and the expanding information universe, questions about biotechnology and nanotechnology, as well as a post-Cold War interest in post-scarcity societies. Recent trends and sub-genres include steampunk, [84] biopunk, [85] [86] and mundane science fiction. [87] [88]


The Maschinenmensch from Metropolis Maria from the film Metropolis, on display at the Robot Hall of Fame.jpg
The Maschinenmensch from Metropolis

The first known science fiction film is 1902's A Trip to the Moon , directed by French filmmaker Georges Méliès. [89] It was profoundly influential on later filmmakers, bringing creativity to the cinematic medium and offering fantasy for pure entertainment, a rare goal in film at the time. In addition, Méliès's innovative editing and special effects techniques were widely imitated and became important elements of the medium. [90] The film also spurred on the development of cinematic science fiction and fantasy by demonstrating that scientific themes worked on the screen and that reality could be transformed by the camera. [89] [91]

1927's Metropolis , directed by Fritz Lang, is the first feature-length science fiction film. [92] Though not well received in its time, it is now considered a great and influential film. [93] [94] [95]

In 1954 Godzilla , directed by Ishirō Honda, began the kaiju subgenre of science fiction film, which feature large creatures of any form, usually attacking a major city or engaging other monsters in battle. [96] [97]

1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey , directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the work of Arthur C. Clarke, rose above the mostly B-movie offerings up to that time in scope and quality and greatly influenced later science fiction films. [98] [99] [100] [101] That same year Planet of the Apes , directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and based on the 1963 French novel La Planète des Singes by Pierre Boulle, was also popular and critically acclaimed for its vivid depiction of a post-apocalyptic world in which intelligent apes dominate humans. [102]

In 1977 George Lucas began the Star Wars film series with the film now identified as " Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope ". The series went on to become a worldwide popular culture phenomenon, [103] and the third highest-grossing film series. [104] From the 1980s science fiction films along with fantasy, horror, and superhero films have dominated Hollywood's big-budget productions. [105] Science fiction films often "crossover" with other genres including animation ( WALL-E ), gangster ( Sky Racket ), Western ( Serenity ), comedy ( Spaceballs ), war ( Enemy Mine ), sports ( Rollerball ), mystery ( Minority Report ), film noir ( Blade Runner ), and romantic comedy ( Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ). [106] Science fiction action films feature science fiction elements weaved into action film premises. [107]


Don Hastings (left) and Al Hodge (right) from Captain Video and His Video Rangers Al Hodge Don Hastings Captain Video.JPG
Don Hastings (left) and Al Hodge (right) from Captain Video and His Video Rangers

Science fiction and television have always had a close relationship. Television or television-like technologies frequently appeared in science fiction long before television itself became widely available in the late 1940s and early 1950s; perhaps most famously in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four . [108] The first known science fiction television program was produced by the BBC's pre-war BBC Television service. On 11 February 1938 a thirty-five-minute adapted extract of the play RUR , written by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek, was broadcast live from the BBC's Alexandra Palace studios. [109] The first popular science fiction program on American television was the children's adventure serial Captain Video and His Video Rangers , which ran from June 1949 to April 1955. [110]

The Twilight Zone , produced and narrated by Rod Serling, who also wrote or co-wrote most of the episodes, ran from 1959 to 1964. It featured fantasy and horror as well as science fiction, with each episode being a complete story. [111] [112] Critics have ranked it as one of the best TV programs of any genre. [113] [114] The Jetsons , while intended as comedy and only running for one season (1962–1963), predicted many inventions now in common use: flatscreen television, newspapers on a computer-like screen, computer viruses, video chat, tanning beds, home treadmills and more. [115]

In 1963 the time travel themed Doctor Who premiered on BBC Television. The original series ran until 1989 and was revived in 2005. It has been extremely popular worldwide and has greatly influenced later TV science fiction programs, as well as popular culture. [116] [117] Star Trek , produced by Gene Roddenberry, premiered in 1966 on NBC Television and ran through the 1969 season. It combined elements of space opera and space Western. Although only mildly successful it gained popularity through later syndication and eventually spawned a very popular and influential franchise through films, later programs, and novels; as well as by intense fan interest. [118] [119] [120] Other programs in the 1960s included The Prisoner , [121] The Outer Limits , [122] and Lost in Space . [123] [124]

In 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation began a torrent of new shows, including three further Star Trek continuation shows ( Deep Space 9 , Voyager and Enterprise ) and Babylon 5 . [125] Red Dwarf , a comic science fiction series aired on BBC Two between 1988 and 1999, and on Dave since 2009, gaining a cult following. [126] To date, eleven full series of the show plus one "special" miniseries have aired. The latest series, dubbed Red Dwarf XII , started airing in October 2017. [127] The X-Files , which featured UFOs and conspiracy theories, was created by Chris Carter and broadcast by Fox Broadcasting Company from 1993 to 2002. [128] [129] Stargate , a film about ancient astronauts and interstellar teleportation, was released in 1994. Stargate SG-1 premiered in 1997 and ran for 10 seasons. Spin-off series included Stargate Infinity , Stargate Atlantis , and Stargate Universe . [130]

Social influence

Science fiction's great rise in popularity during the first half of the twentieth century was closely tied to the respect paid to science at that time, as well as the rapid pace of technological innovation and new inventions. [131] Science fiction has almost always predicted scientific and technological progress. Some works predict this leading to improvements in life and society, for instance the stories of Arthur C. Clarke and the Star Trek series. While others warn about possible negative consequences, for instance H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World . [132]

Brian Aldiss described science fiction as "cultural wallpaper." [133] Evidence for this widespread influence can be found in a trend for academic researchers to employ science fiction as a tool for advocacy, generating cultural insights, and assisting teaching and learning across a range of academic disciplines not limited to the natural sciences. [134]

The National Science Foundation conducted surveys of "Public Attitudes and Public Understanding" of "Science Fiction and Pseudoscience." [135] They write that "Interest in science fiction may affect the way people think about or relate to study found a strong relationship between preference for science fiction novels and support for the space program...The same study also found that students who read science fiction are much more likely than other students to believe that contacting extraterrestrial civilizations is both possible and desirable." [136] Carl Sagan wrote: "Many scientists deeply involved in the exploration of the solar system (myself among them) were first turned in that direction by science fiction. And the fact that some of that science fiction was not of the highest quality is irrelevant. Ten year‐olds do not read the scientific literature". [137]

Sense of wonder

Science fiction is often said to generate a "sense of wonder." Science fiction editor and critic David Hartwell writes: "Science fiction’s appeal lies in combination of the rational, the believable, with the miraculous. It is an appeal to the sense of wonder." [138] Carl Sagan said: "One of the great benefits of science fiction is that it can convey bits and pieces, hints and phrases, of knowledge unknown or inaccessible to the reader ... works you ponder over as the water is running out of the bathtub or as you walk through the woods in an early winter snowfall." [137] Isaac Asimov in 1967 commenting on the changes then occurring in SF wrote: "And because today’s real life so resembles day-before-yesterday’s fantasy, the old-time fans are restless. Deep within, whether they admit it or not, is a feeling of disappointment and even outrage that the outer world has invaded their private domain. They feel the loss of a 'sense of wonder' because what was once truly confined to 'wonder' has now become prosaic and mundane." [139]

As protest literature

"Happy 1984" in Spanish or Portuguese referencing George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four on a standing piece of the Berlin Wall. Feliz 1984.JPG
"Happy 1984" in Spanish or Portuguese referencing George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four on a standing piece of the Berlin Wall.

Science fiction has sometimes been used as a means of social protest. James Cameron’s film Avatar was intended as a protest against imperialism, and specifically against the European colonization of the Americas. [140] Its images were used by, among others, Palestinians in their protest against Israel. [141]

Robots, artificial humans, human clones, intelligent computers, and their possible conflicts with humans has been a major theme of science fiction since the publication of Frankenstein . Some critics have seen this as reflecting authors’ concerns over the social alienation seen in modern society. [142]

Feminist science fiction poses questions about social issues such as how society constructs gender roles, the role reproduction plays in defining gender and the unequal political and personal power of men over women. Some of the most notable feminist science fiction works have illustrated these themes using utopias to explore a society in which gender differences or gender power imbalances do not exist, or dystopias to explore worlds in which gender inequalities are intensified, thus asserting a need for feminist work to continue. [143]

Libertarian science fiction focuses on the politics and the social order implied by right libertarian philosophies with an emphasis on individualism and private property, and in some cases anti-statism. [144]

Climate fiction, or "cli-fi" deals with issues concerning climate change and global warming. [145] [146] University courses on literature and environmental issues may include climate change fiction in their syllabi, [147] as well as it being discussed by the media, outside of SF fandom. [148]

Comic science fiction often satirizes and criticizes present-day society, as well as sometimes making fun of the conventions and clichés of serious science fiction. [149] [150]

Science fiction studies

The study of science fiction, or science fiction studies, is the critical assessment, interpretation, and discussion of science fiction literature, film, new media, fandom, and fan fiction. Science fiction scholars study science fiction to better understand it and its relationship to science, technology, politics, and culture-at-large. Science fiction studies has a long history, dating back to the turn of the 20th century, but it was not until later that science fiction studies solidified as a discipline with the publication of the academic journals Extrapolation (1959), Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction (1972), and Science Fiction Studies (1973), and the establishment of the oldest organizations devoted to the study of science fiction, the Science Fiction Research Association and the Science Fiction Foundation, in 1970. The field has grown considerably since the 1970s with the establishment of more journals, organizations, and conferences with ties to the science fiction scholarship community, and science fiction degree-granting programs such as those offered by the University of Liverpool and Kansas University.

Scholar and science fiction critic George Edgar Slusser said that science fiction "is the one real international literary form we have today, and as such has branched out to visual media, interactive media and on to whatever new media the world will invent in the 21st century... crossover issues between the sciences and the humanities are crucial for the century to come." [151]


Science Fiction has historically been sub-divided between hard science fiction and soft science fiction – with the division centering on the feasibility of the science central to the story. [152] However, this distinction has come under increasing scrutiny in the 21st century. Authors including Tade Thompson and Jeff VanderMeer have pointed out that stories that focus explicitly on physics, astronomy, mathematics, and engineering tend to be considered "hard", while stories that focus on botany, mycology, zoology or the social sciences tend to be categorized as, "soft," regardless of the relative rigor of the science. [153]

Max Gladstone defined hard SF as being, "SF where the math works," but pointed out that this ends up with stories that seem, "weirdly dated," as scientific paradigms shift over time. Aliette de Bodard argued that there was a risk in the categorization that authors' work would be dismissed as not being, "proper," SF. Michael Swanwick dismissed the traditional definition of hard SF altogether, instead saying that it was defined by characters striving to solve problems, "in the right way – with determination, a touch of stoicism, and the consciousness that the universe is not on his or her side." [153]

Ursula K. Leguin took a more traditional view on the difference between "hard" and "soft" SF but arrived at a divergent value-judgment from the one implied by de Bodard, saying, "The "hard" science fiction writers dismiss everything except, well, physics, astronomy, and maybe chemistry. Biology, sociology, anthropology—that's not science to them, that's soft stuff. They're not that interested in what human beings do, really. But I am. I draw on the social sciences a great deal." [154]

As serious literature

Illiustration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Theodor von Holst. Frontispiece to Frankenstein 1831.jpg
Illiustration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Theodor von Holst.

Respected authors of main-stream literature have written science fiction. Mary Shelley wrote a number of science fiction novels including Frankenstein , and is considered a major writer of the Romantic Age. [156] Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) is often listed as one of England's most important novels, both for its criticism of modern culture and its prediction of future trends including reproductive technology and social engineering. [157] [158] [159] [160] Doris Lessing, who was later awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, wrote a series of SF novels, Canopus in Argos , which depict the efforts of more advanced species and civilizations to influence those less advanced including humans on Earth. [161] [162] [163] [164] Kurt Vonnegut was a highly respected American author whose works contain science fiction premises or themes. [165] [166] [167] Science fiction authors whose works are considered to be serious literature include Ray Bradbury, [168] Arthur C. Clarke (especially for Childhood's End ), [169] [170] and Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, writing under the name Cordwainer Smith. [171]

In her much reprinted essay "Science Fiction and Mrs Brown," [172] Ursula K. Le Guin first asks: "Can a science fiction writer write a novel?"; and answers: "I believe that all novels, ... deal with character, and that it is to express character – not to preach doctrines, sing songs, or celebrate the glories of the British Empire, that the form of the novel, so clumsy, verbose, and undramatic, so rich, elastic, and alive, has been evolved ... The great novelists have brought us to see whatever they wish us to see through some character. Otherwise they would not be novelists, but poets, historians, or pamphleteers."

Tom Shippey asks: "What is its relationship to fantasy fiction, is its readership still dominated by male adolescents, is it a taste which will appeal to the mature but non-eccentric literary mind?" [173] He compares George Orwell's Coming Up for Air with Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's The Space Merchants and concludes that the basic building block and distinguishing feature of a science fiction novel is the presence of the novum, a term Darko Suvin adapts from Ernst Bloch and defines as "a discrete piece of information recognizable as not-true, but also as not-unlike-true, not-flatly- (and in the current state of knowledge) impossible." [174]

Orson Scott Card, best known for his 1985 science fiction novel Ender's Game and also an author of non-SF fiction, has postulated that in science fiction the message and intellectual significance of the work is contained within the story itself and, therefore, there need not be stylistic gimmicks or literary games; but that some writers and critics confuse clarity of language with lack of artistic merit. In Card's words: "...a great many writers and critics have based their entire careers on the premise that anything that the general public can understand without mediation is worthless drivel. [...] If everybody came to agree that stories should be told this clearly, the professors of literature would be out of a job, and the writers of obscure, encoded fiction would be, not honored, but pitied for their impenetrability." [175]

Science fiction author and physicist Gregory Benford has declared that: "SF is perhaps the defining genre of the twentieth century, although its conquering armies are still camped outside the Rome of the literary citadels." [176] Jonathan Lethem in an essay published in the Village Voice entitled "Close Encounters: The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction" suggests that the point in 1973 when Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow was nominated for the Nebula Award and was passed over in favor of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama stands as "a hidden tombstone marking the death of the hope that SF was about to merge with the mainstream." [177] Among the responses to Lethem was one from the editor of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction who asked: "When is it [the SF genre] ever going to realize it can't win the game of trying to impress the mainstream?" [178]

David Barnett has remarked: [179] "The ongoing, endless war between "literary" fiction and "genre" fiction has well-defined lines in the sand. Genre's foot soldiers think that literary fiction is a collection of meaningless but prettily drawn pictures of the human condition. The literary guard consider genre fiction to be crass, commercial, whizz-bang potboilers. Or so it goes." He has also pointed out that there are books such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, which use recognizable science fiction tropes, but whose authors and publishers do not market them as science fiction. [180]



Science fiction is being written worldwide by a diverse population of authors. According to 2013 statistics by the science fiction publisher Tor Books, men outnumber women by 78% to 22% among submissions to the publisher. [181] A controversy about voting slates in the 2015 Hugo Awards highlighted tensions in the science fiction community between a trend of increasingly diverse works and authors being honored by awards, and a backlash by groups of authors and fans who preferred what they considered more traditional science fiction. [182]


Among the most respected awards for science fiction are the Hugo Award, presented by the World Science Fiction Society at Worldcon; the Nebula Award, presented by the SFWA and voted on by the community of authors; and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for short fiction. One notable award for science fiction films is the Saturn Award. It is presented annually by The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.

There are national awards, like Canada's Prix Aurora Awards, regional awards, like the Endeavour Award presented at Orycon for works from the Pacific Northwest, special interest or subgenre awards like the Chesley Award for art or the World Fantasy Award for fantasy. Magazines may organize reader polls, notably the Locus Award.

Conventions, clubs, and organizations

Pamela Dean reading at Minicon Sfcon-reading-ddb.jpg
Pamela Dean reading at Minicon

Conventions (in fandom, shortened as "cons"), are held in cities around the world, catering to a local, regional, national, or international membership. General-interest conventions cover all aspects of science fiction, while others focus on a particular interest like media fandom, filking, etc. Most are organized by volunteers in non-profit groups, though most media-oriented events are organized by commercial promoters. The convention's activities are called the program, which may include panel discussions, readings, autograph sessions, costume masquerades, and other events. Activities occur throughout the convention that are not part of the program. These commonly include a dealer's room, art show, and hospitality lounge (or "con suites"). [183]

Conventions may host award ceremonies; Worldcons present the Hugo Awards each year. SF societies, referred to as "clubs" except in formal contexts, form a year-round base of activities for science fiction fans. They may be associated with an ongoing science fiction convention, or have regular club meetings, or both. Most groups meet in libraries, schools and universities, community centers, pubs or restaurants, or the homes of individual members. Long-established groups like the New England Science Fiction Association and the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society have clubhouses for meetings and storage of convention supplies and research materials. [184] The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) was founded by Damon Knight in 1965 as a non-profit organization to serve the community of professional science fiction authors, [185]


Science fiction fandom is the "community of the literature of ideas... the culture in which new ideas emerge and grow before being released into society at large." [2] Members of this community, "fans", are in contact with each other at conventions or clubs, through print or online fanzines, or on the Internet using web sites, mailing lists, and other resources. SF fandom emerged from the letters column in Amazing Stories magazine. Soon fans began writing letters to each other, and then grouping their comments together in informal publications that became known as fanzines. [186] Once they were in regular contact, fans wanted to meet each other, and they organized local clubs. In the 1930s, the first science fiction conventions gathered fans from a wider area. [187]

Fanzines and online fandom

The first science fiction fanzine, The Comet, was published in 1930. [188] Fanzine printing methods have changed over the decades, from the hectograph, the mimeograph, and the ditto machine, to modern photocopying. Distribution volumes rarely justify the cost of commercial printing. Modern fanzines are printed on computer printers or at local copy shops, or they may only be sent as email. The best known fanzine (or "'zine") today is Ansible , edited by David Langford, winner of numerous Hugo awards. Other fanzines to win awards in recent years[ when? ] include File 770 , Mimosa , and Plokta . [189]

Artists working for fanzines have risen to prominence in the field, including Brad W. Foster, Teddy Harvia, and Joe Mayhew; the Hugos include a category for Best Fan Artists. [189] The earliest organized fandom online was the SF Lovers community, originally a mailing list in the late 1970s with a text archive file that was updated regularly. [190] In the 1980s, Usenet groups greatly expanded the circle of fans online. In the 1990s, the development of the World-Wide Web exploded the community of online fandom by orders of magnitude, with thousands and then literally millions of web sites devoted to science fiction and related genres for all media. [184] Most such sites are small, ephemeral, and/or very narrowly focused, though sites like SF Site and SFcrowsnest offer a broad range of references and reviews about science fiction.


A person reads from a futuristic wraparound display screen. Genghis-jones-pod-active mango concept-art 02.png
A person reads from a futuristic wraparound display screen.

Science fiction elements can include:

International examples


See also

Related Research Articles

Feminist science fiction is a subgenre of science fiction focused on theories that include feminist themes including but not limited to gender inequality, sexuality, race, economics, and reproduction. Feminist SF is political because of its tendency to critique the dominant culture. Some of the most notable feminist science fiction works have illustrated these themes using utopias to explore a society in which gender differences or gender power imbalances do not exist, or dystopias to explore worlds in which gender inequalities are intensified, thus asserting a need for feminist work to continue.

Science fiction and fantasy serve as important vehicles for feminist thought, particularly as bridges between theory and practice. No other genres so actively invite representations of the ultimate goals of feminism: worlds free of sexism, worlds in which women's contributions are recognized and valued, worlds that explore the diversity of women's desire and sexuality, and worlds that move beyond gender.

Hard science fiction science fiction with emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy

Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific accuracy. The term was first used in print in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller in a review of John W. Campbell's Islands of Space in the November issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The complementary term soft science fiction, formed by analogy to hard science fiction, first appeared in the late 1970s. The term is formed by analogy to the popular distinction between the "hard" (natural) and "soft" (social) sciences. Science fiction critic Gary Westfahl argues that neither term is part of a rigorous taxonomy; instead they are approximate ways of characterizing stories that reviewers and commentators have found useful.

<i>Galaxy Science Fiction</i> American magazine

Galaxy Science Fiction was an American digest-size science fiction magazine, published from 1950 to 1980. It was founded by a French-Italian company, World Editions, which was looking to break into the American market. World Editions hired as editor H. L. Gold, who rapidly made Galaxy the leading science fiction (sf) magazine of its time, focusing on stories about social issues rather than technology.

<i>The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction</i> reference work

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is an English language reference work on science fiction, first published in 1979. In October 2011, the third edition was made available for free online.

Alexei Panshin is an American writer and science fiction (SF) critic. He has written several critical works and several novels, including the 1968 Nebula Award-winning novel Rite of Passage and the 1990 Hugo Award-winning study of science fiction The World Beyond the Hill.

Skiffy is a deliberate humorous misspelling or mispronunciation of the controversial term "sci-fi", a neologism referring to science fiction.

John Clute Canadian literary critic

John Frederick Clute is a Canadian-born author and critic specializing in science fiction and fantasy literature who has lived in both England and the United States since 1969. He has been described as "an integral part of science fiction's history" and "perhaps the foremost reader-critic of sf in our time, and one of the best the genre has ever known."

LGBT themes in speculative fiction refer to the incorporation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) themes into science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction and related genres. Such elements may include an LGBT character as the protagonist or a major character, or explorations of sexuality or gender that deviate from the hetero-normative.

<i>Unknown</i> (magazine) US pulp fantasy magazine published from 1939 to 1943

Unknown was an American pulp fantasy fiction magazine, published from 1939 to 1943 by Street & Smith, and edited by John W. Campbell. Unknown was a companion to Street & Smith's science fiction pulp, Astounding Science Fiction, which was also edited by Campbell at the time; many authors and illustrators contributed to both magazines. The leading fantasy magazine in the 1930s was Weird Tales, which focused on shock and horror. Campbell wanted to publish a fantasy magazine with more finesse and humor than Weird Tales, and put his plans into action when Eric Frank Russell sent him the manuscript of his novel Sinister Barrier, about aliens who own the human race. Unknown's first issue appeared in March 1939; in addition to Sinister Barrier, it included H. L. Gold's "Trouble With Water", a humorous fantasy about a New Yorker who meets a water gnome. Gold's story was the first of many in Unknown to combine commonplace reality with the fantastic.

Science fiction is an important subgenre of modern Japanese literature that has strongly influenced aspects of contemporary Japanese pop culture, including anime, manga, video games, tokusatsu, and cinema.

Phyllis Eisenstein is an American author of science fiction and fantasy short stories and novels whose work has been nominated for both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award. She is an old friend of author George R. R. Martin and convinced him to include dragons in his international best-selling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin then dedicated the third novel in the series, A Storm of Swords, to Eisenstein.

<i>Imagination</i> (magazine) American fantasy and science fiction magazine

Imagination was an American fantasy and science fiction magazine first published in October 1950 by Raymond Palmer's Clark Publishing Company. The magazine was sold almost immediately to Greenleaf Publishing Company, owned by William Hamling, who published and edited it from the third issue, February 1951, for the rest of the magazine's life. Hamling launched a sister magazine, Imaginative Tales, in 1954; both ceased publication at the end of 1958 in the aftermath of major changes in US magazine distribution due to the liquidation of American News Company.

Everett Franklin Bleiler was an American editor, bibliographer, and scholar of science fiction, detective fiction, and fantasy literature. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he co-edited the first "year's best" series of science fiction anthologies, and his Checklist of Fantastic Literature has been called "the foundation of modern SF bibliography". Among his other scholarly works are two Hugo Award–nominated volumes concerning early science fiction—Science-Fiction: The Early Years and Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years—and the massive Guide to Supernatural Fiction.

Definitions of science fiction Wikimedia list article

There have been many attempts at defining science fiction. This is a list of definitions that have been offered by authors, editors, critics and fans over the years since science fiction became a genre. Definitions of related terms such as "science fantasy", "speculative fiction", and "fabulation" are included where they are intended as definitions of aspects of science fiction or because they illuminate related definitions—see e.g. Robert Scholes's definitions of "fabulation" and "structural fabulation" below. Some definitions of sub-types of science fiction are included, too; for example see David Ketterer's definition of "philosophically-oriented science fiction". In addition, some definitions are included that define, for example, a science fiction story, rather than science fiction itself, since these also illuminate an underlying definition of science fiction.

<i>Space Science Fiction Magazine</i>

Space Science Fiction Magazine was a US science fiction magazine published by Republic Features Syndicate, Inc. as part of a package of radio shows and related genre magazines. Two issues appeared, both in 1957. It published short stories by well-known writers, including Arthur C. Clarke and Jack Vance, but it was not successful, and the magazine ceased publication late in 1957.

Gender has been an important theme explored in speculative fiction. The genres that make up speculative fiction (SF), science fiction, fantasy, supernatural fiction horror, superhero fiction, science fantasy and related genres, have always offered the opportunity for writers to explore social conventions, including gender, gender roles, and beliefs about gender. Like all literary forms, the science fiction genre reflects the popular perceptions of the eras in which individual creators were writing; and those creators' responses to gender stereotypes and gender roles.

Science fiction studies is the common name for the academic discipline that studies and researches the history, culture, and works of science fiction and, more broadly, speculative fiction.

In 1948, 10–15% of science fiction writers were female. Women's role in speculative fiction has grown since then, and in 1999, women comprised 36% of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's professional members. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley has been called the first science fiction novel, although women wrote utopian novels even before that, with Margaret Cavendish publishing the first in the seventeenth century. Early published fantasy was written by and for both genders. However, speculative fiction, with science fiction in particular, has traditionally been viewed as a male-oriented genre.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to science fiction:

<i>Fantasy Book</i> American science fiction magazine

Fantasy Book is a defunct semi-professional American science fiction magazine that published eight issues between 1947 and 1951. The editor was William Crawford, and the publisher was Crawford's Fantasy Publishing Company, Inc. Crawford had problems distributing the magazine, and his budget limited the quality of the paper he could afford and the artwork he was able to buy, but he attracted submissions from some well-known writers, including Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, A. E. van Vogt, Robert Bloch, and L. Ron Hubbard. The best-known story to appear in the magazine was Cordwainer Smith's first sale, "Scanners Live in Vain", which was later included in the first Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology, and is now regarded as one of Smith's finest works. Jack Gaughan, later an award-winning science fiction artist, made his first professional sale to Fantasy Book, for the cover illustrating Smith's story.


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