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Just because something is set in the future, is it Science Fiction?

Science Fiction Fans

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1cdhtenn2k10
Edited: Jun 26, 2011, 3:17pm Top

I read a book set in 2019. It's a military thriller, and the technology and hardware in the story is stuff already in use, or stuff that will soon be in use, or probably is in use and we in the "white" world (non-secret military, you know, the opposite of "black" operations) don't know about it. So in other words, there is nothing unrealistic or any far-flung future stuff. The most exotic piece of tech is stealth technology on a ground vehicle. The book is listed as: "Category: Futuristic, Military, Science Fiction."

So is setting a story in the future enough to make something sci-fi?

2paradoxosalpha
Jun 26, 2011, 4:32pm Top

2019 won't be the future for very long.

3tottman
Jun 26, 2011, 5:08pm Top

Most books set in the future won't be set in the future forever. 1984 for example. Maybe Speculative Fiction is a better term than Science Fiction for some of these books. Tom Clancy's World War III imagining, Red Storm Rising was set in the future and used near-term technology, but I don't know that many people would consider it science fiction either. Maybe the dividing line is whether you are fighting other humans or aliens/mutants:)

4RobertDay
Jun 26, 2011, 5:14pm Top

What you've got there is a "techno-thriller". Most people don't consider techno-thrillers sf, mainly because they only extrapolate the technology by a few years. The changes in the average techno-thriller haven't radically altered society, or everyday life, and so don't really fall under the category of science fiction.

5randalhoctor
Jun 26, 2011, 6:02pm Top

Yeah. I'm with I'd go with #3 "speculative fiction" or #4 "techno-thriller".

Now that you've made me think about it a great deal of SF doesn't deal with far-future science at all. I guess in these cases the criteria for SF classification would include the "alienness" factor (with or without actual aliens) of the fictional world (i.e. 1984).

6Carnophile
Edited: Jun 26, 2011, 7:27pm Top

>3 tottman: I also thought of Clancy when I read the OP.

>1 cdhtenn2k10: I regard these as edge cases. "Technically" they should be SF because they're set in the future and the tech is more advanced (even if only a little) than we know about now. But then, "technically," anyone with dental fillings is a cyborg, but we don't think of them that way.

So is it SF or not? This is the sort of thing that can be fun to BS about over a beer, as long as no one takes it too seriously. When that happens, people get upset, start challenging each other to duels at dawn, etc.

7brightcopy
Jun 26, 2011, 9:45pm Top

#6 by Carnophile> But then, "technically," anyone with dental fillings is a cyborg

I'll do you one better and say anyone wearing clothes...

And if you're not a cyborg right now, I don't want to hear about it.

8Carnophile
Jun 27, 2011, 8:34am Top

I'm naked, but don't worry: I have dental fillings.

9paradoxosalpha
Jun 27, 2011, 8:47am Top

A future setting is neither necessary nor sufficient for science fiction, if you ask me.

Many alien-contact SF stories are set in the loose present. There are alternate-history stories set in the "past." Near-future techno-thrillers don't really qualify, in my opinion.

Ultimately, though, for all that fans and academics may try to make "science fiction" into a critical category with clear boundaries, it is defined in practice by the publishing behavior of science fiction imprints. In general, publishers are more concerned with the appetites than the intellectual judgments of the market that they are trying to to define through such an imprint.

10pgmcc
Jun 27, 2011, 9:20am Top

I don't get too upset or worried about classifications. As paradoxosalpha says, it is defined in practice by the publishing behavior of science fiction imprints. I tend to pick my reading material on a book by book basis, rather than by publishing category.

Either someone will enjoy a book or they will not. One of the worrying things about all this classification of books is the impact it has on people's reading. Many people will miss out on good books because they don't read, "that sort of thing".

In the early days of science fiction (H.G. Wells/Jules Verne) the stories were called Scientific Romances, where the word "romance" was probably used more in its original sense, i.e. "something different", than in its current generally accepted meaning.

I find the plethora of genres, sub-genres, sub-sub-genres,etc... tedious, and divisive. While useful as a tool for bookshops and libraries to stack their books, and as a structure for people to find books similar to others they have enjoyed, the walls created between genres can be barriers to readers discovering wonderful experiences in other areas and, at worst, create elitism, snipping, ghettoisation, inverse snobbery, etc...

The electronic listing of books can help us get away from worries of categorisation. I find LT very good in this regard as I can see books that other LTers have the I may be interested in. The new, "What should I borrow" feature is particularly useful in this regard.

11Lynxear
Edited: Jun 27, 2011, 4:30pm Top

I agree that a book simply set in the future is not necessarily Science Fiction. The Road by Cormac McCarthy is such a non-science fiction novel set some time in the future. This is an excellent story of survival of a man with his young son set in some kind of nuclear winter of unknown origin.

I think that to define something as science fiction, there should be some aspect of science involved in the story other than the setting.

It also depends on the era the story was written. Back in the 1950's-60's the prospect of an atomic war was an unknown and scary due to the cold war climate of the times and many books were written on the subject such as Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, Triumph by Philip Wylie, The Last Canadian by William C. Heine (a plague story) and the more controversial Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein. By today's standards these books seem rather tame but interesting reads from the standpoint of reading the thoughts of how writers thought the event would happen and play out. In most cases the same stories could not be successful today since the scenarios they write about are simplistic today...but back when they were written....they seemed real and futuristic.

That might be the problem with "hard" science fiction today. I have found very few novels today that capture my imagination the way that those novels of the past did when I read them as a youth. Fantasy seems to have replaced science fiction in many cases.

However there is hope :) Recently I have been directed to British Sci-fi authors, Peter F Hamilton, Iain Banks, Alastair Reynolds and Richard K Morgan so maybe my imagination will be fired again.

12brightcopy
Jun 27, 2011, 12:05pm Top

#9 by paradoxosalpha> Ultimately, though, for all that fans and academics may try to make "science fiction" into a critical category with clear boundaries

I don't actually find that to be the case. Maybe you run with different fans (or academics) than I do. Never really got into a heated argument over whether Slaughterhouse-Five should be shelved in SF/Fantasy or not. It's a complete fuzzy boundary, with some you can easily say "this really feels like scifi" and others where you can't. It's kind of like "horror." There are books which are definitely "horror" books, but then there are plenty that if you squint could go either way. Or even "cooking", for that matter. Should most of Anthony Bourdain's books go in "cooking", "travel" or even "biography"? And I'm sure I could type up another paragraph just on the "mystery" section.

So no, I don't really run into people ever claiming there are clear boundaries for scifi or plenty of other books. I think you could make the genre argument about plenty of other sections in a bookstore, and you'd be both right and wrong. I think genres are both a marketing tool and an outcome of people lumping like with like.

13pgmcc
Jun 27, 2011, 12:07pm Top

#11 Lynxear; You might also try Ken MacLeod's work.

I haven't read any Richard K Morgan, but I have enjoyed the novels I've read by the others you list. (Only on Hamilton and one Reynolds, so far, but am keen to read more of their work. I've read everything Banks has written, even his whisky shopping list.)

14paradoxosalpha
Jun 27, 2011, 12:48pm Top

> 12

I suppose I should have said "some fans and academics"; I didn't mean to indicate that the tendency was pervasive. But there are certainly instances, and if you've never encountered them, just color me surprised. The existence of border cases doesn't keep people from trying to draw boundaries--nor should it.

15ABVR
Jun 28, 2011, 12:26am Top

Just to loop back to the original question, I'd say that the (highly idiosyncratic) boundary between "military science fiction" and "techno-thriller" is a beautiful example of how boundaries between (sub-)genres are a matter of marketing convenience and convention more than of hard-and-fast definition.

Craig Thomas, Ralph Peters, and Dale Brown aren't considered SF writers . . . yet the thought-controlled airplane in Thomas' Firefox, the directed-energy weapon in Peters' War in 2020, and (for example) the powered body armor introduced in Brown's Tin Man would -- if David Drake or David Weber was writing about them -- be classed as SF concepts without a second thought. Heck, the armor in Tin Man is, essentially, the first step on the technological road to the suits that the Mobile Infantry wears in Starship Troopers.

John Birmingham's "Axis of Time" trilogy, starting with Weapons of Choice, deliberately and enthusiastically blurs the boundary . . . tossing a 21C naval task force through a wormhole into the midst of World War II . . . and it's great fun for exactly that reason, if you like this kind of stuff.

16randalhoctor
Jun 28, 2011, 2:59am Top

#12: Yeah. Slaughterhouse-Five is usually listed as SF, although I'd be hard pressed to tell you why. Perhaps only because Kurt Vonnegut's stuff is generally. Slaughterhouse-Five isn't fantasy either, its just an exceptionally well crafted piece of fiction written by a witty/wacky SF writer.

17andyl
Jun 28, 2011, 5:01am Top

#16

Well it does have the whole kidnapped by aliens and then exhibited in a zoo bit in it.

Also it is not just a fractured in time narrative, Billy Pilgrim quite clearly becomes cognisant of the true nature of time - he knows about his own death - and a time traveller.

Sounds like SF to me.

18randalhoctor
Jun 28, 2011, 8:06am Top

#17 You know what you're absolutely right about the time factor bit. But, I don't remember anything about aliens and a zoo.

19DavidGaughran
Jun 28, 2011, 8:38am Top

I would classify Slaughterhouse 5 as science fiction without thinking twice.

20Carnophile
Edited: Jun 28, 2011, 10:06am Top

Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is in the SF section at my local Barnes and Noble, for some reason. Presumably because it's Neal Stephenson. There is only one mysterious revivification in the entire 3,000-page opus, and though it's unexplained, it's more like magic than science.

21brightcopy
Jun 28, 2011, 10:56am Top

#19 by DavidGaughran>

I would classify Slaughterhouse 5 as science fiction without thinking twice.

#16 by randalhoctor> Yeah. Slaughterhouse-Five is usually listed as SF

Usually listed where? I find it usually shelved in bookstores (along with all of Vonnegut's work) in fiction. If you're talking about people tagging it, I'd definitely agree that sf is a common tag for it. As far as the shelving goes, I imagine that had a lot to do with Vonnegut himself insisting he was not an SF writer.

Probably a lot of this has changed since when he wrote that essay. I don't doubt dividing things into sf and non-sf was more common in those days, but as has been pointed out before there is so much blending now. Part of it is probably because sf was closer to it's "youth" in those days and was still very much a niche thing. These days, sf is much more mainstream. Sure, there is still a core sf that the mainstream stays out of (grab 10 people off the street and ask how many have read a book by Baxter, Barnes, Bear, Banks or Benford), but they wind up reading stuff like Brown or Clancy which blurs the lines. I think a lot of it has to do with that we're living in "the future" already in comparison to a lot of the founding of sf. And then you have the spiritual brother (with both the good and bad aspects that most sibling relationships have) of sf - fantasy. Fantasy (and especially paranormal fantasy) has seen a huge mainstreaming. Yes, it's a different kettle of fish than sf, but I think its popularity has broken down a lot of barriers between acceptance of genre fiction.

So just coming back to the main point, I think the difference I have is that I don't consider "sfness" a binary thing. I consider it a spectrum or aspect, much like humor. So to me, trying to classify Vonnegut as sf or fiction is like trying to classify him as humor or non-humor. Yes, there are books that are straight-up humor books and they often shelve them in a "Humor" section. But there are books that have humor in them along with everything else to a greater or lesser degree.

22justjim
Jun 28, 2011, 11:04am Top

I love it when I find Dianetics in second-hand bookshops on the 'Science Fiction' shelves.

23brightcopy
Jun 28, 2011, 11:18am Top

I love it when I find the religion section adjacent to the mythology section.

24andyl
Jun 28, 2011, 11:39am Top

#21

At the time it was considered as SF.

According to wikipedia - the 31 March 1969 review in The New York Times newspaper that glowingly concedes: "you'll either love it, or push it back in the science-fiction corner."

It was also nominated for Hugo and Nebula.

25brightcopy
Jun 28, 2011, 11:45am Top

#24 by andyl> Hence my statement "Probably a lot of this has changed since when he wrote that essay." And pretty much the entire paragraph following it. ;)

26RobertDay
Jun 28, 2011, 11:58am Top

A lot also depends on how the publisher decides to package it. Panther/Granada in the Uk definitely published it as SF using their SF cover and binding productiion values back in the 1970s and 1980s; the current UK paperback (Vintage Classics) doesn't do that.

27brightcopy
Jun 28, 2011, 12:56pm Top

#26 by RobertDay> True, though I'm thinking of used bookstores just as much as new ones. All the local ones I frequent (including the Half-Price books chain) put every Vonnegut in fiction/literature. Doesn't matter if it was published in the 60s or yesterday.

28Carnophile
Edited: Jun 28, 2011, 1:02pm Top

One of the ways the self-appointed haute literary establishment protected(*) their emotional boundaries was by saying that science fiction wasn't good by definition. Literally by definition, so if something was good, it then could not be classified as science fiction. Thus we see 1984 and Brave New World, generally conceded to be good, shelved in the Literature section, not the Science Fiction section.

Anyway, you know they've got no case for their "SF can't be serious stuff!" meme when their entire case is based on language games.

(*) I'm using the past tense because the defensiveness of the Priests of Literatoor has tended to die down as time goes on, but it's still there.

29BruceCoulson
Jun 28, 2011, 1:55pm Top

My personal opinion is that if a book does not include advanced technology (as opposed to technology that's being developed at this time) and the impact such technology would have on society...then it's not SF. So, most techno-thrillers aren't SF, because the technology doesn't change society.

Even with that loose definition, there are problems. War:1974 was a techno-thriller for the time, but since some of the technology proved to be unworkable, does it now qualify as old SF? I'm not sure.

Most literature falls into "I don't know how to describe it, but I know it when I read it!"

30MonkeyRobo
Jun 28, 2011, 2:43pm Top

Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Insufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from stuff you'd find in a thriller.

31Carnophile
Jun 28, 2011, 2:50pm Top

Insufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Microsoft software.

32brightcopy
Jun 28, 2011, 2:53pm Top

#29 by BruceCoulson> I think this is yet another reason to consider "sf" an attribute that falls along a spectrum (much like humor, satire, mystery) rather than a binary is/isn't.

33DugsBooks
Jun 28, 2011, 3:12pm Top

On the Vonnegut topic, Is it possible that at the time "regular" fiction paid more than "science fiction"? Are there typical tiered pay scales from publishers that vary from genre to genre? The guy's books were originally published in paperback I have read somewhere, so maybe he was trying to jump up a few rungs on the monetary ladder?

34DavidGaughran
Jun 28, 2011, 4:58pm Top

#21 by brightcopy>

I did mean in a labeling sense rather than a shelving sense.

There are many physical shelves where you could place Slaughterhouse 5 - science fiction, literary, humor.

That's one advantage online bookstores have, they don't have to choose one over the other. I was reading about an author who wrote chick lit, and every book store put her in the "African American" section instead of "Romance" just because of who was on the cover.

Naturally, this adversely affected her sales.

Returning to the main point, I think a lot of people consider science-fiction a broad church. Some labels are, by their very nature, a little more exclusionary.

People may have heated arguments about whether something is "literary" or not (and about the label itself), but I don't think that happens as much with science-fiction.

Maybe we are just a more accepting bunch :)

As for my favorite shelving quirk, that's got to be lumping Philosophy in with all the New Age stuff.

35randalhoctor
Jun 28, 2011, 6:16pm Top

Insufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Microsoft software.

#31 Beautiful.

36randalhoctor
Jun 28, 2011, 6:19pm Top

As for my favorite shelving quirk, that's got to be lumping Philosophy in with all the New Age stuff.

34 DavidGaughran: That's got to be a crime against humanity.

37spoiledfornothing
Jun 28, 2011, 9:40pm Top

30MonkeyRobo - that statement just cracked me up. LOL

And I have to say, if something is set in the future, than for me, it is science fiction, regardless of tech or society changes. But a story set only 8 years in the future, well, 8 years isn't a lot you know? The world isn't hugely different. But it is still the future.

38lippylibrarian
Jun 29, 2011, 12:50am Top

Books that are written in the future but do not have most other traditional elements of science fiction - I've heard these called "Future Fiction." Personally, I like the sounds of this- it beats trying to shove a book into the science fiction genre that really doesn't fit .

39Lynxear
Edited: Jun 29, 2011, 12:14pm Top

37 spoiledfornothing

I agree that most stories set in the future qualify as science fiction but it depends on how far in the future they are set RELATIVE to the time of writing. I am just reading a book of short stories by Asimov - Earth is Room Enough this book has a collection of short stories mostly written in the mid 1950's and many of the stories were set 50-60 years into the future which is around 2010. I find this fascinating to read in many instances as his predictions were not that far off when you look at life today.

I like 50 years from the date of writing as a cutoff. Technology changes significantly over this time...also social norms change significantly during this period as well.

40LLanthor
Jun 29, 2011, 3:13pm Top

I took a science fiction course in college awhile back and the definition we used has always seemed to work for me. We defined science fiction as :

Fiction in which scientific developments and discoveries form an element of plot or background; especially a work of fiction based on a prediction of future scientific possibilities.

I think the big thing from this definition is that the science must be a part of the plot or background. In most techno-thrillers or military thrillers, the technology isn't really an integral part of the plot or background, it may be futuristic, but it doesn't play a part of the story, it is just a means to move the story along.

If you look at "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," it's not the martian colonies which make the novel science fiction, its the Androids...without them, there is no plot, no meaning to the story. Same thing with Ender's game, its not even the spaceships traveling between planets or the Buggers which make it science fiction (you could replace them with horses and Indians and have just as good a story), but the ansible which truly makes it science fiction - the ability to communicate instantly which is the scientific element which moves it into science fiction - even if we did go with the horses and Indians.

So this is what we should do and look at in order to determine whether the book should be science fiction or not, ask the question is the science integral to the plot or background or could we change it out with something we have to day, and also ask if it is plausible, otherwise we are back to treating the "science" as magic and moved into the realm of fantasy.

41tottman
Jun 29, 2011, 3:32pm Top

What exactly is the penalty for mis-classifying something as science fiction? I tend to put labels on things too, but really, how important is it? It's nice in a physical bookstore to go to the science fiction or mystery section or whatever genre you are looking for and have the books grouped together, but I don't get too worked up if a book is in the wrong section.

As long as the book jacket/description is clear so you know what you are getting, that's all I really care about. I get pulled in by a cover or an author I recognize, then I read the book description and decide whether or not I'm going to pick it up.

Reasonable people can argue over whether The Road is science fiction or dystopian fiction, or fine literature, or a muddled mess. All I care about is that the description intrigued me enough to buy it and it become one of the favorite books I've read. That's enough classification for me.

42brightcopy
Jun 29, 2011, 3:34pm Top

#40 by LLanthor> Sorry, but small bone to pick:

but the ansible which truly makes it science fiction - the ability to communicate instantly which is the scientific element which moves it into science fiction - even if we did go with the horses and Indians.

Couldn't you then just make the ansible the telegraph? I think that's the horses and Indains equivalent.

43spoiledfornothing
Jun 29, 2011, 4:01pm Top

39Lynxear: that would be interesting to read! and yeah you might be right. Have to consider where I would put the cut-off number.

40LLanthor: that leaves out a lot of space opera.

44goblinbox
Jun 29, 2011, 4:26pm Top

Speculative fiction is, IMO, the correct classification. Science fiction needs to have, well, fictional science in it.

45Lynxear
Jun 29, 2011, 5:32pm Top

40 44

I don't necessary agree that the focus of the story need be only science although I would like to certainly see it. I think that science can play a minor role where the author is using social themes in the future as the major thrust of his writing. Having said that, I am not a big fan of religious sci-fi.

46brightcopy
Jun 29, 2011, 5:39pm Top

I think science fiction is often like film noir. It's more of a style than it is any particular thing.

47pgmcc
Jun 30, 2011, 5:21am Top

#45 Lynxear I think that science can play a minor role where the author is using social themes in the future as the major thrust of his writing.

Of course, the author could be using political science or social science in their plot.

48randalhoctor
Jun 30, 2011, 7:55am Top

47 pgmcc: I've always thought that some of the best SF uses the venue to address our society's psychological societal and political problems. For example; freaky spider looking aliens may be better "people" than most of us "humans". So don't judge a book by its cover - kind of thing.

**Hmm. The html type markup syntax is off. Only the word "best" is to be in bold. Who do I report this kind of problem to?

49Morphidae
Edited: Jun 30, 2011, 7:58am Top

You didn't close the HTML tag.

Make sure there is a / in front of the b.

50randalhoctor
Jun 30, 2011, 8:42am Top

49: oops. I put the / after the b. Thanx.

Will bold the word bold. Cool.

51pgmcc
Jun 30, 2011, 11:21am Top

#48 randalhoctor:
I find the Science Fiction (and I'm not pre-judging the definition...) books I enjoy most are the ones that deal with social issues. An example would be Ken MacLeod's Night Sessions which, while on the surface is a robot/human interface story, is really about social and sectarian prejudice.

When speaking to people who won't read that sort of thing I often describe my favourite Science Fiction books as social experiments in a controlled laboratory environment where the experimenter, i.e. the author, can set various parameters as constant and explore the effect of varying a specific factor. I think this perfectly matches your comment, " uses the venue to address our society's psychological societal and political problems.

I've been noting over the months that your comments on books we have both read tend to agree with my own views.

Peter

52randalhoctor
Jun 30, 2011, 7:43pm Top

#51 Peter
I think SF provides a detachment from our real world present that allows a medium where these issues can be explored objectively. Readers of SF are often idealistic and desire a better world.

Yeah. I've noticed we're pretty much sympatico about what is a good read and why.

53spoiledfornothing
Sep 2, 2011, 9:46pm Top

So I am reading Dune and I'm a having a little difficulty with the idea of prophecy in science fiction. You usually see in fantasy, but not science fiction. It's just so odd.

54justjim
Sep 2, 2011, 10:53pm Top

Odd? Dune? Yes, yes it is.

55randalhoctor
Sep 2, 2011, 11:16pm Top

Seems to me that there is quite a lot of spirituality in some SF novels. At present I'm at a loss to name one but I'm sure of it.

56pgmcc
Sep 3, 2011, 4:50am Top

#55 Dan Simmons's Hyperion novels for one, or two, or however you think of them, or it...

57Amtep
Sep 3, 2011, 5:32am Top

prophecy ties into time travel, which is very SF :)

58pgmcc
Sep 3, 2011, 5:41am Top

#57
But if one has time travel one simply travels to tomorrow, gets the winners of all the races from the newspaper, return to today, put on your bets, and win the money.

That way the only purpose prophecy serves is to cover up the fact that you've got the secret of time travel. Oh! Oh! OMG! I see what you're saying; all those prophets had time travel. So fantasy is really science fiction dressed up in funny clothes.

59randalhoctor
Sep 3, 2011, 12:50pm Top

#58
Perhaps prophecy is just the ability to see an extended segment of the space-time continuum (or space-time snicker's bar as I like to call it). Stepping outside and seeing the whole. For the most part prophets are just dudes who know the right thing to say to interest people, that, and they need a job.

60pgmcc
Sep 3, 2011, 1:01pm Top

Or possibly we have the evidence of Time Lords appearing throughout our history.

61randalhoctor
Sep 3, 2011, 1:41pm Top

That too :-)

62brightcopy
Sep 3, 2011, 2:08pm Top

Or, maybe in a branching multiverse, you see a variety of possible futures and an indication of which branch you might follow.

63justjim
Sep 3, 2011, 9:39pm Top

And, wouldn't you know it, I visited the one in which all the winning horses, in this universe, ran last!

64randalhoctor
Sep 4, 2011, 2:07am Top

I visited the one in which raccoons developed sentience and kicked our ass.

65pgmcc
Sep 4, 2011, 5:57am Top

#64 Hey, you're onto something there; a movie idea; something that's never been done:

Planet of the Raccoons
Return to planet of the Raccoons
Rise of planet of the Raccoons
Beneath the planet of the Raccoons
Escape from planet of the Raccoons
Conquest of the planet of the Raccoons
Battle for the plaent of the Raccoons

You could be a very wealthy person.

66iansales
Sep 4, 2011, 6:10am Top

There's a sentient raccoon in the new Guardians of the Galaxy series from Marvel.

67pgmcc
Sep 4, 2011, 6:29am Top

Damn Synchronicity!

Another great idea bites the dust.

68randalhoctor
Sep 4, 2011, 8:18am Top

lol :-)

Well other likely candidates are:
dogs
cats
dolphins
or my other favorite
bears

The Bear Revolution

But raccoons already have the opposable thumb thing going for them.

69LucasTrask
Sep 4, 2011, 11:24am Top

Lester del Rey wrote "The Faithful" which has sentient dogs and apes.

70A.G.Claymore
Edited: Sep 21, 2011, 2:13pm Top

The problem with classification is that we have to pigeonhole stories into rigid frameworks. It limits what we read and leads us to miss good stories that are just outside of our comfort zone. Maybe we need some kind of two dimensional circular graph with the various genres spread around the perimeter. Not sure what we could put in the centre, though – maybe that’s where we put the erotica?

That way a set of 2D coordinates would put the book somewhere on a scale. eg: 23/15 would be a thriller with SF elements. 20/12 would be a slightly sexier thriller with SF elements… We could have a graph with the novel's position plotted on it, shown on each book’s sale page.

34 DavidGaughran: That's got to be a crime against humanity –

Whoever produced Bucky Larsen should be shipped off to the Hague.

71brightcopy
Sep 8, 2011, 11:24am Top

Of course, the upside for me is that it separates off a vast bulk of books I'm really not interested in reading. Seriously, I have no interest at all in reading The Memory Keeper's Daughter or The Kite Runner or Water for Elephants. Are there some non-sf books that I'd enjoy? Sure! Just look at my library and you'll see. But it's a matter of probability. If you hand me any random sf book and any random fiction book off the shelves at a local bookstore or library, there's an order of magnitude higher that I'm going to be interested in reading the sf one. Those are just the type of stories that tickle my fancy.

So, not necessarily disagreeing with you on the downsides, just pointing out there is an upside, too!

72pgmcc
Sep 8, 2011, 11:25am Top

#70 A.G.Claymore
That way a set of 2D coordinates would put the book somewhere on a scale. eg: 23/15 would be a thriller with SF elements.

This would be a step in the right direction, but given the multitude of different genres, sub-genres, themes, paradigms, and the fact that we are in a Science Fiction discussion thread, I think we should be using n-Dimensional coordinates to more fully cover the known book universe and accommodate all the unknown book universes yet to come, or existing in a parallel existence(s).

:-)

73A.G.Claymore
Sep 8, 2011, 11:42am Top

Good point pgmcc. We are going to need a lot of extra dimensions to make this work. The vampire romance sub genres alone would take months to map out.

74brightcopy
Sep 8, 2011, 11:49am Top

One time I tried to map out the Cthulu mythos, but then I tried to map out the Cthulu mythos.

75pgmcc
Sep 8, 2011, 12:12pm Top

Joking aside, many of the books I read not only deal with ideas of advanced technology, but also with prejudice, isolation, trauma, relationships, geo-political/social/economic issues, etc... As A.G.Claymore states in #70, a rigid classification of books can mean that many people will not read really great books that they could actually find really rewarding.

On the high level, the literary snobs (for want of a more derogatory term :-) ) will never read anything even slightly considered to be Science Fiction. They will never accept, or realise, that the Science Fiction setting in a book may simply be a device to enable the exploration of an emotion, a political philosophy, an economic system, or whatever.

Of course, I have to admit that brightcopy is correct that some categorisations can save the reader from a fate worse than death.

The categorisations serve different people in different ways, and obstruct others in their search for the perfect read.

However, the biggest benefit of categorisation of books is the endless conversations we bibliophiles can enjoy while expounding on the benefits and evils of book categorisation.

76AlanPoulter
Sep 8, 2011, 4:40pm Top

77RobertDay
Sep 9, 2011, 6:28am Top

>72 pgmcc:: of course, if we then use the principles of the n-Dimensional coordinates to actually organise our collections, then we'll cure many of the storage and space problems many of us grapple with in finding room for more books!

Ook.

78pgmcc
Edited: Sep 9, 2011, 6:54am Top

#77
I'm trying to remember the novel in which the main protagonist's home had rooms on different planets and they were all linked by wormholes. One room was on a platform on a tropical ocean, etc... (Could it have been Hyperion?)

That could help the book space problem and be in keeping with our multi-dimensional coding system.

79PaulFoley
Edited: Sep 9, 2011, 7:08am Top

I think we should be using n-Dimensional coordinates to more fully cover the known book universe

Where n→∞ (or at least <number of books published>)

80whiten06
Sep 9, 2011, 10:56am Top

#78

Yes, that was Hyperion, although I forget which character's home it was.

81pgmcc
Sep 9, 2011, 11:50am Top

#80 Thank you for confirming the book. I can't remember the character's name either.

I loved the book and found The Fall of Hyperion an excellent follow-on, if not second part.

82whiten06
Sep 9, 2011, 2:02pm Top

#81

No problem. I love them too, they are definitely in my personal top 5.

83pgmcc
Sep 9, 2011, 2:06pm Top

#82

Hear! Hear! I consider them a single book in two volumes.

84AsYouKnow_Bob
Sep 10, 2011, 11:03am Top

Carnophile, 'way back upstream at #28:
One of the ways the self-appointed haute literary establishment protected(*) their emotional boundaries was by saying that science fiction wasn't good by definition. Literally by definition, so if something was good, it then could not be classified as science fiction. Thus we see 1984 and Brave New World, generally conceded to be good, shelved in the Literature section, not the Science Fiction section.

"S.F.'S NO GOOD!!"
They bellow till we're deaf.
"But this looks good."
"WELL THEN IT'S NOT S.F.!!"

- Kingsley Amis

85justifiedsinner
Sep 10, 2011, 11:28am Top

Ah yes, if only Margaret Atwood would drink more like dear old Kingsley maybe she wouldn't have the stick up her arse about little green men.

86RobertDay
Sep 11, 2011, 11:03am Top

Of course, you mean 'talking squids in outer space'.

I comfort myself with the liklihood that somewhere in this great cosmos, there's probably two squid on a review programme right now denouncing some work of art with the words "Talking monkeys on other worlds? Ridiculous!"

87randalhoctor
Sep 11, 2011, 1:08pm Top

#86 RobertDay: I assume you're referring to that "Manifold" book. More likely squids than insects I'd say.

88PCFrank
Sep 30, 2011, 1:22pm Top

Yes, indeed, I agree. Give me a good read, with rich characters I can like or hate, stimulating dialogue, and a setting that's out of the norm, and I'm a happy camper. And hopefully, deliver a plot that engages me!

"Genre" seems more a marketing or publishing term than a definition that shapes my every day reading, which is very eclectic.

On The Beach is a far cry from Brave New World, but I revere both books despite where they might fit within the narrow confines of a specific "genre."

89keturion
Jan 27, 2012, 9:10am Top

For me, science fiction is based on some kind of suspension of reality centered on an idea. This, as opposed to fantasy, which is usually centered on a conflict of judgement (good vs evil). In a science fiction story, there is the added notion that the technology and events taking place might actually someday be possible, whereas fantasy includes powers and events which most people agree would never be possible, no matter how much we advance as a species.

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