The Three SFs ...

TalkScience Fiction Fans

Join LibraryThing to post.

The Three SFs ...

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Feb 16, 2013, 7:45 pm

While I find considerations of genre sometimes restrictive, I'm still interested in folks' feelings and ideas...

This forum may have already covered the topic I want to propose and, if so, would someone direct me to those discussions?

If my topic hasn't been discussed or needs a fresh go-round, please consider:

What are the similarities and differences of the Three SFs---Science Fiction, Science Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction?

Feb 16, 2013, 8:02 pm

Here's a conversation from a few years ago:

Feb 16, 2013, 8:29 pm

Cool, Bob---think it's worth discussing again??

Feb 16, 2013, 8:59 pm

Speculative Fiction is the umbrella term. It includes all kind of fiction which relies on the acceptance by the reader of a "what if" narrative premise that is speculative in nature, ranging from some advance in sciences that may very well be just around the corner but isn't true just now and the exploration of the consequences thereof in our present-day society, to wholesale secondary worlds in which magic, non-human sentient beings, etc... are a reality.

In Science-Fiction, the speculative narrative gimmick and the exploration of its implications may or may not take center place in the tale, and may or may not be very detailed, but it's usually expected to be somewhat believable by the yardstick of scientific research, current or projected, with no reliance on overtly magical or supernatural elements*.

"Science" Fantasy (I prefer "futuristic fantasy" or "sword & planet") employs the codes of fantasy storytelling, but in a setting that happens to be situated in the future vs our present. Often regarded as some sort of red-headed step-child by (esp. hard-)SciFi lovers who pride themselves on the "realistic" bend of their preferred literary sub-genre.

* But as someone famously said, there's a threshold which varies from reader to reader beyond which advanced science might as well be magic and where one is simply more or less consciously agreeing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good yarn...
I know mine is fairly low and I'm more interested in the "Ok, you have FTL travel / Cryonics that work / Magic / whatever (as long as it flows nicely on the page). So what, now ?" aspect than lengthy developments as to how X would be possible according to the current state of the sciences.

Feb 16, 2013, 9:17 pm

#4 > I can pretty much hang with that :-) -- mostly...

Feb 16, 2013, 9:40 pm

Yeah, I use "speculative fiction" as the umbrella term to include both "science fiction" and "fantasy", which I view as quite distinct genres, ones with entirely distinct world-views.

("Science fantasy" certainly exists, it's (...obviously...) the stuff at the border of SF and F.)

Feb 16, 2013, 10:34 pm

>6 AsYouKnow_Bob: While the genre certainly exists, and is often labelled as such, it is usually characterized by the introduction of prominent magical or quasi-magical elements (psi powers...) in the futuristic setting, so the "Science" in "Science-Fantasy" is sort of a misnomer that tends to have some people foaming at the mouth.

Feb 16, 2013, 11:53 pm


C. J. Cherryh has a few books that sort of "hover" between Science Fiction & Fantasy---how would you categorize them?

Feb 17, 2013, 12:30 am would you categorize them?

Not being snarky here, but really, I'd just call them (...and I assume you mean stuff like Faded Sun?) "SF"....

Using the umbrella "speculative fiction" avoids the problem of getting bogged down in taxonomy.

Feb 17, 2013, 12:32 am

yes, Bob...

Feb 17, 2013, 3:34 am

Speculative fiction was coined by Robert Heinlein as a posh alternative to science fiction, but it's generally used as a catch-all term these days. I dislike it, since all fiction is essentially speculative. There is no such genre at science fantasy. It was invented by people who refused to admit that particular works were science fiction. Science fiction has not been about the plausibility of its tropes since Gernsback lost control of Amazing Stories, and much proto-sf certainly wasn't - cf Well's The Time Machine. There is fantasy and there is science fiction, and there are works which blur the lines between the two.

Edited: Feb 17, 2013, 4:03 am

Speculative fiction was coined by Robert Heinlein...

Heinlein? Really? Could be; but I'm thinking that I picked the term up in the '60s, from Judith Merril and/or some other 'New Wave' writer. (Disch? Delany?)

I dislike it, since all fiction is essentially speculative.

Yep: and the case is sometimes made that 'realistic' fiction is a small subset of SF, as the set "Speculative Fiction" contains all possible times and places - which by definition includes stories set in the here-and-now.

There is no such genre at science fantasy.

There is if enough people say there is. I don't use the term much myself, but it's useful for pointing at stuff like the Darkover books, which really DO blur the SF-F boundary.

Edited to add: there we go: Merril's anthology England Swings SF (1968) is subtitled "Stories of Speculative Fiction". That's probably where I picked up the term.

Feb 17, 2013, 4:18 am

In its English language usage in arts and literature since 20th century, "speculative fiction" as a genre term is often attributed to Robert A. Heinlein. In his first known use of the term, in editorial material at the front of the 2/8/1947 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Heinlein used it specifically as a synonym for "science fiction"; in a later piece, he explicitly stated that his use of the term did not include fantasy.

From here:

Feb 17, 2013, 7:25 am

I agree with Ian on the point that the terms "speculative fiction" and "science fantasy" are useless. There will always be "cross over" books that encompass elements from more than one genre. But I think that it is more helpful if books are categorized by the most narrow descriptive label possible, and then if it crosses over into another category, then say that rather than lump it under some broad umbrella category.

For example, would it not be more helpful to the prospective reader to say that a work of fantasy is a fantasy/romance novel rather than "speculative fiction?" If you dislike romance novels in general, then it probably would be much more helpful to know that.

Edited: Feb 17, 2013, 10:50 am

#14 > Thanks for bringing up the Dear Reader...

Being a D.R. as well as an author, I see genre as both a natural response by normal humans to categorize as well as a creation by publishers to "target market".

I think genre can serve readers tastes (as long as authors and publishers don't "misrepresent") but, as authors give full reign to their creativity, the genre lines can sometimes be blurred or completely broken...

Yet, being basically a maverick, I still see a use for genre and would venture that works like the Morgaine Saga by Cherryh could be called Science Fantasy...

Edited: Feb 17, 2013, 12:52 pm

Authors and publishers who fear that the SF term will hurt sales and bring about the dreaded "genre" label want a classifier that will permit them to deny these lethal designations. I remember not being taken in by the attempted sleight-of-hand when seeing Vonnegut's protests in the 1960s. And then noting that bookstores were on board, separating out books like his, which they wanted to sell as mainstream, from the SF section.

Feb 17, 2013, 1:03 pm

Very Interesting, stellarexplorer...

Feb 17, 2013, 6:14 pm

re: iansales at #13 -

OK, thanks for the cite. But note that - according to the very passage you cite - RAH was using the label "speculative fiction" a slightly different manner (EXCLUDING fantasy) than the definition I learned.

Feb 17, 2013, 9:39 pm

Kind of an aside to the discussion, but my memory of the book Timescape by Gregory Benford was that whichever publisher was handling his books at the time decided to give their sci-fi line a "Timescape" symbol to show that it was sci-fi and good sci-fi at that (although I wasn't impressed by the book, and thought it only so-so.)

The irony is that they didn't include Timescape in that line, but rather marketed it with their mainstream authors trying to get a bigger audience.

Back to the discussion above, I use science fantasy to describe books which are only nominally science based, but I could take out the science and insert magic or psyonics or something like that without changing the plot in the least. In my mind, it's a book that's really a fantasy, but they used science (and often bad science) to describe the weird stuff instead of magic, The Passage by Justin Cronin being a recent example that I didn't like at all.

For something like Bradley's Darkover series, if I didn't call it sci-fi, I would probably go with sword and planet as a designation.

Feb 17, 2013, 11:39 pm

#11 by iansales> There is no such genre at science fantasy. It was invented by people who refused to admit that particular works were science fiction.

And denied by folks to refuse to admit that particular works are fantasy. If I took Dark Sun Rising and rewrote about 2% of it, it'd be a straight-up fantasy novel. If there wasn't a useful label for that, you'd never have heard of the term "science fantasy." And yet, there it is.

Now, it may not be a "genre" in the same way science fiction or fantasy are, but mainly because there aren't a lot of tropes for science fantasy. The main trope, if you call it that, is just finding some sciencey explanation for why these orcs aren't really orcs (Aha! They're mutated survivors of a long ago nuclear war that destroyed civilization and brought everything back the the level of swords and horses.) Other than that, they vary too much from book to book. And they're not nearly as large a category as even sub-genres like space opera, post apocalyptic, cyperpunk or steampunk.

Of course, considering there are people who will argue that "science fiction" doesn't exist, I guess arguing about the existence of "science fantasy" is progress.

Feb 18, 2013, 12:13 am

And pjfarm at #19 is using the term "sci-fi" - which some would argue is yet another genre....

Feb 18, 2013, 2:19 am

But note that - according to the very passage you cite - RAH was using the label "speculative fiction" a slightly different manner (EXCLUDING fantasy) than the definition I learned.

Er, which is what I said. He coined it as a posh alternative to science fiction, but nowadays it's used as a catch-all term.

Feb 18, 2013, 2:22 am

Some people will say, "it's science fiction with swords, so it must be science fantasy because swords belong in fantasy". Well, no. It can still be science fiction. Swords are not only plausible, they're real things. And then someone else says, "What about light sabres? That must make it science fantasy." Not really. They're no more plausible than faster than light or time travel, and they're well-established as science fiction tropes. If you think about it hard enough you could probably come up with sound scientific-sounding explanation for light sabres, much like people do for FTL.

Feb 18, 2013, 6:14 am


Well probably not light sabres which are just pure light - not if you want the clash of light-sabre against light-sabre we saw in Star Wars. Light doesn't work that way. However plasma-swords which look and act like Star Wars light sabres are a possibility. The energy source would be the main problem - as it is for lots of other well accepted SF tropes.

Feb 18, 2013, 6:54 am

There you go - a plausible-sounding explanation for light sabres.

Though it won't stop people saying, "Star Wars is science fantasy because light sabres." Which is just like saying, "2001 is science fantasy because monolith", Star Trek is science fantasy because warp drive because matter transmitter because phasers because an entire universe filled with humanoid aliens"...

Feb 18, 2013, 7:50 am

I always saw a light saber as being a length of Larry Niven's Sinclair Monofilament inside one of his Stasis Fields for rigidity.

Feb 18, 2013, 8:11 am

There are a good many readers like myself that wouldn't know whether something is scientifically plausible or not, and who, in reading FICTION really don't care. In fiction, a reader is supposed to suspend disbelief as a basic assumption, so I think that it is pointless to categorize fiction by whether it is plausible or not. It doesn't make it fantasy just because the science is bad.

The term "science fantasy" is an oxymoron in my opinion. If it pretends to be science, then it probably best classified as science fiction. If it has no such pretense, then it is probably fantasy.

>#19, I think that The Passage is really horror, isn't it? Or a science fiction/horror crossover. A vampire is a vampire.

Feb 18, 2013, 9:30 am

)27 But that's just it, they're not vampires, they're genetically altered humans. :-)

)21 I was using sci-fi as an abbreviation for science fiction. I don't consider it a new genre for this discussion. Of course, that doesn't mean that you don't.

Feb 18, 2013, 10:15 am

I think of "science fantasy" as sort of the inverse of the "logical fantasy" category. "Logical fantasy" indulges in traditionally-styled magic and sorcery, but it is justified on the basis of putative empirical processes involving higher spatial dimensions and/or hidden sources of physical energy, often with mathematics given a priviledged role in magic. Examples: The Magic Goes Away, The Devil's Day, The Atrocity Archives, The Compleat Enchanter.

In "science fantasy" futurist themes and tropes like interplanetary travel, robots, post-apocalyptic societies, and contact with extraterrestrial intelligences are justified by recourse to mysticism and supernaturalism. Examples: A Princess of Mars, Star Wars (midichlorians/mitochondria notwithstanding!), Tales of the Dying Earth, Hawkmoon.

Feb 18, 2013, 10:40 am

People seem to be missing that it's not just about the set, it's about the play. The stuff most people call science fantasy reads like fantasy and not like science fiction. Star Wars doesn't fit that in my book. SW is simply space opera science fiction. The "fantastical" elements in it are mainly FTL and psionics, which are in plenty of science fiction.

The crux of the issue is that science fantasy doesn't "pretend to be science" very thoroughly. It's usually just somewhere in the background so the rest of the story can get on with its fantasy tropes.

As with the example I gave before, science fantasy novels can take very tiny edits and become indistinguishable from all the other books that no one argues are "fantasy". On the other hand, take a book like The Martian Chronicles. While I might at first want to call it science fantasy with how fast and loose it plays with science, it's really just a science fiction story with elements that aren't very rigidly scientific. I'd be stumped on editing it down to a fantasy story; I'd have to completely re-write it.

On the other hand - almost every Dragonrider book up until McAffrey wrote Dragonsdawn. If you take the Dragonrider series as a whole and apply the "if it pretends to be science fiction" rule, then they'd all be science fiction. But if you take all the books up until Dragonriders, it'd be pretty solidly fantasy. But then Dragonriders comes along and explains how the dragons were really science fiction all along. Later stories fall on various parts of the fantasy/science fantasy/science fiction spectrum.

Feb 18, 2013, 10:55 am

> 30 SW is simply space opera science fiction.

I think that's belied by the opening words of the original movie: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

And you can dress up "The Force" up as "psionics," but the movies didn't (for a couple of decades anyhow).

Feb 18, 2013, 11:37 am

I always thought SW was "lets do a Kurosawa remake in outer space and add some of this Joe Campbell book I just read".

Feb 18, 2013, 11:43 am

#31 by paradoxosalpha> Are psionics not psionics unless you call them psionics? If you tell me "I have the power to move paperclips with my mind" I'm going to say "You mean 'telekinesis'? That's what we call it." Well, that's one of the things I'm going to say. ;) Star Wars also has FTL, even though they call it "hyperspace."

As far as the opening crawl, it doesn't really make sense no matter how you slice it. The best explanation I've heard about that is that the movie is a story being told in the future. From that aspect, it can be both a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away.

Feb 18, 2013, 11:55 am

)27 I realized after some thought that my reply in )28 needed amplified a bit. Yes, The Passage is a sci-fi/horror cross, and that's part of my problem with it because I found the science unbelievable making it bad science fiction. If it had been straight horror, I would have thought it a better book. I still wouldn't have liked it since I had more problems with it than the bad science, but it would have been better.

Feb 18, 2013, 11:58 am

> 33

Star Wars wasn't just positing telekinesis, it was magical control of objects powered by mystical invocation: being in touch with "the Force." The whole business was framed by culturally nostalgic "knighthood" and the Jedi religion.

And the opening crawl is easy to make sense out of. It can either be told in the far future about the not-as-far future (as you suggest), or it can indicate that there is a starfaring ancient history to humanity. Our planet as such isn't referenced in the movies, so it doesn't much matter. What the opening crawl undoubtedly does is to establish a fairytale atmosphere by means of the traditional formula "Long ago and far away."

Edited: Feb 18, 2013, 12:09 pm


What makes science "plausible"?

What mainstream scientists say is plausible?

What if mainstream scientists' sense of the plausible is warped?

Plus, my dictionary gives two meanings for "plausible":

1. Apparently reasonable and valid, and truthful

2. Given to or characterized by presenting specious arguments

Feb 18, 2013, 12:28 pm

The far more important plausibility is the plausibility of the internal logic of the story itself.

To me plausibility is important particularly in the degree to which its absence distracts from the reading, and interferes with the suspension of disbelief. One wants to be absorbed in a story, not constantly reminded that something doesn't make sense and that is because one is reading a work of fiction.

Plausibility for the sake of making genre classification easier would be way down on my list of things that are important about the plausibility of a book.

Feb 18, 2013, 12:34 pm

Excellent consideration, stellarexplorer :-)

Feb 18, 2013, 12:48 pm

#35 by paradoxosalpha> It's still a form of psionics, in my book. I get where you're coming from, though. I think a better example might be Battlestar Galactica (the remake). Now there was some science fiction that had a lot of religious powers, yet still solidly scifi in my book. Even with all the horrible plot holes.

And the opening crawl is easy to make sense out of

Not without adding stuff to it, is my point. And I don't think the "starfaring ancient history" really makes all that much sense, either, even by adding TONS of stuff to it yourself. I think you're better off just saying it happens in an alternate dimension (where hyperspace, the Force and alternate dimensions exist).

Of course, all this is settled (at least for UKians). The UK Supreme Court ruled on it. Star Wars is both set in the future and is science fiction.
(paragraph 44)

Feb 18, 2013, 12:51 pm

Speaking of Lucas...

Is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull science fiction?

Or does the fact that it shares about 99% of its storytelling with the previous films make it something else?

Can you drop an alien into any story and instantly make it science fiction?

Edited: Feb 18, 2013, 1:17 pm

#37, maybe that's why people with too much science background shouldn't classify fiction. I get it, don't misunderstand me. As a lawyer, I pretty much loathe novels about lawyers and the law. They never get it right and it is distracting to me.

But I don't think that fiction about the law should be based on what I think because MOST people do not perceive the lack of plausibility that I do. Fiction about lawyers doesn't become fantasy just because it is inaccurate.

and, yes, #34, it is a science fiction/horror crossover. This is not an uncommon sort of crossover found in everything from Frankenstein to the movie "Alien" and countless others.

Feb 18, 2013, 1:20 pm

Let's go through some definitions.

There are only two types of writing (people who divide all writing into two types, and those who... let's start over).

Fiction and Non-Fiction

Non-Fiction is pretty self-explanatory; anything that deals with what actually happened, or is happening. Science textbooks, history, etc.

Fiction is further divided into Fiction and Fantasy.

Fiction is stories where the events did not/are not happening; but could conceivably happen.

Fantasy involves stories where the events did not happen, could not happen, or have not happened yet and (as far as we currently know) aren't going to happen.

Fantasy itself falls in to fantasy (classic), where the events and people of the story are driven by supernatural powers or events. And science-fiction/fantasy, where the events and people are driven by powers that are given a scientific basis for existing. So, part of our definitions rely on how the author presents the justification for how their world functions.

So, how does SW fit into this? Well, it's clearly not non-fiction (*sigh*), so that makes it fictional. There's a lot of pseudo-scientific jargon and assumptions of an advanced technological society. The Force in the first trilogy would seem to push SW towards the science/fantasy camp; the second trilogy pushes towards the (really pseudo) scientific camp.

Speculative Fiction uses current scientific understanding to predict how certain fields might advance, and how those advances might change society. So, it's Fiction - Fantasy - Science Fiction.

Feb 18, 2013, 1:40 pm

#41 > "...maybe that's why people with too much science background shouldn't classify fiction." > Whoot ! :-)

Feb 18, 2013, 1:53 pm

#42 > "Speculative Fiction uses current scientific understanding to predict how certain fields might advance, and how those advances might change society."

Back to "plausibility" and "mainstream" scientific "understanding"...

What is the current "assumption" by mainstream scientists of the contents of the universe?

Something like 95% is non-detectible...

Scientifically considered, non-detectible by definition is a precarious position from which to postulate the contents of the universe.

Yet, there is a new paradigm in science called "Plasma Cosmology" or "The Electric Universe" that sees clearly that 99% of the universe is composed of plasma and reasons from that perspective.

Mainstream scientists hate the new paradigm because it seriously undermines the standard theories.

The most interesting aspect of this, for me, is that the standard theories are poor at reliable prediction and are constantly being "patched", while the new paradigm has a string of successful predictions to its credit.

I may be veering into a bit of a rant here but so much of folks' definitions of science fiction in this thread depends on "plausible" science; yet, to me, much, if not most, of mainstream science is not plausible...

Feb 18, 2013, 2:12 pm

There is plausibility and there is rigour. The AD&D magic system has rigour, but it doesn't have plausibility. It involves giving agency of a specific type to certain individuals just because. While light sabres may appear initially to be no more plausible than a magic fireball in AD&D, they exist within the universe, and as a science fiction trope, with the assumption of plausibility and rigour. They are assumed to behave according to laws of physics - which we may or may not presently know, but which are open to explanation.

Fantasy, or fantastic fiction, applies agency by pure authorial fiat to inventions which have no agency, and requires underling assumption of plausibility or rigour. Science fiction, however, builds its inventions up from the plausibility and rigour.

Edited: Feb 18, 2013, 2:15 pm

>45 iansales: Not to get into the details of that argument AMZ, but I think it is a mistake to say that "Mainstream scientists hate the new paradigm because it seriously undermines the standard theories".

More accurate would be to say that mainstream scientists do not accept this hypothesis because they believe it to be incorrect.

Feb 18, 2013, 2:19 pm

#44, I didn't understand your "whoot!" but I do agree with you. Plausibility should not be the determining factor.

and #42 "Speculative Fiction uses current scientific understanding to predict how certain fields might advance, and how those advances might change society." Not necessarily. Alternative History is definitely "speculative" in that it speculates on what might happen if something were different. (e.g. The Years of Rice and Salt.) In my mind, that is a more accurate use of the label than just slapping it on anything that relies on advancement of current scientific understanding.

Feb 18, 2013, 2:41 pm

#46 > I base them "hating" it on the evidence---they not only say they disagree, they, in the main, do it with vitriol and rancor...

Feb 18, 2013, 2:48 pm


Alternate histories (which I quite enjoy, when well written; 'Fireside Chat' in Alternate Presidents was one of the most chilling stories I've read in quite a while) can't happen, absent time travel. (And possibly not even then, cf The Men who Murdered Mohammed.) So, although an exercise in speculation, I'm not sure that alternate histories should be lumped in with stories that speculate as to the future of science and society. I'm willing to be swayed, though.

Feb 18, 2013, 2:55 pm


Alternate histories can't happen? Does that mean that we have entirely given up on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics? :) I thought it was the second-most popular model of the universe (right after "shut up and calculate"). What is the alternative?

Feb 18, 2013, 2:57 pm

#42 by BruceCoulson> Non-Fiction is pretty self-explanatory; anything that deals with what actually happened ... history

Go on, pull the other one.

Feb 18, 2013, 3:22 pm

Well, I suppose we could categorize history as being fictional, written by historians to support particular views...

But how would we handle, say geophysics texts written prior to plate tectonics and catastrophism? Recategorize them as fictional? Just curious...

Feb 18, 2013, 3:53 pm

#52 by BruceCoulson> In some ways, I think rather than trying to break things down into "non-fiction/fiction" you should break them down as "scientific reference/other". Granted, even that has problems.

Feb 18, 2013, 3:58 pm

So, what would a history of science be? Fiction or reference?

Feb 18, 2013, 4:44 pm

Granted, even that has problems.

Feb 19, 2013, 9:30 pm

Why are we even having this discussion? It got fairly boring, other than the occasional asides, about 30 posts or so ago....

Feb 19, 2013, 9:33 pm

Vote: Has this thread become boring?

Current tally: Yes 16, No 5, Undecided 5

Feb 20, 2013, 12:27 am

What's wrong with 'boring'?

Feb 20, 2013, 12:58 am

56> We're still having this discussion in the hope that we'd catch your attention. Now that we've accomplished our goal we can finally rest.

Feb 20, 2013, 6:52 am

Way back at #23 "Some people will say, "it's science fiction with swords, so it must be science fantasy because swords belong in fantasy". Well, no. It can still be science fiction. Swords are not only plausible, they're real things"

There's a very good justifcation for swords on a starship in the excellant The Myriad which is about as Science Fictiony as you can get although I guess by some definitions is still tricky.

I just don't worry about the mid-range genre devides. If it is loosely under the SF umbrella I'm likely to try it. But I displike specific tropes - time travel for instance. And so I tend to avoid books featuring that, whether they are fantasy or pure science fiction.

Feb 20, 2013, 1:13 pm

>#56 Why are you still reading this boring discussion?

Feb 21, 2013, 9:46 am

I thought speculative fiction is just another term for science fiction, an older term.
Spec fic, sci-fi, hmmm
Tho I have thoughts on the difference between science fiction and sci-fi...

Feb 21, 2013, 10:04 am

Dear sf_addict,

Care to share how you see a difference between science fiction and sci-fi?

Feb 21, 2013, 10:37 am

#62 "speculative fiction" was coined as an alternative term for science fiction, but is no longer used with that meaning. Annoyance with the abbreviation "sci fi" led to the term derogative "skiffy", but some people still use "sci fi" to refer only to stuff that isn't "proper" science fiction...

Feb 21, 2013, 10:42 am

Then there's that other one, syfy...

Feb 21, 2013, 11:30 am

And Scientifiction...

Feb 21, 2013, 12:52 pm

Oh, my, Bruce, never heard of that one...

Feb 21, 2013, 1:23 pm

Hugo Gernsback; his pet name for science fiction. Sometimes abbreviated as 'stef'.

Feb 21, 2013, 1:50 pm

Ah, I see they say he published the first science fiction magazine...

Feb 21, 2013, 3:17 pm

Gernsback *invented* science fiction.

Feb 21, 2013, 4:17 pm

Must have came as quite a shock to Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne and others. Of course, maybe not so much of a shock to Shelley, since she died before Gernsback was even born...

Feb 21, 2013, 4:38 pm

On-line biography of Gernsback. Although science-fiction stories certainly pre-dated him, Hugo was certainly responsible for making stef popular in mass media, promoting the reading of science fiction, and a lot of other contributions to the field.

Feb 21, 2013, 4:54 pm

#71 That was proto-sf.

Feb 21, 2013, 5:05 pm

Wells called his stories scientific romances. Mary Shelley would probably have called her story a romance to distinguish it from the more realistically sourced novel. I'm not sure what Verne called his output.

Feb 21, 2013, 5:07 pm


Feb 21, 2013, 5:09 pm

I'm not sure what Verne called his output.


Feb 21, 2013, 5:09 pm

Then there's that other one, syfy...

Ah yes, the cable channel that has a name that sounds like VD, and programming to match.

Feb 21, 2013, 5:35 pm

Mostly wrestling for some reason (probably a spotty faced male adolescent demographic).

Feb 21, 2013, 5:37 pm

#73 by iansales> I'll remember to check the Proto-SF section of the bookstore the next time I purchase one.

Feb 21, 2013, 5:44 pm

Why not have a look in the main fiction section for all those sf novels like The Handmaid's Tale, Never let Me Go, Journey into Space, The Explorer... ? You know, the ones that are not labelled sf but really are, just like the ones that aren't because they were written before Gernsback invented the genre.

Feb 21, 2013, 5:57 pm


That's because serious writers don't write genre fiction, like SF; they write serious works of compelling drama, and they don't want their readers to confuse the two.

Any resemblance between the two are unintentional and coincidental.

Edited: Apr 10, 2013, 11:15 pm

#80 by iansales> Too bad you hadn't set me straight earlier; I was JUST at Uncle Hugo's and noticed The Handmaid's Tale on their shelves. Boy will their face be red when I tell them how they goofed!

Feb 21, 2013, 6:21 pm

And, to think, back at #57, the vote for whether this thread was boring was: Yes 13, No 5, Undecided 3...

Feb 21, 2013, 9:30 pm

The distinction between novel and romance is an interesting one as it applies to the distinction between literary works and genre SF. And by romance I don't mean the current definition (i.e. Harlequin romance) Viewed in those terms it really is a non-issue. A writer can write either a romance or a novel and the issue is quality rather than genre.

Margaret Atwood (who knows a great deal about the subject despite her objections to being labelled a SF writer) in her essay " Ten Ways of Looking at the Island of Doctor Moreau" mentions Northrop Frye's analysis of romance as a form in his Secular Scripture .

Feb 22, 2013, 3:59 am

Boy will their face be read - very droll :-)

Edited: Feb 22, 2013, 12:01 pm

SF for me is serious science fiction, 2001 type sf movies , and sf in book form. Sci-fi is star wars and TV sf, built to thrill, with no or little adherents to scientific principles (lots of whooshing ships in space even tho, as the Alien poster says "in space no-one can hear you scream")
Some of it is still quite good of course (big star wars fan here)

Feb 22, 2013, 12:03 pm

70 Gernsback invented published science fiction in magazine form.

Feb 22, 2013, 12:05 pm

OK, sf_addict, distinction understood...

Edited: Feb 22, 2013, 12:08 pm

#88 personally I hate the term sci-fi. Makes me cringe . Trouble is if you mention sf on say Facebook they all go, Whats SF?

Feb 22, 2013, 12:29 pm

I use the tag "sci-fi" as just an abbreviation for any science-fiction (barring futuristic fantasy that I try to keep somewhat distinct) without any nuance of literary merit.

I formerly used "sf" for the same books but noticed after a while that a wider "speculative fiction" use is prevalent for that tag. No way in french that "sf" and "littératures de l'imaginaire" would end up lumped together.

Feb 22, 2013, 12:48 pm

Oh, my, littératures de l'imaginaire! :-)

Feb 22, 2013, 1:01 pm

Nod to Jules Verne there!

Feb 22, 2013, 3:14 pm

Back in the last century, 1970s, I took and English class on Science Fiction. The teacher divided it into three schools. Science fiction romance, with Edgar Rice Burroughs as a prime example, where the story is the only concern. Hard science fiction with Jules Verne as the exemplar, where advances in science are the prime interest. The third used H. G. Wells as the best example, I can't remember the label she gave it but science took a back seat to examining how the different technology affected society.

Of course any example of one will have varying degrees of the other two.

Feb 22, 2013, 3:34 pm

Vote: Do you feel "Speculative Fiction" is a "valid" umbrella-genre for all the varieties of Science Fiction, SF, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, SFF, Science Fiction Romance, Hard Science Fiction, et al ?

Current tally: Yes 11, No 8, Undecided 7

Feb 22, 2013, 5:07 pm

Bah, in the end its all fantasy anyway...

Feb 22, 2013, 5:22 pm

By "scientification,"... 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.
- Hugo Gernsback

Science fiction frequently tries to imagine what life would be like on a plane as far above us as we are above savagery; its setting is often of a kind that appears to us technologically miraculous. It is thus a mode of romance with a strong tendency to myth.
- Northrop Frye

Science Fiction is speculative fiction in which the author takes as his first postulate the real world as we know it, including all established facts and natural laws. The result can be extremely fantastic in content, but it is not fantasy; it is legitimate--and often very tightly reasoned--speculation about the possibilities of the real world. This category excludes rocket ships that make U-turns, serpent men of Neptune that lust after human maidens, and stories by authors who flunked their Boy Scout merit badge tests in descriptive astronomy.
- Robert Heinlein

Feb 22, 2013, 5:25 pm

Scientifiction is just an old name for science fiction. Call it Science Fiction mkI

Feb 22, 2013, 6:04 pm

#95 by sf_addict> Bah, in the end its all fantasy anyway...

Indeed. The people who run the computer simulating our universe probably get quite a chuckle out of these conversations.

Edited: Feb 22, 2013, 8:37 pm


Wikipedia has a round-up page of
Thirty-three Definitions of Science Fiction.

Feb 22, 2013, 8:42 pm

Cool :-)

Wish they had Cherryh's definition there...

Edited: Feb 22, 2013, 11:16 pm

OK - I give up: I voted for "boring" but I keep reading it, and now want to post. :-)

I always associated "SciFi", which I dislike, with people who watched and read Star Trek, and who often read nothing else in the genre besides Star Trek. It ended up spreading into popular culture, but more among people who weren't really SF readers.

"Speculative fiction" has had a connotation of being more literary, and has been used by "serious" authors who don't want to be limited to the SF (and maybe Fantasy) ghetto. It may change its meaning to a neutral umbrella term (that sounds useful, for sure), but for now anyone using it should be aware of the other history and shading.

Feb 23, 2013, 5:41 am

Funny thing is,tho I dislike the term sci-fi I enjoy some examples of the
of the (sub?) genre. I like Star Trek, i like Star Wars etc. But some of it is really bad! Not just on the silver screen. And to many outside the genre, i.e. those who arent SF readers but discover it via something on TV or in a game or bad comic then unknowingly label ALL SF as Sci-Fi!

Feb 23, 2013, 9:36 am

102> I wonder if what you think of as scifi is what people generally call space opera.

Feb 23, 2013, 11:30 am

John Clute appropriated the Russian word "fantastika"; I prefer to use 'fantastic fiction' because a lot of fantasy (generally the more formulaic type) fails the "speculative fiction" test in that it has very little speculation in it.

Feb 23, 2013, 12:26 pm

#102, I class space opera, good space opera anyway, with hard sf. Banks, Reynolds,Niven to name a few that Ive read. Sci fi is just cheap quick for-the-masses sf. Simple

Edited: Feb 23, 2013, 12:28 pm

Or to put it another way sci fi is switch-your- brain- off and enjoy entertainment. Nowt wrong with that of course.

Feb 23, 2013, 2:31 pm

#106 by sf_addict> How about Babylon 5?

Feb 23, 2013, 2:52 pm

B5 is quality sci fi ;) The good stuff

Feb 23, 2013, 9:43 pm

#108 by sf_addict> But still "scifi"? :D

Edited: Feb 24, 2013, 5:28 am

Hmm technically yes. Lets call it a hybrid. The Prius of SF TV ;)

Apr 4, 2013, 4:32 am

Hi :)
I have absolutely no difficulty distinguishing Science Fiction from Fantasy in 99% of the cases. And If I stood together with any person here in the same bookstore I would be totally shocked if one said "I don't know what's the difference" or "I can't tell which is which" - but I seriously don't think that would ever happen. How can one not tell?
The borderline stuff is, well..., the borderline stuff. Done

Some ppl enjoy reading one type of thing - be it a whole genre (SciFi or Fantasy) or even a subgenre(Cyberpunk, Hard Sci-Fi(like Down-to-Earth-gritty-Mars-colonisation-with-nuts-and-bolts-and-delta-vee, Certain types of Space Opera, etc.) - and will find it a chore reading other things. Like you won't be able to force me to read Dune or Jodi Picoult (liked the movie and retelling of other books courtesy of my wife) - it's just not my thing.
Other ppl are cool with many genres - and would read both SciFi and Fantasy and enjoy each book for what it is. Which is totally cool.

But just because one reads many genres - it doesn't mean one can't see the difference (it's so obvious), or worse yet - insist on clumping everything together and call it "all the same" or saying "why even try to distinguish? I'll just read everything".

As for "umbrella term" - I was about to say "why clump everything together?" LOL - but then looked one line up - and say this - sure, Speculative Fiction is perfectly fine as an umbrella term for ScienceFiction(with all its subgenres), Fantasy(with its own), Borderline, Other.

As for arguments about some SciFi work having saaay psychic powers,.... well - Then it's still a science fiction book BUT with psychic powers :): . And then you can decided how big or small your "BUT" is or which way to look at that emoticon :):
Some ppl won't find it a hinderance, others would find the non-adherence to current scientific understanding unacceptable - but that still doesn't change the genre...
Ok - then we have the tech so advanced that you might as well call it magic - I don't think there are that many of such books - you can call it borderline subgenre then.
A subgenre that's neither clearly Science Fiction (which in itself pretty self explanatory) NOR clearly Fantasy (which in itself pretty self explanatory).
I'd just think of it as "so there's this supertechnology and no explanation of how it works, and then you take it from there and treat it like fantasy" kind of book. If you press me harder - I'll say "OK. It doesn't even bother to explain the science/tech - so it's Borderline but closer to fantasy" (the "sword&planet" as someone said).

But all the borderline/crossover cases are not the bulk of either genre. A borderline case, the In-Betweener. (no condescension)
So if there are ppl who enjoy largely this kind of stuff - they can call it Science Fantasy or Borderline SF/F - and then be able to identify the works for others who are looking for exactly the same thing, so they can find it in a books store without going through tons of stuff that's not their genre/subgenre. If someone wants to split these in-between cases even further they can come up with finer groupings. But bookstores are not going to do that - but in the end they can at least separate out SciFi from Fantasy. If someone reads both - I don't think it's a problem to browse both sections. - I mean even I decide whether to read Cuberpunk next or a Detective Science Fiction or a Modern Space Opera, or an early science fiction novel - and at home they're in different sections (but it's too much to ask from libraries or bookstores).

And as a last example Last and First Men - I'd be hard pressed assigning it to a particular sub-genre of Science Fiction - but surely anyone here can tell me whether to look for it in the Fantasy or Science Fiction section.

But in the end I am absolutely sure that any of us are perfectly capable of pointing out whether the book is a Fantasy or Science Fiction (or Borderline) in an overwhelmingly vast majority of cases. What you call the genres, subgenres etc. is another thing - we can have many names.

CheerZ :D

Apr 4, 2013, 11:44 am

Just wondering out-loud...

...if there'll be a day when self-publishing has changed the book world to the extent that genres aren't used a tool to drive readers to sales (as traditional publishing has done) and folks just read and recommend books they love---even if a lot of the books they love have similar "textures"...?

Edited: Apr 4, 2013, 12:59 pm

But I Love Science Fiction :)
I do read other books occasionally - didn't enjoy them :(

EDIT: oh - and another thing - I don't look for a mark or a sign that says "sci fi : buy this now" when looking for books in used book stores or used book fares - I read the description on the back, and flip through some pages ...

Apr 4, 2013, 1:08 pm

112: Genres aren't just a tool to drive readers to sales, they are also a signal to users as to what they are getting.

Apr 4, 2013, 5:14 pm

#114 > yes, I know --- still, looking forward to the day when something "better" than "genre" can inform readers :-)

Apr 4, 2013, 5:28 pm

115: All it really is is branding, and there's really not a better way to sort large volumes of data into manageable sets than that sort of thing.

Apr 4, 2013, 5:30 pm

To say "it's just branding" ignores the significant history and community of science fiction fandom. It's like saying the musical genre of "jazz" is "just branding."

Apr 4, 2013, 9:18 pm

117: No, it doesn't, because we are talking about two different things. My statement was in the context of responding to this musing:

"...if there'll be a day when self-publishing has changed the book world to the extent that genres aren't used a tool to drive readers to sales (as traditional publishing has done)

And in that sense, the genre label is little more than branding. To use your jazz example, if a musician records and album and then the record label identifies it as "jazz" and the stores that carry it place it in their "jazz" section then the function that the genre is serving in that context is branding. That way, when the customer comes in looking to buy music, they have an idea of what they are getting and don't have to sort through piles of albums of types they don't want to find it.

Imagine walking in to a store or browsing a website looking for a jazz recording without this sort of branding. You'd have a pile of undifferentiated product to sort through to find those few items you were actually interested in browsing. Before you could start shopping, you'd have to wade through a pile of other stuff to find just the category of stuff you want. Stores separate their products because it helps their customers find what they want (and as a result, helps them sell their products).

None of this has anything to do with "jazz" as a musical or cultural phenomenon, or with jazz fandom or anything else. In the commercial arena, "jazz" is branding designed to help people find what they want to listen to. Science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and all of the other genre labels on books, movies, and television programs are no different.

Apr 4, 2013, 11:06 pm

#118 > as far as looking for things on websites, it seems that obvious "branding" isn't all that necessary since any item can have multiple metadata tags...

Apr 4, 2013, 11:13 pm

119: What do you think metadata tags are if not branding?

Apr 5, 2013, 12:05 am

I love Science Fiction as a cultural phenomenon :)

Apr 5, 2013, 2:06 pm

#120 > Perhaps I misunderstood your use of the term "branding"---to me "genre branding" is upfront and obvious---tags are "discreet" and permit multiple search hits.

For instance, rather than "branding" a book as Mystery Police Procedural Science Fiction, the book description could show the general characteristics of why a reader would want to buy it but the tags could direct multiple genre-seekers to the book...

Edited: Apr 11, 2013, 12:26 am

Sorry for a long break:
>122 AMZoltai: - so instead of the evil corporate branding eg. "Mystery Police Procedural Science Fiction" you propose "having book description show the general characteristics of why a reader would want to buy it" -
- like so : "Mystery", "Police Procedural", "Science Fiction", "Detective" ?
OR maybe completely ignore all that and tag (to "direct multiple genre-seekers to the book...") :
"Smooth prose", "interesting investigation", "feels like you're the detective", "has unexpected twist(s)" ? - that already starts looking like a book description (like they have on the back, or we3 have here on LT and in reviews) - doesn't it?
OR maybe we should deliberately confuse the definitions to the point where things like "mystery" are no longer a bunch of books labeled "Mystery" and so on? - That will never work with human beings, — generalization and organisation is often desired and useful.
Also you will never prevent other human beings from using all that (and no matter what else anyone proposes) as a means for promotion of their things and in the end self-interest ($$$).
Also all the disparate self-published writers will band together, some will be more successful and grow bigger and back to what we already have.

Now - if we were aliens with different set of emotions, drives and logic - than yeah - that's how it already probably is somewhere.

"If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal has been cooked a long time ago" (c) - (sorry for the geek out - couldn't hold myself)
CheerZ :D

Apr 11, 2013, 2:03 pm

#123 > Sorry I'm being so hard to understand...

Your response doesn't seem to be addressed to what I was trying to say...

Apr 11, 2013, 2:33 pm

124: There seems to be little difference between what you say you want and what is currently done.

Apr 11, 2013, 4:40 pm

#125 > Ah... Then I have really failed to communicate my ideas...

Apr 12, 2013, 12:27 am

>124 AMZoltai: - I was responding to this : "For instance, rather than "branding" a book as Mystery Police Procedural Science Fiction, the book description could show the general characteristics of why a reader would want to buy it but the tags could direct multiple genre-seekers to the book..." - with questions of my own along the way.

I would really like to find out in an example how a description could avoid "branding" altogether and attract "multiple genre-seekers" - because I failed to have my wife read a single of my books; even though I employed nagging, cajoling, bargaining, appeal to emotions LOL but to no avail :(

Edited: Apr 12, 2013, 12:47 pm

#127 > Let me try again...

Instead of "Mystery Police Procedural Science Fiction" "branding" an author might say:

"'Rip In Time' will take you to the inside-out world of James Kerplokin---his 'apparent' death designed to give him free-reign as he unravels what seems like a plot to.........

"His wife is in on the deal but having trouble keeping up her end of the bargain as..."

Which might draw all kinds of readers...

Then, in the metadata the tags "Mystery" "Police Procedural" "Science Fiction" could pull in those particular genre lovers...

Edited: Apr 12, 2013, 12:58 pm

#128 by AMZoltai> I'm still unclear how that differs from what is actually being done today. Certainly you can already do that on LT.:,+police+procedural,+science+fiction

You can do it on amazon, even though they don't give it prominent placing:

And then the book description has the longer form you were talking about.

Edited: Apr 12, 2013, 1:04 pm

#129 > Yes, metadata has been around for a long time but, from my perspective, not enough writers use it well---they seem to want to cram all the genre-tags into the book description, which might repel certain readers?

Apr 12, 2013, 1:08 pm

#130 by AMZoltai> So, ultimately, is what you're trying to say "Do the same stuff you're doing now, just do it more/better"?

I think people are confused because it seemed like you were suggesting a new idea or direction.

Apr 12, 2013, 1:15 pm

>130 AMZoltai:

Publishers, not writers though. A lot of the authors don't really have a say in the way the book is marketed.

People have very short attention spans AND are known to react on keyword. So the publishers use them. Plus - when you brand a book, you hit a market.

Apr 12, 2013, 3:10 pm

>118 StormRaven: Imagine walking in to a store or browsing a website looking for a jazz recording without this sort of branding. You'd have a pile of undifferentiated product to sort through to find those few items you were actually interested in browsing. Before you could start shopping, you'd have to wade through a pile of other stuff to find just the category of stuff you want. Stores separate their products because it helps their customers find what they want (and as a result, helps them sell their products).

I've seen used bookstores like this.

Apr 12, 2013, 3:11 pm

#130 > Again, sorry if I wasn't clear enough >> "...from my perspective, not enough writers use it well..."

#132 > Very true...

Apr 12, 2013, 3:14 pm

I've seen used bookstores like this.

I have too. And many of them go out of business.

Join to post