On Sci-Fi: The Myth

Last week I touched on the issues surrounding women writing Sci-Fi, and one point came up that I thought needed a bit more exploration: the myth of Science Fiction. I have found, during my time at JFB, that many people outside the genre don’t really understand SF. All they see are big spaceships and evil aliens and ‘no that’s enough thank you, it’s not my type of novel’. But it’s so much more than that. Take for example, the many facets of SF that are not Space Opera: dystopian, apocalyptic and post-apocolyptic, social, mundane, steampunk, spy-fi, bio-punk, dying earth, time travel, I could go on. And I’ll bet many don’t know that The Time Traveller’s Wife could be classed as SF, or Wool, or The Hunger Games, or The Shining Girls. Then, of course, there’s hard science fiction, soft science fiction and social science fiction . . . and all of these encompass thousands of different ideas, worlds and sub-plots. I ask you: how can you narrow the genre down to one tiny aspect of it? And how do you know if you never try? Just because Alastair Reynolds writes one type of SF, doesn’t mean that someone like Karen Lord is the same. Nowhere near, in fact.

To take the example of Karen; her book, The Best of All Possible Worlds is set on a planet called Cygnus Beta, where Sadiri settlers are trying to re-build their race after their home planet has been entirely destroyed. What follows is an exploration of race, gender and identity; of character, personality, individuality and love. As Tor.com puts it: ‘A class apart…Utterly astonishing. This is a sweet and gentle and sorrowful novel, realised with warmth and wit and wonder. It is beautiful yet blue; tragic, yet true’. This is an example of SF at its most inclusive, its most exploratory, and because of this Lord has already been likened to Ursula Le Guin.

And if you are going to go for a social science fiction – take Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter. Set in the near future on our planet, a deadly Syndrome caused by our reliance on technology has almost decimated the human population. But a cure was found in the form of genetically engineered humans – the Gems. This novel questions where the line should fall between survival and ethics, it asks the reader for their own opinions, their own discussions. It is intelligent, pacy, well-plotted and leans more towards thriller territory. And there’s not a spaceship in sight. Think about it.

I won’t pick out too many more of our SF books, but when you look at these two compared to Seoul Survivors: A cyber thriller described as ‘Sheer adrenalin’, or Planesrunner by Ian McDonald, a YA adventure that spans millions of parallel universes, or The Detainee, a novel set after the Earth’s financial collapse, voiced by ageing ‘Big Guy’ Clancy, a sixty-year-old ex-mafia heavy. You can see the sheer expanse of subjects and plotting that SF can touch upon.

And those are just our authors.

This diversity in the genre should encourage people to read it – Jo herself has mentioned it before: you can not find this kind of disparity in any other literary genre (barring fantasy). I dare you to take the leap.

And if all of this has failed to persuade you to pick up just one science-fiction novel, do bear this in mind: when you pick up a book it automatically transports you to another world, you might as well actually visit one while you’re at it.




  1. James A. Coffeen

    I agree with everything in the post, but can say it more compactly:
    Science fiction is fiction that contains imagined science. 
    That’s it. The imagined science may by another world, another intelligent race, or something as minor as an electronic can opener.
    I also like to give fantasy a more realistic name, which would lead to the definition:
    Superstition fiction is fiction that contains imagined superstition.
    It might be about werewolves, black cats crossing your path, or something as large as the Earth caught in the crossfire of opposing demons.

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