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New entry Jun 06

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THE SIGIL TRILOGY: The universe is dying from within... "Great stuff... Really enjoyed it." — SFWA Grandmaster Michael Moorcock

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From aburt Sat Mar  4 18:30:40 2000
From: aburt
Newsgroups: sff.science-fiction
Subject: Re: Definition of SF
References: <38B1A25F.7B1D7963@jps.net> <38b1a8cd.0@news.sff.net>
X-Newsreader: NN version 6.5.1 (NOV)
Status: OR

In <38b1a8cd.0@news.sff.net> ldunn@indy.net (Linda J. Dunn) writes:

>If you can take the science out of the story and you still have a story,
>it's not truly science fiction.

>That's strictly MHO and many will diagree with me.

>An example:  Take the science out of Frankenstein and you have no story.

For me, that's about how I'd define "hard SF".  But I'm happy to
stick my neck out......  :-)  My thoughts tend to run:

Speculative fiction: Fiction that contains some element that is quite
different from known past or present.  (Thus anything about the future [far
enough away not to be The Present just with a later date; or present day
but with elements not likely to be found if searched for, such as ETs
inhabiting human bodies; historical settings with differences not known,
such as Lincoln losing the 1860 election; or anything set in places
never known to have existed, middle earth, etc.)  Obviously all fiction
is speculative, so it's a continuum -- the degree of speculation readers
perceive; with each reader having their own zone where it ceases to be
observational and becomes more speculative.

Key word:  *Differences* from (the reader's perceived) reality.

Science fiction: Speculative fiction with plausibility.  I.e., where
there's an attempt to lend plausibility to the differences or the
differences are inherently reasonable (e.g., lunar colonies).  The
difference _could have_ happened or _could yet_ happen.  (Thus Lincoln
losing the 1860 election; being revived today from cryogenic storage
after being shot; being cloned from the blood on the exhibits still in
Ford's theater; or being cloned two hundred years from now to upload his
mental patterns to lead a revolt of enslaved software entities on Europa.)

Key word:  *Plausibility*.

(Hard SF: Science fiction with an extremely strong plausibility rating.)

Fantasy: Speculative fiction that makes no particular attempt at
plausibility.  (I'd call it "not science fiction", but that implies
a binary value, and I view there being another continuum from "no
plausibility attempted" to "completely valid just hasn't been done".
Thus elves, dragons, magic, middle earth, etc., introduced just as a
given, an assumption, axiom, postulate, you know what I mean.  There's a
fire-breathing dragon in the story, and that's that.  If someone says
the dragon was genetically engineered, yadda yadda, it moves a long ways
toward science fiction away from fantasy.)

So, that's my stab at a definition -- poke holes in it!

And a followup from a discussion about the meaning of "plausibility"
and how Fantasy stives to be plausible within the confines of its own rules:
From: aburt
Newsgroups: sff.private.sfwa.webstaff
Subject: Re: Best one yet

>Andrew Burt wrote:
>> So, -that-'s the meaning of "plausible" I had in mind.  "Something
>> that could actually be that way given what we know."  (Not the negative
>> connotation of "plausible", didn't mean that!)
>> Any thoughts on how to tighten that up?  "Scientifically plausible"?

>Hmmm.  "Scientifically plausible" doesn't really work for me either. 
>Some far-future SF, for instance, doesn't strike me as being in the
>least scientifically plausible, at least in the sense of something that
>might actually happen--and I don't even think that's the point.

In the sense that I think it's a continuum from SF to F, not a sharp
dividing line, I have no problem with far-future stories being in the
middle, both SF and F, as it were.  

"Plausible" isn't the ideal word, but I think of one endpoint (the "SF"
end) as being about things that "could happen" no matter how unlikely.

For example, it's _unlikely_ I could toss a fair coin a thousand times
and get all heads, but it "could happen"; vs. not worrying at all if
"could happen" is even relevant.  If someone talks about faster than
light travel in a "could happen" way, I'll buy that it's near the SF
end of that spectrum.  If someone talks about dragons and wizards, I
don't need (or want) to think about how that fits with the World As We
Know It, and I'll figure it's near the Fantasy end of the spectrum.

Something scientifically improbable like "The Invisible Man" I'd put
in the middle, leaning toward the SF side, since invisibility like
it's usually handled is pretty unlikely (but the author handles it
"as if" it could happen, mumbling about quantum whoziwatsits, then it's
more SFnal; if it's handled with verbiage about magic, a la the Hobbit,
then it's falling toward the Fantasy side).  I suppose what I'm saying
is the "could happen" attitude of the author is what determines the 
spot on the SF....F spectrum.

But it's not an on/off kind of thing.

>"scientifically implausible" says what fantasy isn't, but not what it
>is.  Maybe that's my problem with these definitions--fantasy is being
>defined not in itself, but as it relates to science fiction.  

Augh, caught in the act!  I confess; yes, that was the mathematician
side of me, defining one thing and calling the other thing "not that."

Not meant in any way to slight fantasy -- and yes, you're absolutely
right; I need to amend my definition to be parallel.

>How about--"science fiction" is speculative fiction that extrapolates
>from real-world ideas and conditions, scientific or otherwise (since sf
>can also extrapolate from social conditions);  and "fantasy" is
>speculative fiction that extrapolates from imaginary or unreal ideas and
>conditions, such as myths and legends?  

I'm not -quite- happy with that (it isn't as, I don't know, "precise"
about the nature of the "unreal" ideas as I'd like), but let me ponder....