Science Fiction

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“Science Fiction,” according to Joyce Saricks, “is a genre that strikes fear in the hearts of many librarians. If we do not read it,” she writes, “this genre seems as strange as the beings that populate the pages of its books. And Science Fiction readers often seem an exclusive club, into which it is hard for a nonfan to gain admission.

Upon further exploration, however, we are likely to find this a genre rich in both physical and intellectual adventure, with something to offer a wide range of readers. This vast genre, with roots in the nineteenth century, is respected by fans and others for its intellectual underpinnings, and its diversity offers a variety of interesting directions for readers to pursue. From Romance to Mystery and beyond, Science Fiction is an unexpected treasure trove of crossover authors and titles.” (p244)

Defining SF

Saricks defines SF in the following way: “Although it seems that every genre overlaps others at some point, this problem is so pronounced with Science Fiction that even the experts disagreee when they try to do something as basic as define it. When it comes to deciding whether or not a book fits within this genre (or Fantasy, the genre with which it most frequently overlaps), everything is up for grabs. One problem is that many of the genre’s popular practitioners – Orson Scott Card, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula K. Le Guin, and C.J. Cherryh, to name a few – write both Science Fiction and Fantasy. Card suggests, facetiously, we might use cover art to differentiate between Science Fiction and Fantasy. If there are rivets on the cover, the book is Science Fiction. If there are trees on the cover, it is Fantasy. An interesting approach, but it likely says more about the publishers and their covers than about the genres! Another difference suggested by Science Fiction fans is that Science Fiction is the left [-p.245] brain reaching out to the right brain (logic reaching toward the artistic) while Fantasy is the opposite. Unfortunately, neither distinction is particularly helpful when we are working with patrons or cataloguing books.

As a basic definition, it is probably safe to say that Science Fiction posits worlds and technologies which could exist. Science, rather than magic, drives these speculative tales, and the science must be accurate and true to key axioms of Newtonian (classical) and relativistic physics. …Of course, each reader will bring his or her own definition to any discussion of books that fall within the Science Fiction genre – especially in this genre in which readers are vocal and opinionated.” (pp.244-245)

Saricks goes on to discuss the characteristics and the genre’s appeal in more detail with regards to Story Line, Frame/Setting, Style/Language, Tone/Mood, Characterization, and Pacing.

Science Fiction is speculative fiction that appeals to the reader’s intellect. As Betty Rosenberg suggested in the first edition of Genreflecting, ‘Science fiction has been labeled a fiction of questions: What if…? If only…? If this [-p.246] goes on…?’ Questions such as these characterize the premise behind these books.” (pp245-246)

Science Fiction offers an amazing range of appeal, from adventure and relationships among characters facing philosophical and ethical questions on one end, to the elegant style, fully realized characters, and stron speculative bent on the other, and much in between. In general Science Fiction engages the reader’s intellect. It deals with ‘why,’ with philosophical speculation, as well as with ‘where’, with a futuristic setting outside of the usual – with alien beings as well as alien and unorthodox concepts. It cherishes the unexpected, in terms of setting, characters, and plot, and it is generally thought-provoking and prides itself on its ability to raise challenging questions. The most successful examples can challenge the reader to question his or her concept of reality.” (p.261)

Saricks notes that “Environmental concerns have long been championed in this genre, and that trend continues” (p.259), while AI and nanotechnology are also popular themes… “Interest in Alternate Histories remains high.” (p.260) “Space Opera and Military Science Fiction are also experiencing a resurgence of popularity. Weber, Asaro, Elizabeth Moon, Bujold, Brian Herbert, William C Dietz and Linnea Sinclair are authors to remember.

Characteristics of Science Fiction

“1. This is speculative fiction, frequently set in the future. It explores moral, social, intellectual, philosophical, and/or ethical questions against a setting outside of everyday reality.

2. Setting is crucial and invokes otherness of time, place, and/or reality. Both the physical setting of the story and the inherent technical and scientific detail create this essential frame.

3. From the jargon of Cyberpunk to the lyrical language of some classic tales, Science Fiction offers a range of styles and language crafted to suit the story line and to reinfoce the intellectual and speculative nature of the genre.

4. Titles reflect a wide range of tone or mood from dark to comic. Tone is often used to disorient readers and to highlight the issues considered.

5. Authors use characters to underscore issues and atmosphere. Aliens and otherworldly creatures emphasize the otherness of these stories.

6. The focus of the story drives the pacing. If there are more adventure elements and physical action, the pacing is usually faster; if ideas are emphasized more, the book generally unfolds at a more leisurely pace.” (p.245)

Ref: Joyce G. Saricks (2009) The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd edn.) American Library Association: Chicago

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