After several years of listening to self-professed science fiction fans and experts talk about what is and isn’t a part of the genre, I have come to an important conclusion. It turns out that even though I have read and written science fiction my entire life, none of what I have consumed is actually science fiction. Here are many of the reasons why:
It’s just a story about science/doing science
That science is impossible, therefore it’s fantasy.
The science is too realistic, therefore it’s not science fiction.
Any fantasy elements whatsoever exist in the story, therefore it is 100% fantasy, regardless of any SFnal elements.
If you removed the science fiction elements, it would be the same story!
It reifies the status quo!
It’s not progressive!
It’s too progressive!
I DISAGREE WITH THE POLITICS.
Someone put a different marketing category on it.
The author is well known in a different genre.
The author outsells my friends.
The story has elements of another genre, therefore it’s just a ____ story in space/after the apocalypse / in the future / with aliens.
The author is a woman and therefore it’s just a ____ story in space.
The author is a person of color, and therefore it’s just a ____ story in space.
The author is non-binary, but I don’t understand what that even means, and have considered them to be a woman, and therefore the story must be a romance or something set in space.
I think there were metaphors in it, so it was probably not science fiction.
The author works at a university and has an MFA, so it’s literary fiction.
It provides commentary on the present, rather than pretending to predict the future.
It’s not set in the future.
It’s not set far enough in the future.
It’s set too far into the future.
I don’t like the subgenre, so it’s not really science fiction.
With a little bit of thought, and a minimal amount of effort, I’m sure that you will realize that all your favorite, cherished science fiction novels are actually fantasy… or something else entirely. In any case, we should clearly realize that science fiction is, in itself, a myth. There is nothing contained within the genre. The set of Definitely Science Fiction Works is an empty set, and we can all go home now.
September 18, 2017 at 08:13
“I think there were metaphors in it, so it was probably not science fiction.”
Reader, I loled.
I guess I have a sort of … sub category which I internally mark as “proper” science fiction, which is stuff where the SFnal features are so integral to the plot that you couldn’t tell the same story without them, but that doesn’t mean I’d say anything which doesn’t meet that criteria “isn’t sci-fi”.
I mean, “Star Wars” is just Kurosawa’s “Hidden Fortress” but in space, and no sane person would say it isn’t sci-fi.
September 18, 2017 at 19:11
Oh, if only. I have heard Star Wars used as an example of “Not Really Science Fiction” on more than one occasion at SF conventions. Reasons have included: “Because the force is just magic” and “it’s just a western in space.”
It’s magic. MAGIC.
September 20, 2017 at 09:23
I did say no /sane/ person.
“The force is just magic.”
“And you think FTL that doesn’t have to contend with the implicit time paradoxes is what, exactly?”
September 18, 2017 at 08:55
Dear Keffy –
I am just letting you know Sparks did not shoot out of my eyes. However they did shoot out of my left ear. You will be receiving an invoice for the cost of my favorite hoodie.
September 18, 2017 at 12:17
Well put. (Genre gatekeeping annoys me so much.)
April 25, 2018 at 13:49
Awesome article. Genre gatekeeping can be a huge headache when you’re trying to figure out how to classify your work. Personally, I think we should all just adopt the loose colloquial definition of SciFi instead of constantly trying to arbitrarily establish a strict threshold between SciFi and Fantasy. Even most so called “hard SciFi” works would eventually be outed as fantasy by some enthusiasts’ strict criteria, given enough time.