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Well Read- by icon_see_you

D*C Panel Idea # 2

What Is Science Fiction?

Given how exercised the mailing list seems to be getting about the above question, I think we can fill an hour - or more - with some very interesting arguments over definitions and gradations (i.e., hard versus soft versus fantasy) and TV-Guide-style ignorance. And I'm reasonably sure we can talk about this face-to-face without killing each other. *g*

So - listies, what say you?

Comments

Oy, that would need more than an hour, I would guess! Very interesting topic, but it might be a bit too broad to fit into the convention.
Very interesting topic, but it might be a bit too broad to fit into the convention.

Ah, but so was the genocide topic, as it turned out. *g*
There's a very simple definition that a friend of mine once used when arguing with another friend about the status of 1984. He turned to me and asked "Have you read it?" and, when I said yes, turned back to our friend in triumph: "She's read it! It can't be science fiction!"

In fact, 1984 does satisfy one of the definitions I've come up with over the years - or maybe it's not a definition, just a manifesto of what I want science fiction to do. It's an examination of our own society through a refracting mirror, which distorts one aspect of our lives so that we consider it more clearly.
It's an examination of our own society through a refracting mirror, which distorts one aspect of our lives so that we consider it more clearly.

I think that's a pretty good start. But do you believe there's a difference between a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a show like Star Trek? And if so, what is the nature of that difference? I think both shows, in different ways, attempted to satisfy your above definition... yet I would still put them in somewhat different categories.
I don't think I'd classify Buffy as science fiction, which may just be because I didn't watch enough of it to work out what aspect of society was being distorted, or may be because I'm using other guidelines to separate SF and Fantasy.
BtVS was, in many ways, an exaggerated examination of adolescence in American society. It's subtle, but I think it counts as a distortion.
I think it would be fascinating. The problem is that the definition seems to be so subjective.
Indeed. But I think the subjective nature of the topic is bound to generate discussion - and that's the goal, right?
It would also be interesting to look at media vs print vs comic definitions, and the topic of poetry.

I'd back up even further, though, and ask What are we trying to accomplish, by defining SF? I mean, who benefits from knowing that book A is SF and show X is not?

(I have answers, but I'll not share them just now.)

- hg
I'd back up even further, though, and ask What are we trying to accomplish, by defining SF?

Excellent question - and one that I would definitely discuss in such a panel.

Originally, I believe the question came up on the list because people were trying to figure out which shows AMTV will own next year - in other words, the discussion was generated by con organization realities. (And someone resolved that issue by asserting that sci-fi was whatever Aaron, the track director, thought it was. Hee.)

Still, at least one person has tried to hijack SF for partisan purposes, which really ruffles my feathers. So yes, as I said, your question needs to be asked.

SF as political tool

And someone resolved that issue by asserting that sci-fi was whatever Aaron, the track director, thought it was.

LOL - "I know what it is when I point to it and say, "this is porn."

Still, at least one person has tried to hijack SF for partisan purposes, which really ruffles my feathers.

Hmmm. (I'm reading partisan as "political partisan", here, correct me if I'm wrong.)

On the one hand, I can see, and somewhat sympathize with, the idea that SF is, by nature, progressive, in the best sense that evokes questioning the status quo and imagining a better future. And for fans who are primarily Star Wars (esp original series) and Star Trek fans (esp TNG), and who don't over-think the issues, I can definately see the capability to say "SF is about anti-fascism and becoming open-minded and inclusive and peaceful, so therefore it must be about liberal (meaning Democratic) ideals."

And there is the strong libertarian streak in print SF, which both conservative and liberal types try to claim for their own side.

However, looking at the actual povs of authors, the themes of major published works, and the (as I see them) actual track records of both conservatives and liberals both in the USA, in 'the West' and world wide...

I think that SF is a tool for examining perceptions and exploring options. I think, at its best, SF keeps to its scientific roots by assuming that every action has a reaction, and that events can be traced to a triggering effect, and takes those principles to examine what is going on around us, and what we think is going on around us. And those perceptions and thoughts - the ones examined for possible future effects, and for rightous of fit to the actual environment - must, for clarity's sake, and intellectual honesty, include not only the ones we agree with, but also the ones we despise.

So, yeah, SF is a way of combating commie pinkos. It's also a method that commie pinkos use to further their agenda. SF reflects a liberal mindset bent on constant change. It also supports the conservative focus on results and not surface appearance. And so on, and so on.

Hmmm. Sorry. Rambled there for a bit.

- hg
Oh, yeah, I'd be AMAZED if you can get that in an hour.

If I was there, some things I'd definately comment on:
-the idea of print SF being more "respectible" that film/TV SF.
-Having a show's genre actually be a mystery: i.e. LOST
-the term "genre" as used to denote Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Occult shows together (i.e. "this year's line-up is heavy on genre shows")
You have three good sub-topics there. I myself admit to using "genre" for ease of discussion, with "genre" being defined in my head as "anything fans might discuss at a Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention."
I know the first time I saw the term used that way I thought "okay, I see what is meant - but that strikes me as a dangerously subjective term" - not that "science fiction" and "fantasy" aeren't, of course. And "genre" is handy when dealing with stuff you just don't KNOW what to do with - LOST, for example, or Farscape on occasion, when it gets more spiritual.