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What does science fiction really mean

  1. Aug 14, 2013 #1
    Science fiction in my opinion means something scientific that isn't real (at the moment). Looking through history, star trek ect a lot of science fiction there has become a reality. I'm interested in hearing from people who teach / research physics if there was ever a time when something was thought impossible due to the laws of physics but then either it turnt out that it was doable or that we found an alternative way around it?

    Does science fiction usually in a sense mean that something is scientifically impossible due to the laws of physics, or that something is possible, but we just can't do it yet?

    We all know moving at the speed of light or faster is impossible, but does this mean there is no way around it? What about teleportation? Does it violate laws of physics or is it just not possible at the moment?

    tldr; I want to know if science fiction means scientifically impossible (against the laws of physics)

    Thanks
     
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  3. Aug 14, 2013 #2

    Ryan_m_b

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    Genres are devilishly hard to both apply and define, I've read articles by authors that argue that traditional systems (which are largely held onto because it allows you to clump similar books together in a brick and mortar store) should be scraped in favour of modern tagging systems. So a book might come up on a book retail website under the tag of space (because it is set on a spaceship), romance (because two characters falling in love is central) etc. This makes sense to me because many things labeled as SF aren't often that focused on science. Star Trek and Star Wars could both be told in age of sail/fantasy settings without loosing anything significant in the plot.

    There are ways people have attempted to better define science fiction such as the SF scale of hardness. To summarise stories that rely on some aspect of scientific development for their plot can range from hard (using technologies we know to be possible) to soft (using technologies we know to be impossible.
     
  4. Aug 14, 2013 #3

    phyzguy

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  5. Aug 15, 2013 #4

    Evo

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    I think science fiction means take a bit of what is known and plausible and extrapolate as far as you can, depending on what you need.
     
  6. Aug 15, 2013 #5

    Drakkith

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    Wow I really like the idea of tagging.
     
  7. Aug 15, 2013 #6
    Once you have men with swords jumping out of space ships, it becomes fantasy not science fiction.
     
  8. Aug 15, 2013 #7

    Drakkith

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    I think the Space Marines from Warhammer 40k would disagree.
    *Rev's up his chainblade*
    DEATH TO THE XENOS! GLORY TO THE EMPEROR!
     
  9. Aug 15, 2013 #8

    Ryan_m_b

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    Some might call that science fantasy.

    In all fairness it's easy to jump out of an airlock sword in hand when you know in your heart of hearts: The Emperor Protects :wink:
     
  10. Aug 15, 2013 #9

    DavidSnider

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    I think a more appropriate term for 'Science Fiction' would be 'Technological Fiction' as most of what we call Science Fiction revolves around some imagined technological development and usually has nothing to do with science.

    Asimov's 'Foundation' would appropriately be called science fiction because the plot revolved around a fictional branch of science called psychohistory.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2013
  11. Aug 15, 2013 #10

    HallsofIvy

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    Indeed, submarines were a reality, and in use at the time Verne was writing. He just "created" a submarine much larger and able to go much larger distances than real ones could.

    And, of course, there was the 'Disney Version' which, in the movie, implied that nuclear power was used to run the submarine (Right at the end, when Verne is abandoning his island head quarters and blowing up everything, there is a "mushroom cloud"). That is NOT in Verne's book. He only refers to using batteries and says nothing about how the batteries are charged. In fact, reading the book, I got the distinct impression that Verne thought of batteries as a source of energy, not just storage.

     
  12. Jan 28, 2015 #11
    Not necessarily; There is the High Crusade by Poul Anderson.
     
  13. Jan 28, 2015 #12

    HallsofIvy

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    Poul Anderson wrote Fantasy, not Science Fiction so that is a very bad example!
     
  14. Jan 29, 2015 #13
    Really...what about Tau Zero, or People of the Wind, or The Avatar, or Orion Shall Rise, or...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2015
  15. Apr 8, 2015 #14

    Also the Dominic Flandry series as well as the Technic civilization series were science fiction, not in the fantasy genre.
     
  16. Apr 8, 2015 #15

    Dotini

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    Science fiction is the form of literature which tells a story embroidered with props and sets like spaceships and light sabers.

    The main point is that science fiction, particularly commercially successful science fiction, is fundamentally a good story. Spaceships and light sabers are merely furniture, much like the castles, knights and dragons in the medieval fantasy Game of Thrones are merely furniture in an exceptionally well told tale.
     
  17. Apr 8, 2015 #16

    Ryan_m_b

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    I think this is far too simplistic a view. There's an entire wealth of science fiction that has nothing to do with space, or light sabers or lasers or any other of these types of plot devices. Indeed I'd say you can't really define a genre just by its plot devices (though obviously it plays a part). I've seen this discussion repeated over and over by fans and authors alike and I don't think there really is a solid answer. Even if a firm definition was made there would always be new stories that push the boundaries and have people scratching their heads again.

    At best I think there are themes and plot devices that you tend to find in books of certain genres but that doesn't make those things exclusive, or necessary. For example:

    A story is likely SF if it features:

    1) A potential and expectation for things to get better over time AKA science marches on
    2) Technology more capable of what we possess IRL
    3) Phenomena explicitly or implicitly stated to be natural and amenable to scientific study
    4) A setting in the future, either a direct future of ours IRL or an alternate universe

    A story is likely fantasy if it features:

    1) An explicit or implicit theme that there were greater places/weapons/abilities in the past AKA ancient magics
    2) Recognisable examples of primitive technology
    3) Phenomena that are supernatural in nature and defy (or lack) scientific study
    4) A setting in the past, either a direct past of ours IRL or an alternative universe

    These a rough guidelines to what you might expect but they aren't absolute. There are fantasy books in which magic is studied scientifically and used to make advanced technology, there is science fiction set in the past, there are works of science fiction that use psychic powers and treat them no differently to magic in fantasy, there are fantasy stories in which the other races are aliens and not based on folk law etcetera etcetera. Then there are subgenres that straddle both genres and neither at the same time. Steampunk for example which is often set in an alternate past and features advanced technology based on primitive technology and may include magic, science, zombies and whatever.

    At this point the only thing I have left to add is to reiterate my earlier reply in this thread: in many ways dividing up media by genre is an impossible thing to do. It's convenient for describing to an audience what to expect and it's very convenient for outlets to class their stock (romance films on that shelf, science fiction books over there) but it's fundamentally flawed. That's why I think it will be interesting to see how the rise of digital media might change things especially with some form of tagging system. Why stick with just labelling your story science fiction? If it predominantly features action in space with a strong romantic subplot then tag it with "action" "space" and "romance". Anything labelled like that is likely to be more informative than one ill defined category.
     
  18. Apr 8, 2015 #17

    DaveC426913

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    I think it was Larry Niven that chose to define science fiction as a story whose progress is, in some way, dependent of some aspect of science (not just the trappings of science) - be it a spaceship with an ftl drive, or merely a world in which we can choose our children's genetic traits.

    It is not necessary to be hard science (i.e. technology, such as the former case) so long as it is science (gengineering).

    But if the story is not dependent on the science aspect, then it does not qualify. Star Wars is really a Space Opera. While there's lots of cool tech in it, the story's focus is not dependent on it (I know that's arguable). Contrarily, Star Trek is dependent on meeting new unfamiliar life forms (without that, it wouldn't be Star Trek), therefore it qualifies. Honey I Shrunk the Kids is not science fiction because the story does not care how they got small (a magic potion could have been substituted for the machine, and the story would have progressed just the same).
     
  19. Apr 9, 2015 #18
    Yeah I have to agree with this. These definitions are important to me because I'm well aware that much of what I want to do is Space Opera and not real Science Fiction. I still find them valuable to do, but I'm aware that this is not Clarke or Clement I'm trying to emulate here. In this particular setting I find the prospect of doing real Science Fiction a bit stifling.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2015
  20. Apr 28, 2015 #19
    50 years ago, a film about people using camera phones and DNA evidence would have been science fiction. Today, I suggest that the film "Gravity" is not science fiction because it doesn't actually contain any technology that doesn't exist now. It is thus an adventure film, like James Bond or Indiana Jones.

    Someday a story will be written in space, simply because that is where the author happened to be living at the time. The definition of science fiction will likely keep changing.
     
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