I remember years ago now I was wandering around naively calling science fiction ‘scifi’ and ‘science fiction’ interchangeably when a friend of mine informed me that people were then calling it ‘speculative fiction’ instead.
I kind of got angry at the change particularly because of the fact that no one up until then had told me! But, I eventually got used to it and also ‘speculative/scientific fabulation/fabulism’ the more pretentious versions.
Actually, I’m quite fond of ‘SF’ and have been for years now as it refers to all these terms quite covertly and neatly and is entirely up to the individual to decide which they think fits best … They can even accept all of them at once. Nice!
Distancing SF from the pop culture understanding of science fiction
After that fateful day, I discovered that there was a political move towards using ‘SF’ by those in the genre years earlier in order to get away from the pop culture understanding of what science fiction was, which was quite cheap and nasty … even inciting laughter and mockery. Sadly, you may still experience that, though…
Having been sensitive to this for years myself, and knowing that SF authors particularly in the States were suffering this decades ago, more so than in Europe – for some reason SF has high status in France, for example – I was bemused when a conservative acquaintance said with an unattractive grin early this year, no less, “You write science fiction with aliens, right?”
That’s exactly the kind of reference they’re talking about, I suppose. My first novel is space opera and is proliferated with aliens, so I guess I’m guilty as charged. But it’s the derogatory and ignorant implication that’s offensive and completely misses the point about what I do and other authors do in our SF.
I took my first novel as an SF exploration of a specific set of philosophical problems that I thought would be well suited to be dealt with not just in any old SF context but specifically an alien-prolific, multi-galactic, FTL space-operatic setting. Fair enough.
But, did I get the chance to explain this and the history of the term SF to this poor sole? No, not yet, anyway…
Patrolling what is and isn’t SF
There are benefits to using the terms speculative fiction/fabulation/fabulism and the shorter ‘SF’ that science fiction and scifi/sci-fi don’t have.
Hard SF fans tend to emphasise the science in their fiction more than others and patrol the boundaries of SF conservatively and even aggressively with strict inclusion’ and exclusion criteria. Fantasy SF isn’t science fiction, for example, so obviously, if it is SF, it’s only speculative fiction/fabulation; there shouldn’t be any hint of the word ‘science’ in it at all. We shouldn’t forget, though, that some use SFF (science fantasy fiction) if they feel they need to be clear about their mix of science fiction and fantasy one way or another, much to the chagrin of purists.
Even the idea of a ‘fantasy science,’ replete with fantasy scientific facts, technology and cosmology, etc., is beyond the scope of what’s acceptable for some science ‘fiction’ fans (“Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean that it can’t be true!” … or ‘shouldn’t’ be.) … So if you identify with speculative fiction/fabulation, the hard SF fiends have nothing to say – they’re essentially muted … Oh, no they’re not! They’ll still state it for the sake of stating it and keeping things clear.
Although the introduction of SF was an interesting political move to make, it’s still fraught with difficulties within the community of SF readers and authors. People outside the ‘community’ still don’t know what it means, and the science fiction brigade still police the boundaries relegating that which isn’t strictly extrapolative to the confines of ‘fantasy’ while forgetting that fantasists use speculative fiction (SF). This should make us believe that SF is an adaptive and flexible term that allows considerable movement within and between the margins of storytelling.
So what’s the quibble in the end: this fiction isn’t one kind of SF; it’s another kind of SF instead?
(I’ve followed this ‘issue’ up on sfauthoralliance.com: How useful is SF compared to scifi, science fiction and speculative fiction, etc?)