Putting limits on science fiction
I’ve discussed conventional commitments in the criticism of fiction in a previous post, which is a kind of general foundation for this examination of science fiction criticism in particular…
SF seems to be one of the most complex and ironic genres of all: despite its diversity, there is a whole lot of conflict regarding the quality and legitimacy of the diversity, which results in sets of limiting conditions regarding acceptable SF and a bunch of camps and trenchs being occupied by adherents.
Some of the limiting conditions are as follows:
- I want more science in my (science) fiction;
- It’s the science in the fiction that makes it science fiction;
- The science doesn’t matter;
- There needs to be a philosophical basis to the fiction;
- There’s an important difference between scifi and SF;
- SF is essentially about the exploration of ideas;
- SF should be extrapolative;
- science fiction is about moral explorations;
- science fiction is commentary and reflections on the present not the future;
- SF is about having a fun ride;
- Science gets in the way of the story and the characters;
- Science should win out over mythology and superstition;
- Unexplained and baseless technology is just magic and therefore valueless to SF.
I guess the list is even longer than that, but you can immediately see how this separates and divides and creates camps and elitism, hierarchies and so on. The nomenclature of things itself is political and ideological in an SF-storytelling kind of way.
Further, many of us would identify with some on the list but describe others as ignorant, presumptuous or just as misconceptions, etc.
The thing about it is that beliefs like these may gradually form into a rigid architecture, regardless.
But that doesn’t matter on the Internet and its small social networks as they serve a gravitational function for like-minded individuals; this is, after all, what the Internet enables and reinforces in spades.
So, why should you change when you can readily find a community that validates and reinforces your values?
I admit to being like this a bit myself: I’ve subscribed to distinguishing between scifi and SF, for example. I still think that it’s sensible to do so, but it’s also elitist. However, I’m not the kind of elitist who avoids it totally with disdain and revulsion, criticises it heavily and scoffs at it when confronted by it in film and TV, essentially disallowing it any legitimate place in the sci-trope stroytelling landscape. This makes me another kind of elitist, though, right?
Moreover, despite attempting to differentiate myself, I may well write pulp scifi according to certain elitists of different persuasions.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised!
I have written extreme scifi-trope space opera, after all. At least it’s complex and philosophical, though. There it is again…
I did redeem myself by subsequently writing serious near-future SF.
What about SF history?
What I do find disturbing about some of these limiting conditions, though, is that they can be so limiting and so divorced from an understanding of SF history and its diversity.
I mean, certain camps seem to forget that soft SF is actually or can be highbrow SF as well; it’s not just hard SF that’s highbrow.
What a surprise, lol!
I’ve also written an article recently about the difference between science fiction and scientific fiction. The difference is huge. But it seems to me that there are plenty of people who don’t understand it and even evaluate a range of contemporary SF angles based on an old-fashioned view associated with scientific fiction, which is essentially 19th century, originating with Verne; I mean, deviations towards a more science fiction narratology began with his contemporaries. We should be familiar with this, even if it’s just intuitive…
The risks of missing the point
The extremes of liminal SF and sci-trope fantasy SF have taken us to places where ideas and fiction and sci-tropes and philosophy are entertained seriously. These modes have perhaps more or less no basis in hard or even soft science, but they still have relevance to our condition that are more than just escapist fantasy, which would therefore be rubbish, right?
I’m being facetious…
If we were to evaluate their worth from a scientific perspective rather than a narrative perspective, we would miss the point entirely.
Missing the point is essentially one of the limiting functions of limiting commitments or ideology. The more interested we are in exploring narrative diversity and engaging with it in its own terms, the greater the chance that we’ll actually get what a book is trying to convey and gain something valuable as a result.
An architecture of commitments is inevitable; if we’re not careful, though, we may be needlessly constrained, even destroyed by them.