What for August 2011


What is Science Fiction?

A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content.

-Theodore Sturgeon

Science fiction is anything published as science fiction.

-Norman Spinrad

The truth is somewhere between these two positions. The first is probably the view held by most writers and all fans of Science Fiction. Everyone likes to place what they do, or what the love, above that of the works of others. This is not necessarily hubris, but human nature. Science Fiction can and often does bring out the best in its readers by showing them what humans, or aliens, are capable of under extraordinary circumstances.

Science Fiction does not rely on the supernatural to reach a solution to the problem, no matter how superordinary the crisis. Aliens, Robots, Dinosaurs, Time-traveling hyper-intelligent Apes, are all ordinary in the context of the story.

On the other hand…

The second definition is probably a slightly better one for the novice reader, and certainly the definition used by the majority. Science Fiction is a catch all for the strange, unusual or just plain not normal in fiction today. Aliens, Robots, Dinosaurs, Zombies, Vampires, Ghosts and just about anything else writers want to shovel in. For a new reader walking through the aisles at the B&N or half-priced books the flashy pictures and provocative titles draw the eyes. An interesting blurb on the back gets them to the register and the (relatively) low price of a mass-market paperback will get them out the door.

This cheap, pseudo-science fiction is the gateway drug to better science fiction. For every ten or twenty Charlaine Harris books bought at least one Neal Stephenson book or Neil Gaiman book will be soon to follow.

Moving from the second definition to the first definition is the path that all science fiction fans…

Science fiction is hard to define because it is the literature of change and it changes while you are trying to define it.

-Tom Shippey

Which came first…?

This is a much harder question to answer than the first question, as there is no definitive definition of Science Fiction there is no absolute beginning. It is sure that by 1890 Science Fiction existed as a genre, but depending on how you define SF it could have been around for 50 years before that or 2500 years or 3000 years.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction states that anything prior to about 1800 should probably be classified as proto-SF, but even that is a nebulous term. Under the loosest definition just about anything counts as proto-SF, from The Iliad to the Commentarii de Bello Gallico.

Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll examine a few of the more likely examples of early Science Fiction, refining the definition of SF and the development of the style and tropes common to all SF, starting with a look at an English translation of the Mahabharata.

New Movie Reviews

Cowboys & Aliens

After seeing the movie last Sunday, I’ve spent the week pinning down my thoughts, should have a review out by tomorrow night.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

A surprise family visit has delayed my viewing of the movie, I hope to see it sometime tomorrow afternoon and hopefully a review out by the end of the week.

Final Destination 5

This is the only sorta SF movie coming out on Aug. 12. It doesn’t look good and I’ll probably skip it.

Fright Night

I’m a huge fan of the original film, and personally that had a lot to do with Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall. Colin Farrell and David Tennant are poor substitutes and  Anton Yelchin doesn’t help either, but my curiosity compels me to see this first hand.

Conan the Barbarian

Also a huge fan of the original Conans, but in this case I’m also a fan of Momoa and an enormous fan of Ron Perlman. This is a movie that I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about the casting. Of course, I expect it will suck monkey balls, but I’m still going to see it.

Spy Kids 4

I’ve taken my nephews to all the Spy Kids movies and it doesn’t look like I’m going to get out of this one either…

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Three words: Guillermo. Del. Toro. I am so there.

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