by Noel Villa
Salutations to all whose curiosity has led them to this segment called Crossed Wires, wherein a cheeky organism by the name of Noel Villa (writer, complainer and enthusiast of the non-real with a penchant for baroque and romanticist stylings) shall herewith babble on about common misconceptions attributed to the genre loosely termed: science fiction.
I appreciate your time spent gleaning over this meandering introduction and I hope you’ll join me as we dive right into the thick of it! (Read the first edition of Crossed Wires by Wina Puangco here.)
1. Science fiction is all about space and futuristic technology.
First of all, what comes into your mind—what ideas and memories are stimulated by the firing of neurons across the vast network of your brain – when you hear the term “science fiction?” Technology would be a safe first answer, like how Trek and Wars would be nothing without the means for interplanetary travel? Outer space is also a good bet, maybe?
But what about the more immediate backdrops: Zombie outbreaks or any other related post-apocalyptic setting? What about time travel? Or artificial intelligence? What about dystopian societies? What is it about all these things that would make one easily categorize them science fiction? Is the mere presence of such motifs enough to categorize a work as such?
Science itself is a huge discipline that branches off into a multitude of fields of study. It contains everything from how society works to physics and mathematics to evolution, anything that can explain how reality works based on rigorous testing. Therefore, it would be quite natural to say that science fiction is anything that draws inspiration from real life fields of study and incorporates them into the story. If it has traces of robotics and programming (Isaac Asimov), microbiology and evolution (Planet of the Apes), even theoretical disciplines like time travel and alien invasions (H.G. Wells), that would be enough to classify any story science fiction.
But is this really enough? Let us dive even deeper!
2. Science fiction is the binary opposite of fantasy.
If I had a credit for every time someone thought that fantasy and science fiction occupy polar ends of the speculative fiction tree, I’d be top-ranked on every Forbes listicle in the universe.
There are no binaries nor mutually exclusive categories in genre fiction. There are just different modes, different aesthetics that keep these non-realistic genres named what they are. Sci-fi (intellectual stimulation), fantasy (wonder and awe), horror (fear) and mystery (… mystery) are merely guiding principles to achieve their own ends.
So how does science fiction differ from fantasy? I like to think it all hinges on the probability of it happening in real life, maybe now, maybe in the distant future, or maybe in an alternate reality as proponents of the multiverse theory have pointed out, as long as everything purports to follow the laws of physics.
If it has mythical beings coming to life and arcane powers beyond understanding, it’s not science. If it talks about theoretical societies and the impact of technology on consciousness, then it’s not fantastic.
But this doesn’t mean to say the genres can’t overlap. Which brings us to our next point:
3. It’s not true sci-fi if it’s not about the science.
Since the 80’s, we’ve seen several authors blend tropes and cross over genres so much that more and more subgenres have sprung from the interplay between these disparate genres.
There is now science fantasy, which contains a combination of fantasy and sci-fi tropes; there exists the varied “punk” branch, headed by the more popular Internet-toting Cyberpunk and coal-shoveling Steampunk subgenres but also containing a few other interesting developments like Nanopunk, centered around nanotechnology, and Biopunk, around genetic engineering.
A slew of popular and/or literary novels like Ishiguro Kazuo’s Never Let Me Go have taken aspects of science fiction to tell more personal, romantic stories. Superhero stories use faux scientific backstories to give its characters unreal powers. And yet all of these have the potential to be called science fiction, merely because they engage in discussion about what really classifies as science fiction, be it actively or in passing.
When you really get down to it, the only thing that separates these genres are the tropes associated with them, and that the only true test of whether a story could be classified as science fiction or not is how much its readers agree whether these tropes are enough to make it science fiction. It’s a meaningless difference now that everything has a tendency to blend into one another.
Take one of my favorite novels, for example: If explained through a synopsis, Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth has all the trappings of a science fiction story, replete with post-apocalyptic setting and advanced technologies but the story itself is presented in a wildly fantastical manner; the language is dramatic and archaic, “magic” abounds and anything scientific is thrown out the window, as its characters roam about in an adventurous tale ripped straight from fantasy.
Does this mean to say that absolutely anything can become science fiction so long as it touches on the requisite elements? The debate has been going on for centuries and there is no surefire answer in sight. So why not contribute to the discussion? If science fiction pushes the limits of science, we are here to push the limits of science fiction. To Infinity… And Beyond!
Thanks for sitting with us through this second edition of Crossed Wires here on Pillow Talk! We’ll see you next Tuesday with a post from Erika Carreon on Fantasy Epic. ☁