Monday, December 3, 2012

What is Science Fiction

The speculative genre is a large umbrella category of fiction. Under it shelters a wide variety of stories that deal with those events and elements outside common experience.

At one end of the spectrum lies fantasy, those stories of the magical and supernatural. (You can find my look at that part of speculative fiction here.) On the other end is science fiction, which we’ll be analyzing this month.

As the name implies, technology and science, rather than the supernatural, marks this end of the spectrum. It can cover anything from biology and genetic engineering to astrophysics and space travel.
As a result, the setting is almost always futuristic, since there can be little speculation over past science developments. That future may only be a few years off, involving the technology already at our fingertips. Or that future can be very distant, employing “science” that is so distant it seems almost magical. However, this future is usually connected to our world in some way, though occasionally a completely alternate universe is created to compensate for the further-flung science.
Either way, science and technology plays a major role. They will provide the foundation for the premise as well as the driving factor in the plot (e.g. Jurassic Park wouldn’t exist without genetic manipulation or the ethical questions surrounding that practice). Unnatural abilities, such as time travel or telepathy, will have a science explanation. Often the author will spend a great number of words to explain how things work. Science so dominates that in the most extreme subgenre—hard science fiction—the supernatural cannot exist; everything must have a scientific explanation. 
Therefore, science fiction tends toward high-suspense plots with end-of-the-world stakes while grappling with the ethical, moral, philosophical, and theological implications of our ever-advancing technology.

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