Scientifiction, and other mislabels

“By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, HG Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story – a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.”
(Hugo Gernsback, in a 1926 Amazing Stories editorial )

Liberty SpinA lot of science fiction, in the form it has taken over the last several decades, has stuck fairly closely to this definition.

  • A “charming romance”: I’m not so sure about charming, but dictionary.com’s definition of a romance as “a novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry, romantic  exploits, etc, usually in a historical or imaginary setting” embraces a lot of SF.
  • “scientific fact “: good SF has to either employ good science, or must provide enough credibility to allow the reader to suspend disbelief for the duration of the story. Of course, what’s acceptable here varies by writer, by story and by reader. Many readers and writers are able to suspend disbelief in faster than light travel and time travel, for example, while others regard this as fantasy.
  • “prophetic vision”: this works if you take prophetic to mean “this could happen, or have happened” rather than “this will happen, or has…”

Okay, so the definition struggles a little under the weight of decades of accumulated literature, but for me it still has a certain charm. I used the term “scientifiction” as part of the subtitle for one of my recent collections of short fiction, partly as a nod to the genre’s origins and partly to indicate the kind of stories included. I was particularly pleased when a recent Amazon review highlighted the term:

‘Scientifiction’ is used boldly in this collection, and it’s a good thing that this term has been brought back to life.

Liberty Spin: tales of scientifiction pulls together nine of my more overtly science-fictional stories, previously published in magazines and anthologies. I don’t really do heroes, as such, but these stories do set out to depict heroic and marvelous deeds, are grounded in science (or what I hope is at least credibly extrapolated science), and are set in futures, or in one case a present day, that could come to exist. And the stories pretty much run the gamut of what we generally think of as science fiction: near-space colonisation, space war, the wonders of the solar system, alien cultures, galaxy-spanning civilisations, near-future thriller and more. MemesisIt was a fun book to compile. Inspired by this, when I also put together a collection of stories loosely grouped around ideas of transformation, I coined the term modifiction for the subtitle: Memesis: modifiction and other strange changes.

Definitions… how much time have we spent debating the precise boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, slipstream, etc? What’s the difference between science fiction and sci fi? And what about speculative fiction? In my mind, what I write is extrapolative fiction (but then when it comes to it, what fiction isn’t extrapolative?). By this I mean that almost every story I write takes a point of divergence from the real we know and follows it to a logical conclusion. Some tales of extrapolative fiction could be classified as SF, others as fantasy or horror; the term covers most of what appeals to me as a writer. It’s a label that works for me, and helps me make sense of why it is that I write stories that fit so many different categories rather than sticking to a single field.

But try as I might, extrapolative fiction – or good old XF to those in the know – just doesn’t have the charm that scientifiction has, does it?

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About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

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