Defining Science Fiction

Science fiction is one of the most difficult genres of literature to define. It can stretch in time from stories that happen in the distant past to thousands and even millions of years in the future, it can have adventure, romance, comedy and more. And yet it is often reduced to being called simple escapist fiction or on the other extreme considered to be too difficult to understand.

Often people think that it is technology that defines science fiction. Often this is true, but science fiction is more than robots and laser guns. Yet not all science fiction needs to be like this. Hard science fiction stories like 2001 has very little technology that isn't available now , yet this book is one of the greatest stories in science fiction, and often the addition of the technology doesn't take over a good story.

The question of escapist fiction is one that is often spoken of when discussing science fiction. This is said with an assumption that there is something negative about being escapist but while the derivate nature of that statement is absurd so is the statement. Some of the most thought provoking and important fiction in the English language is science fiction. These are stories that explore situations like racism, genocide, war, peace and more.

The other argument that is often leveled against science fiction is that it is too difficult. The idea that you need to understand science in order to read science fiction. That it somehow requires a great deal of knowledge to understand. That it is somehow difficult to read. There is certainly some science fiction that this is true with, but even science fiction that requires understanding almost always has that information in its pages so you can learn while enjoying truly good fiction.

In the end science fiction, or speculative fiction, that also includes fantasy can be better defined by a single question than the technology, or magic. That question is "What if". Not all stories that ask this question are science fiction or fantasy but this is the question of science fiction. What if aliens contacted us? What if a man could travel in time? What if people developed super power? What if robots tried to take over the world?

Defining science fiction isn't easy and defining it as anything except technology is even more difficult. Perhaps this is why some of the more interesting science fiction authors, such as Kurt Vonnegut have denied that what they write is science fiction at all but the question "What if" is often the real key to understanding this genre.