Is it Science Fiction?

Is it Science Fiction?

By Geoff NelderAria-Trilogy---Geoff-Nelder---Slider

The word fantastic can mean ‘out of this world’. One difference between science fiction and fantasy is that with the former, you can theoretically get there from here.

Some say it isn’t SF if the story is only using the future or alt-history as a setting and not crucial to the story – eg Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale?

I am an admirer of Margaret Atwood and her fiction. Sometimes she can be too eager to thrust environmentally-friendly subtext at us, and her narrative in-jokes do not always hit my peculiar funny bone, but her life-stretching characters and literary prowess are a joy. I was in denial a few years ago when told by my local book group that Atwood does not want her fiction to be regarded as science fiction. Oryx and Crake she described as ‘adventure romance’. Let’s think about this. A dystopian fiction taking genetically modified people beyond current capabilities. I would say that kind of premise is definitely science fiction.

OryxAndCrakeOne of the best aspects of science fiction is its defiance of rigid definitions. Early works were hard science fiction where robots, rockets and flying saucers invaded Earth or used to explore space. Time travel, faster-than-light and aliens were all around in H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and considered as science fiction. Where we have giant and miniature humans as in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1725, again in 1735) then we are in fantasy. Not that he thought much about genre. If anything Swift considered his masterpiece to be a parody of the growing middle-class fashion of reading travellers’ tales as well as a satire on people’s foibles. Vampire tales kicked off by Bram Stoker in Dracula (1897) are fantasy because no amount of reasonable projection of current knowledge would create a vampire. It’s easy to classify pixies, dungeons & dragons, and  goblins as fantasy – beyond scientific knowledge. Many tales are borderline. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818 / 1831) is well within current knowledge, give or take a transplant and a defibrillator; hence it is science fiction.

As a rough guide science fiction could be said to be fiction, which stretches current knowledge. Fantasy is pure imagination.

I confess to kick against prescriptive definitions. For example Theodore Sturgeon (most famous novel being the excellent More Than Human [1953] based on six extraordinary people who could merge as a superhuman) wrote: “A good science-fiction story is a story about human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, that would not have happened at all without its science content.”  I hope he didn’t mean to sound like an arrogant banner-waving human-centric where no other species matters. Having said that I can’t think of a major science fiction story that doesn’t have human, or hominoids, as main characters. Maybe I should write one.

Before I leave him there is Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety percent of science fiction is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.” No arguments there.

Robert Blevins publisher of Adventure Books of Seattle favours Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, who once said: ‘Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible…’

I also like Tom Shippey’s definition of science fiction: “Science fiction is hard to define because it is the literature of change and it changes while you are trying to define it.” That bit about change is significant. The huge element of ‘what if’ makes exciting fiction. What if gravity was random in strength and direction? What if time varied with height?

Back to Margaret. This all kicked off again because of her work, The Year of the Flood (Bloomsbury, 2009). It is a sequel to Oryx and Crake, and like her other works explores human GM possibilities with a mix of satire, humour and is great literature. Sadly, she instructs readers not to count it as science fiction. In her essay collection, Moving Targets, she says that everything she writes is possible and so is not science fiction. I’m sorry, Margaret, but your definition remains yours and if I admire your work as science fiction then I will. I can only guess that she has fallen victim of the snobbery in the literati. The point is to ensure our science fiction is literature, not to be in denial.


Nelder News


Voyage of the Silents is a new story published recently and it will only cost you 50p (80 cents) or less than the biscotti for your coffee.voyageofthesilents

One of my wife’s colleagues ran into a container. Clarify Nelder. Okay, he was sailing to the Isle of Man and the container had fallen off a ship. To a writer of spooky stories this is a rich start to a horror story. What’s in the container? Surely not people, yes but what kind of people… It’s calledVoyage of the Silents, published by Pennyshorts

To grab a copy of one of my ARIA books here are the links

Kindle – Amazon.com

Paperback Amazon.com

Kindle UK –

Paperback UK

Publisher’s website with more details and formats.

Buy it quick before you run out of memory

Another science fiction book you might like of mine uses a bit of quantum mechanics but in a fun way. EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEE After timequakes cause chaos, a Mars mission is diverted to chase departing mysterious spheres. Will the spheres listen and return before Earth rips apart?

Check out the page with video clips and purchase links



  1. #Review The Man Who Lost The Sea - Geoff Nelder - Science Fiction Writer - […] Theodore Sturgeon lived from 1918 to 1985. He was a prolific writer of speculative fiction with over 200 short…
  2. #Review The Man Who Lost The Sea - Geoff Nelder - Science Fiction Writer - […] Theodore Sturgeon lived from 1918 to 1985. He was a prolific writer of speculative fiction with over 200 short…

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