What Is Science Fiction To You? Science Fiction Concepts Poll

Digtial Science FictionOr, opening a can of worms in hopes of starting a comment war…

Here’s our latest science fiction poll, and our first science fiction concepts question. We think this is a great question and we hope it generates lots of feedback, so please jump into the discussion.

Are you a hard science fiction traditionalist, or a soft science fiction fan that follows those ‘other’ traditions. As you read this, keep in mind that any answer you give is deemed to be more-or-less inclusive of the two options above it. In other words, if you’re a Type 3, you are also presumed to accept 1 and 2. If you’re a Type 2, then no 3 or 4 applies to your view of what it is to be a “science fiction” story.

And… fight!

[poll id=”3″]

Thank you for taking the poll! If you think our categories need help or if you think we totally missed the boat, tell us. We care. Now that that’s out of the way, here are some goofy videos I made to illustrate the problem and poke some fun at it:


Cheers — Michael (unapologetic Type 3)


  1. Before I vote… Is the poll “How do you define science fiction?” Or is the poll “What type of science fiction do you prefer?” My definition is 4, my preference is around 1.5.

    • It’s “How do you define science fiction?” all the way. Although, “what do you prefer” would be an interesting question to ask if/when this poll burns out. Thanks!

    • Ah, I see the problem with the wording. I said, “you’re a science fiction fan” in Type 4, which is less a definition and more a preference. I’m going to slip in there and change that; and as a result this comment and perhaps yours, Martin, will lose context. Still, now that I see where I may have muddied the water (thank you), I’m compelled to try and fix it.

  2. Also… I might dispute the idea that 2 includes 1. Or I guess I’m disputing the notion that 1 is science fiction at all. Technothriller, maybe, but not science fiction. There needs to be SOME speculative element, or it’s just, ya know, fiction.

    • Dispute away. I might choose to ignore you (but secretly acknowledge you make a very good point). I will ponder this in private, but let the current “scale” stand for now. Last time I checked nobody was biting at Type 1 anyway.

      I will add this underdeveloped thought though: If in 1967 I wrote about a rocket mission to the moon, it would be science fiction. But if you’re correct, on July 20, 1969 my science fiction story would lose its classification, and be fiction. Type 1 would allow for a fictional story with scientific elements to be classified as science fiction. I do think the scientific elements would have to be more than incidental prop or stage pieces. What about the movie Outbreak; fiction or science fiction? (I’m sure there are better “what abouts”, but it’s late and I’m tired. 😉

      • Here’s a very relevant “what about”, and an example I use frequently when discussing this topic.

        Suppose I write a story where people use the internet to look up untraceable poisons and other means to commit unstoppable crimes. A crusading technician takes it upon himself to save civilization by writing a really insidious worm to remove all such information from the internet. Is that science fiction? If Hollywood made a film of it, I doubt it would be marketed as science fiction. It would be a thriller, maybe. Or if someone were really daring, it might be a black comedy.

        Now suppose Murray Leinster wrote that story back in 1946. There’s no doubt that it was science fiction back then.

        Other examples abound. At one time, airplanes, spacecraft, and computers (to name just a few) were all the stuff of science fiction. These don’t make a story SF today. So I do think the chronological context matters when you’re classifying a story.

        • I see your point, and am tending to agreement. Almost any story could be classified as science fiction if all it required was something “scientific” playing an important role. Rooting the classification in the time period it was written seems like an important consideration. Otherwise some true classics will lose (have lost) their status.

          This means, to be science fiction, applying some level of fiction to the science, rather than science to the fiction. That arguably reduces the question to a scale of “how much fiction may be applied to the science” before science fiction becomes something else? And what’s the something else, fantasy? This is probably where we tend to get in trouble, because one person’s reasonable speculation could be another person’s imagination.

          If the real distinction is between Type 2 and Type 3, and 1 and 4 are the bookends, then there’s room for a lot of different interpretations of where on that scale any given story falls, even accepting that it needs to be assessed as at the time it was written.

          As a thought exercise, based on the Movie Poll, where would the top three of Matrix, Blade Runner, or Inception fall? What about the Book Poll with Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dune, and Foundation? I believe that if you asked 20 fans that question you’d get a wide spread. (Except for The Guide, because we know that all happened, or is happening now, or probably will happen yesterday.)

  3. I don’t think you’ve missed the boat but maybe there are other boats out there to be considered. Sometimes its useful playing around with different definitions of Science Fiction as a thought experiment.

    Consider this set of rules:

    a) “Science Fiction is any story where our human race is fictionally present.”
    b) “Fantasy is any story where our human race is not present at all”
    c) “Non-SF/Fantasy is any story where our human race is factually present”

    a) “Science Fiction is any story where our human race is a fictional character.”
    To be fictional it has to have shifted from the current. It may have moved forward or backward or sideways or another direction. It could be a subtle and slight shift or a drastic one, but its different from our world. This also includes alternate histories, utopian and dystopian stories , speculative science as well as most of the stories considered science fiction

    b) “Fantasy is any story where our human race is not a character”
    Another race , human or otherwise may now present. There is no thread linking the narrative back to our world.

    c) “Non-SF/Fantasy is any story where our human race is a factual character”
    The narrative takes place in our perceived world or in the acknowledged past. It follows the rules of nature as they are currently understood.

    Consider those definitions against other stories that you consider science fiction or fantasy or ‘mainstream’
    Pern and Majipoor would be science fiction because they link to earth. Star wars would be fantasy (‘far far away’ and a ‘long time ago’ not being a good enough link to our world). ‘Brigadoon’ and ‘its a wonderful life’ would also be science fiction and not mainstream or fantasy. Discworld is fantasy but the ‘Science of Discworld’ narratives are science fiction.

    This definition is a little bizarre, it seems to ignore the science element and takes a purely social viewpoint. We are only considering the social aspect of the story in defining it. But the results are very similar.

    • Thank you for this thought provoking response. I hadn’t considered the social viewpoint approach, and I’m certainly not prepared to respond in any meaningful way until I’ve thought about it. I do agree that there may be other boats. Really, we could call that the “Many Boats Theory of Science Fiction”, but I’d need a bigger poll. Thank you again, Athos, for the great comment.

  4. AMC Pacer (1978) is to “not a car”


    Time Chasers (1994) is to “not science fiction”

    Just because something truly sucks at what it is, does that mean we can try calling it something else to avoid guilt by association? I think not.

    “Hi. What do you do?”
    “I make cars.”
    “Really, that’s so cool! I wish I could make cars. What kind of car do you make?”
    “I make AMC Pacers.”
    “Oh… uh, well, that’s neat I guess. I have to go wash my cat now.”

    Maybe we should call any really bad car an “aut-mob”. That’s defensible, and will protect the real cars from scorn.


    • “Just because something truly sucks at what it is, does that mean we can try calling it something else to avoid guilt by association? I think not.”

      Heh. I’m tempted to say, “If the lit snobs can do it, why can’t we?”

      Lit snob: “Oh, science fiction is just trash. It’s not literature.”

      Me: “Oh, really? What about Slaughterhouse Five? 1984? Brave New World? Fahrenheit 451? The Martian Chronicles? etc., etc., etc.”

      Lit snob: “Oh, those aren’t science fiction. They’re literature!”

      But unlike a lit snob, I’m too honest for that sophistry. We have to claim the bad with the good with the vast middle.

  5. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. (whose name I can never remember), has a pretty fascinating look on this subject in his book “The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction.” Here’s a quick summary: http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/70/icr70art.htm

  6. Anything that fits the 1st graders formula “speculative+fiction” or “science+fiction” = sci-fi. Simple math 🙂

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