This short essay is based more on our discussions from class and less on the readings for the week. My stake on the whole debate of class, which seemed to quickly devolve into a conversation about genres and transcendence, is based solely on one question. The need to ask it probably comes from my anthropological background. Why do we care about the phrase science fiction as representative of our society? The whole class got swept up in semantics very quickly, but there was some number of agreements made among us despite the arguments: that the genre is much debated, that sci-fi is what you make of it, and that the definition is created by the group.
This last one is perhaps the most interesting consensus we arrived at. To say a definition is created and enforced by the group implies it is a living thing, going beyond genre entirely. Instead, it dips into the act of reification. That is to say, science fiction is more than a type of literature, but rather closer in essence to a social fact.
It is alien and comforting: as consumers of cultural text, we need comfort literature. As is said in religious studies, apocalypse literature is essentially comfort literature. It eases the anxiety of living. To some degree we see this with War of the Worlds, in how each retelling of the classic story transforms slightly to fit the anxieties of each time period. For example, the distinctly Cold War atomic age attitude of the 1953 movie, or even the fact that both movies and radio drama were set in America, widely accepted the new world power during those days. We see it also in the overwrought nature of gatekeeping cis-hetero males that are protective of a space they consider to be solely theirs, or in the African American community’s dedication to Afrofuturism as a legitimate subgenre of sci-fi for minority voices only. Each of these examples shows how science fiction goes above and beyond genre to encompass something else entirely. That something else is essentially a culture.
That’s where my personal definition of sci-fi is rooted, in the idea of a curated culture. For my blood-related family, and members of my chosen family as well, science fiction is a part of the grander nerd culture that keeps us together and grounded as a unit. It is a part of our identity that we can create and share with others, and that is always changing. Because I grew up in a one-parent household as the fat kid of a immigrant and a black woman, I didn’t have many niches to fit into growing up in the suburbs of Florida. Science fiction helped me to carve one out. It still does, and requires constant upkeep and change. The culture of sci-fi is always evolving as humans evolve. And because it is a social tool, it is a valuable thing to understand.
So the truth of the matter is, the definition of science fiction depends on the person defining it. It also depends on the community, which is why each group agonizes over redefining the genre (much like our class did). A person’s worldview depends on what they can see; the way the world exists around you has an effect on what you care about. Science fiction challenges people to broaden that view by giving us a new way to view the world.