What is science fiction? A student of fantastic literature would often find one’s object of study scrutinized, as its definitional boundaries do not always cohere with traditional literary standards. Fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, dystopias and utopias, and to some extent magic realism, among many others, share blurred boundaries as we might often find texts (both written and visual) unable to be placed in a single genre or sub-genre. While numerous writers have attempted to define what science fiction really is, the genre (and its neighboring sub/genres) has yet to “find” its definitive niche.
First, science fiction IS fiction, but unlike any other fiction, science fiction and its fantastic cousins take their fictionality on an entirely different level. While some fiction can more or less resemble real life to the tiniest detail, science fiction places the human imagination at the forefront—highlighting the possibilities, the what-ifs, the unusual and the new. To this, Darko Suvin’s concept of the “novum” comes to mind. Science fiction offers something new, which I see as a refraction of reality through multi-colored, sometimes distorted, lenses. While the same can be said of fantasy, science fiction differs on its emphasis on the role of science and/or technology. Whether presenting a cautionary tale or a hopeful/hopeless vision of humanity’s future, Science Fiction serves to respond to the call of times—both rooted in context and far-reaching in their imaginings.
Of lesser certainty is science fiction’s temporality. While fantasy tropes usually prescribe a past elsewhere (A long time ago in a kingdom far, far away…; A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…), science-fictive narratives on the other hand are usually found to present a future what-if, though not always. Either way, whether set in a dystopian future, or a utopian/no-where land, or a timeless void, to me what science fiction does best is its ability to reflect upon humanity in ways more imaginative than your ordinary fiction. Science and technology have become so integral to our perception of our own humanity that we may have to rethink our ways of seeing our relationship with S/T, as science fiction is able to accomplish. Much to the surprise of literary elitists, science fiction is not as escapist or as “out there” as it is often made out to be. Like all literature, it is a reflection of humanity, but more than a reflection, science fiction refracts—providing new hues and ways of thinking, a window into other worlds, a peep into possible futures, and more importantly, a glimpse into our own humanity in ways that have not been previously imagined, making the experience of science fiction a more worthwhile and more interesting pursuit of reflective truth/s.
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