I have a different answer on what science fiction means and is depending on what aspect of my experience the question is being asked to. For example, as an editor I’m going to go on about how that a work of fiction would be categorized in marketing, as a writer I’m going to tell you I have no idea, it’s just what I like to write. I think the answer that is if not the most boring, the most over-discussed, is the one that digs deeply into genre taxonomy. Yes, I could make a list of what space fantasy is vs hard sci fi vs speculative literary fiction, but it’s more interesting for me to examine what science fiction is in terms of what I most passionately think it is for. What I think it is for is: imaginative ways to conceptualize human emotions and experience, by filtering them through technologies or ways of being that might not exist, or which don’t exist yet. Is that going to be everyone’s answer? Probably not, especially when it’s true that a lot of criticism of the speculative is not affect-centered at all, but it’s one thing I can come up with that always matters, whether or not it’s being acknowledged as an important part of a work.

What’s stood out to me most in my study of fantasy and science fiction as an academic is the idea that we need it to understand the world and ourselves in a way that realism isn’t able to give us. On the other side of the “escapism” coin is that so much of human experience can’t be articulated, and we have to have some way to talk about things that are otherwise unsayable. Could that be where the fan passion that’s so tied to science fiction comes from, too? Allowing ourselves the freedom of these imaginative spaces that are also validating, and so powerful in a way that can build enthusiasm and creativity (and a space for marginalized identity)? I’m not comfortable with saying I have a direct answer to that now, but it is something I’m always thinking about.