I am deeply suspicious of definitions. Definitions—like literary cannon formation—enable power actors to exclude voices outside of the power structure. Even seemingly helpful monikers like “afro-futurism” can be used to dismiss the rich history of black science fiction and these writers influence on the genre. The definition of science fiction is especially wrought—something made evident by the Wikipedia page dedicated to the subject. With these definitional difficulties in mind, it is perhaps best to begin with what science fiction is not.


Science fiction is not a fictional text rooted in the hard science. (The absurdist The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is certainly science fiction, but rarely attempts to rationalize its science.)

Science fiction is not a prediction as to what will happen in the future. (Le Guin makes this abundantly clear in her The Left Hand of Darkness introduction.)

Science fiction is not necessarily set in the future. (“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”)

Science Fiction is not necessarily fictional or “unreal.” (Black Mirror often offers an entirely believable premise.)

Clearly, Science fiction doesn’t need to be science-y, and it certainly doesn’t need to be (entirely) fiction.


So what is science fiction? For me, science fiction is the ideal literary genre to explore ethics. Perhaps we should return to Ursula K. Le Guin. Le Guin writes, “Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.” This helpful maxim allows us to use texts usually relegated to the dismissive moniker “genre fiction” as metaphors for real life experiences. More than any other genre, science fiction enables the reader to shift his/her paradigm of the universe and explore different ethical possibilities via an impossibility. Science fiction is the textual embodiment of an alternative ethics.