Science fiction is a picnic basket and a pair of glasses, holding and looking at technology.

It is a narrative mode in which technology plays some significant role in the universe of the story, if not in the story itself. Here I refer to technology by its broadest definition: as the application of research to social and industrial life. The research can be real or imagined, formal or informal, from within the story or from the story’s writer. The same can be said for social and industrial life. Under this definition, “technology” gestures to many things: a material (consider the protomolecule in The Expanse), a category (consider gender in The Left Hand of Darkness), a process (consider gene editing in Seveneves or the anarchist experiment in The Dispossessed), a machine (consider the ansible also in The Dispossessed), or even a side effect (consider fallout in A Canticle for Leibowitz or climate change in Parable of the Sower) to name just a few. This definition is purposefully broad, allowing for generous categorization under the umbrella of “genre”.

In this sense, science fiction is an imaginative lens more than it is a set of criteria. Through it, creators and imbibers both can see possibilities unmoored from time (future setting is not necessary for science fiction: consider Eifelheim) but that, through the mysterious blackbox processes of reading, watching, and listening, often gesture to the now and all that it contains. As Donna Haraway puts it, “the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion”(1985). So, in addition to a pair of glasses through which certain things clarify, science fiction is also a narrative picnic basket for technologies and their reverberations. It is both a container and a perspective with this necessarily broad definition of technology at its center.