Is science fiction still a distinct genre?

Promotional build for Neal Stepheson's Snow Crash in Second LifeVia a number of places (though I saw it at Posthuman Blues first) comes a post at Mondolithic Studios which asks (rhetorically) whether science fiction is still a distinct genre. To quote:

I think what confuses some people is the fact that Science Fiction isn’t really a distinct genre unto itself anymore. It’s mutated into dozens of sub-genres and movements, liberally exchanged genetic material with Fantasy and social satirism and burrowed into the internet in the form of hundreds of thousands of scifi and fantasy-oriented blogs, galleries, fanzines, vlogs, podcasts and short story webzines.

Given that you read Futurismic (which is a paying market for fiction, and will continue to be one just as soon as we can get the site aesthetics fixed up so as to present the stories the way they deserve), it’s an easy to assume that you’re in alignment with that opinion. But maybe not – what do you think? Is there still a definable body to science fiction, or is it more of a conceptual bundle that various forms of entertainment partake of in varying degrees? [Image by Hiro Sheridan]

2 thoughts on “Is science fiction still a distinct genre?”

  1. The reason for this is that SF– like fantasy or historical fiction– is a setting, not a genre. As such, any genre can be set in those settings, such as mystery, romance, comedy, horror, or action. Those are not settings, they’re experiences produced in the reader’s brain. I have heard many people complain that a work set in an SF setting was still not SF. I think they mean the experience they’re expecting it to produce is intellectual stimulation about philosophy, business, politics, science, engineering, or other ideas. Too many paying markets are looking for writing that is generically good, instead of choosing one of these mental experiences to focus on.

  2. That’s an interesting distinction, Matt – and I have to say not one I’d entirely agree with. I’m inclined to believe that sf *at its best* is much more than a setting; it’s a different way of looking at ideas and the way that people interact and react with them, as opposed to fantasy or historical or westerns, which are classic story threads set against a certain temporal or metaphysical backdrop. Sf as setting = ‘skiffy’; sf literature = [?]. It’s a tricky distinction, but a lot of fun to debate over a beer or two!

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