Three Things I Think about Science Fiction and Fantasy

  • by Gitabushi

1) At the risk of re-igniting the running battle about Hard SF vs Soft SF, it hit me that some of the resentment from Soft SF proponents seems to be they think the labels were initiated for Science Fiction, and that “Soft” was at least inadvertently derogatory.  But there are many things that have those labels without “Soft” being derogatory, but descriptive.

In fact, I think the term came from descriptions of science.  Math is intrinsic to Hard Science. Soft sciences are those in which quantifying knowledge is difficult, and much research is qualitative.  As Soft science concerns itself with society, politics, economics, psychology, etc, so does Soft Science Fiction concern itself more with the people than with orbital mechanics, axial tilt, etc.

I don’t know. Maybe it will help people to accept the designations as valid descriptors if they can understand it wasn’t terms developed within the Science Fiction community.

2) Larry Niven, I think, really hated the term Sci-Fi.  I know some people really hated the term, at least.  I think SFF (Science Fiction/Fantasy) was the preferred term.  Personally, I prefer Speculative Fiction, for reasons I will explain below.

But to be honest, I don’t really care that much. To be perfectly blunt, Sci-Fi is much easier to say than SFF or Speculative Fiction.

I think Sci-Fi was hated because it seemed to be derivative of Hi-Fi, a faddish term in audiophile circles.  But Hi-Fi isn’t a faddish term anymore, and Wi-Fi is ubiquitous and normalized. Should we bring back Sci-Fi? Did it ever really go away, or was that just my reading circles?

What term do you prefer?

3) I prefer the term Speculative Fiction. I prefer that term because to me, the best Science Fiction and Fantasy are those stories that challenge me, that make me think.  Science Fiction is, at its best, an exploration of what it means to be human, what ways we can change and still be human, why humans are the way we are, and what changes to our environment might do to the nature of humanity.  Fantasy, in contrast (when it is in contrast…it isn’t always), is an exploration of large themes of Good and Evil, of Power, of individuality.

Both speculate on world and societies close to ours, but not ours, exactly. This allows the the author to fully explore the aspect(s) of humanity that he wishes to highlight.

Maybe there are stories that are just stories of cool events, that don’t explore issues of loyalty, courage, responding to threats, the nature of civilization, etc. I don’t really want to read those stories.

Oh, yeah: PC Bushi, the slavedriver, requires me to include a picture every time.

Here’s a Speculative Fiction story in just one cartoon:


12 thoughts on “Three Things I Think about Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. Zing!

    Personally I use both SFF and Scifi. SFF includes Scifi. These days I’ve been reading a lot more stuff that blurs the line (which some would say was artificially imposed in recent decades), so I haven’t used the latter term as often.

    And that cartoon is excellent. See? My draconian law once again proves its worth.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. [Buzzer] I”m sorry, the proper response is, “I don’t remember telling you to do that.”
        We also would have accepted, “When you can balance tack hammer on your head, you will head of your foes with a balanced attack.”


  2. Oh we know the term originated in science circles. Hard sciences are the only real sciences. Soft sciences are all pseudoscience so the insult still stands.


    1. Honest question. If you acknowledge the term came from science itself, and you don’t like the connection with Soft Science, then why/how claim the Science mantle at all?


  3. I used to be a big Sci-Fi term guy. UNTIL the Sci-Fi channel went all Syphilis on us and made me throw up with their Sy-Fy “branding”. Now I use SFF to try to cleanse my tainted mind. Failing so far though…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I prefer speculative fiction because it doesn’t implicitly leave out works that are neither science fiction nor fantasy but deserve to be grouped with them nonetheless. E.g., a lot of alternative history and post-apocalyptic fiction don’t readily fit in either. I use SFF sometimes for space reasons (damn you, Twitter 140-character limit!). I understand “speculative fiction” is popular with people who want the field to be more literary, but I try to ignore those snobs as much as possible.

    Maybe in honor of economics we should start referring to soft science fiction as “dismal science fiction.” Of course then its writers would need to actually start paying attention to economics…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It would never catch on, but I’m beginning to think Participation Award Science Fiction might work for the really hard core objectors to Hard/Soft SF designations.
      They don’t want that icky math in their stories, but they don’t like the implication that they are less scientific than the stories with so much icky math.


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