One thing I can’t stand is sloppy reasoning but unfortunately there is a lot of sloppy reasoning around the web. An example of this is given by Dion of It’s All Geek to Me when he is attempting to define science fiction.
You’ve got robots and computers? You’ve got science. You’ve got spaceships and laser guns? You’ve got science. Somewhere, someone in this universe is applying scientific principles to develop hyperdrives and Death Stars and portable iron lungs. I don’t care if the technology couldn’t possibly exist in the real world—in the fictional world being portrayed, it is possible.
Dion is here defending Star Wars as science fiction, which is actually funny since Mr Lucas himself has stated that Star Wars is not science fiction. And Lucas even went so far as stating that he got his inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with the Thousand Faces.
Anyway Dion appears to believe that a story counts as science fiction if it includes some science, regardless of how improbable or unlike such “science” might be. More importantly Dion appears to contradict his earlier definition of science fiction in the very same post:
I’d like to suggest that what differentiates science fiction from fantasy is that the former includes speculative (pseudo-)science and/or technology as a key part of its setting or plot.
It’s interesting to note that Dion explicitly includes pseudoscience in this definition. More importantly is the phrase key part but as pointed out by Mike Fenton, one can easily leave out the sciency parts of Star Wars while the main story remains petty much intact. Either Dion has no idea what the meaning is of the term key or he is using sloppy reasoning.
My impression is that Dion honestly believes that spicing up a story with sciency elements, you will get science fiction. Anyway he applies a very broad understanding of science as he accepts pretty much anything as science in fiction as it is presented as science, regardless of how implausible such “science” is.
Dion’s understanding of science fiction is problematic in many ways. For instance it is virtually impossible to write a story set in the contemporary industrialized world, where more people have access to internet than to clean water, which does not includes smartphones, internet or computers. In fact modern society is full with science and technology, but it would be outlandish to declare all stories set in present day world as science fiction.
I could, for instance, write a story about a hijacking on an airplane (which is definitely technology). Would this counts as science fiction in Dion’s opinion? After all technology is part of the setting, isn’t it?
Secondly Dion’s acceptance of improbable science in science fiction further blurs between science fiction and fantasy. In the Harry Potter series magic is used in much the same way we use science and technology in our world. In fact we see wizards study magic in a similar fashion we are doing science, wizards are doing experiments and have their academic journals like Transfiguration Today (a pun on Physics Today?).
In fantasy magic is often accepted as a factual part of their world. And science is the systematic study of the facts of life and technology is the practical application of science. In this way we can consider magic as “science” whether it is studied at Hogwarts or practiced by the Aes Sedai in The Wheel of Time.
So if Dion really does not care if the technology could not possibly exist in the real world, he has a hard time to point out why Harry Potter and Wheel of Time are fantasy and not science fiction. But I have little hope he will be able to draw a clear line as in the comments on his post he writes:
I think the real question is, what does the average person mean by “science fiction”. In my opinion, they mean anything that includes sci-fi tropes: spaceships, aliens, robots, etc.
Ask a random person on the street if Star Wars or Star Trek are science fiction and you’ll get a big “Yes!” from most people.
This is basically the old ad populum fallacy. I do not think the average person should be taken as the criterion of classifying anything to a certain genre. Most people are not used to literary criticism and have little thought about the criterions of different literary genres.
Further more we should wonder why the average person considers Star Wars as science fiction. I think the reason is simple, because they are told that Star Wars is science fiction. We know that public opinion can be manipulated, otherwise billions wouldn’t be invested in marketing each year.
In my opinion writers of science fiction should try to use science that is at least plausible given the current understanding of science. Discredited scientific theories should be avoided. And just inserting robots, aliens or lasers is not enough to make story science fiction.