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View Full Version : On the Beach, A Clockwork Orange: Are these books/movies Science Fiction?


Horatio Hellpop
05-30-2016, 11:33 AM
I'm not sure where the stylistic lines are drawn for science fiction, and wonder where these two books/movies are, relative to said lines. Both were set in the (then) future and arguably involve advanced scientific concepts. But Nevil Shute's On the Beach seems of a piece with WWII stories like The Caine Mutiny, not Forbidden Planet or anything like that. And while Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange gets shown a lot at SF conventions, it's kind of in a genre of its own, owing more to psychology than to the physical sciences. It doesn't even seem al that closely related to 2001, thematically.

Also, the authors are not primarily science fiction writers. Shute is probably better known for A Town Like Alice these days and Burgess mostly wrote things that were a lot less genre-specific (like The Worm and the Ring and Earthly Powers, although part of The End of the World News was SF).

Am I overthinking this? Are both of these stories generally considered science fiction?

Little Nemo
05-30-2016, 11:49 AM
In my opinion, both are clearly science fiction.

I think you may just be stereotyping the genre. Some people feel science fiction is zap guns and bug-eyed monsters. Sure, that kind of pulp sci-fi exists but it's not the whole genre. There are plenty of great works of literature in science fiction as well.

Chronos
05-30-2016, 11:53 AM
Both of those stories are absolutely, 100% science fiction. Neither one is very similar to Forbidden Planet, but that just means that there are many different kinds of science fiction. Although, it's interesting that that's your example, given that the main gimmick of Forbidden Planet also drew from the psychological sciences.

Colibri
05-30-2016, 12:01 PM
Absolutely science fiction. The best science fiction has always been a way to explore social and psychological themes. Science fiction doesn't have to have anything to do with physical sciences.

Johnny L.A.
05-30-2016, 12:10 PM
I think I'd call them Speculative Fiction, in that the situations are possible within their timeframes rather than being possible through technological developments that haven't happened yet. If On The Beach is Science Fiction, is The Bedford Incident Science Fiction as well? Or Fail Safe?

Having said that, much Speculative Fiction contains an element or two of Science Fiction and you never hear anyone talking about 'SpecFic'. So I think by default it is grouped with Science Fiction.

RealityChuck
05-30-2016, 12:51 PM
On the Beach is science fiction in the most Gernsbackian model: a look at a possible future.

It's a mistake to take the definitions of the words "science" and "fiction" and think it defines the genre.

Thudlow Boink
05-30-2016, 01:14 PM
Having said that, much Speculative Fiction contains an element or two of Science Fiction and you never hear anyone talking about 'SpecFic'. So I think by default it is grouped with Science Fiction.As I understand it, one of the reasons the abbreviation "SF" is so popular is that it can stand for either "science fiction" or "speculative fiction"; so you can say that a book is SF without committing yourself to which you mean.

jtur88
05-30-2016, 01:49 PM
I believe (but do not know) that the publishing industry classified a novel to be science fiction if the author has established a reputation for science fiction and is typically classified as such.

Voyager
05-30-2016, 01:50 PM
Absolutely science fiction. If On the Beach is not, then what do you call Judith Merrill's Shadows on the Hearth, also an after the war story. There are of course hundreds of examples.
Clockwork Orange is even more science fiction - not only is it set in the future, but it studies the effects of a piece of technology.
I don't know why you'd think the movie would be similar to 2001? Just because both were directed by Kubrick, coming from very different sources. You might as well wonder about it not being like Lolita.

cmyk
05-30-2016, 01:51 PM
Definitely science fiction, although with an avant-garde bend.

Malthus
05-30-2016, 01:56 PM
Well, in the case of A Clockwork Orange, there ought to be no doubt by even the most exacting standards: it is "science fiction" in that the main plot point is driven by extrapolation of the impact of a particular science - that of behavioral conditioning: the "Ludovico technique" in the movie and book.

It is what I would call "hard" science fiction, in that it has basically no elements of technology-as-magic or fantasy-swords-and sorcery-set-in-space: it is a serious extrapolation of the potential impact of this branch of science on humanity.

E-DUB
05-30-2016, 01:59 PM
Yes, "Beach" is fairly standard post-apocalypse stuff, like "Alas, Babylon" and "Earth Abides". "Clockwork" is, but seems to be becoming less so day by day.

Hail Ants
05-30-2016, 04:50 PM
I've never read either novel, but in terms of the films I'd say A Clockwork Orange is definitely science fiction in the sub-genre of dystopian future (and just being a Kubrick film nearly makes it a sub-genre unto itself).

The film On the Beach however I find less science fiction and more just a straight drama. The only real 'science fiction-y' scene is the creepy footage of a lone sailor in a hazmat suit walking thru an abandoned San Diego at the end. The rest of the film takes place in normal, everyday locations. Even the sub is not made to look futuristic at all (because it isn't necessary for the story). And while an already occurred WWIII is the underlying fact, the drama is still simply about relationships, life, death etc. In fact the film is dated enough that some scenes even trend towards melodrama.

kunilou
05-30-2016, 05:23 PM
Here you go. (Warning: PDF) A peer-reviewed academic paper that not only discusses how Forbidden Planet is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, (http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1214&context=clcweb)but does so in the context of what science fiction actually is.

Chronos
05-30-2016, 06:00 PM
And while an already occurred WWIII is the underlying fact, the drama is still simply about relationships, life, death etc.
This is what all fiction is about.

And "speculative fiction" is an umbrella term that encompasses several different genres, most notably science fiction, fantasy, and alternate history. So, yes, it's certainly correct to call On the Beach speculative fiction, but what kind of speculative fiction? Science fiction is the only one that really fits.

tonyfop
05-30-2016, 07:11 PM
I have heard from many sources, which of course I cannot cite, that one of the biggest mistakes is to call Science Fiction a genre in the first place. SciFi is a setting. You can have any genre of book played out in a SciFi setting. A Clockwork Orange is a Psychological Thriller, with a SciFi (Near-Future) setting. I have never read or seen On the Beach, but here are some more examples: Alien is a horror movie, Aliens is a War Movie, Star Wars (IV) is a Buddy Adventure, Wall-E is a Love Story. They are all in a SciFi setting. As kunilou points out, Forbidden Planet is Shakespeare's The Tempest in a SciFi setting.

Ukulele Ike
05-30-2016, 07:12 PM
Just popping into the thread to say HI! to all my Nerd brethren.

Yep, the gang's all here!

Trinopus
05-30-2016, 07:31 PM
I have heard from many sources, which of course I cannot cite, that one of the biggest mistakes is to call Science Fiction a genre in the first place. SciFi is a setting. You can have any genre of book played out in a SciFi setting. A Clockwork Orange is a Psychological Thriller, with a SciFi (Near-Future) setting. I have never read or seen On the Beach, but here are some more examples: Alien is a horror movie, Aliens is a War Movie, Star Wars (IV) is a Buddy Adventure, Wall-E is a Love Story. They are all in a SciFi setting. As kunilou points out, Forbidden Planet is Shakespeare's The Tempest in a SciFi setting.

I have to disagree: Sci-Fi is a gazillion different settings. All you're doing is kicking the can down the road: what is (or is not) a sci-fi setting?

Science fiction is a genre. It's just an amazingly broad one, and thus easily broken down into sub-genres.

It's also a fuzzy set with indistinct borders. In a very limited way, The Bedford Incident (mentioned above) is "science fiction" because it's about the breakdown of a highly technological military system -- the Destroyer's command and launch mechanisms -- under human stress. Failsafe goes there too: it looks at our technology and its human interface, and shows us a speculative breakdown model.

mlees
05-31-2016, 10:24 AM
I have to disagree: Sci-Fi is a gazillion different settings. All you're doing is kicking the can down the road: what is (or is not) a sci-fi setting?

Science fiction is a genre. It's just an amazingly broad one, and thus easily broken down into sub-genres.

It's also a fuzzy set with indistinct borders. In a very limited way, The Bedford Incident (mentioned above) is "science fiction" because it's about the breakdown of a highly technological military system -- the Destroyer's command and launch mechanisms -- under human stress.

??

I am confused. I can come up with the same exact story set a century and a half earlier. In a Napoleanic Era warship (which is a technological machine in it's own right), you can also have a breakdown in the chain of command, crushing isolation that drives men insane, or disease that wipes out half the crew. Why is The Bedford Incident Sci-Fi? The presence of a telephone?

Horatio Hellpop
05-31-2016, 10:46 AM
Okay, try this: On the Beach is science fiction, but the thematically similar film Crimson Tide isn't. Why the difference? (Or were all those Silver Surfer references a breadcrumb in a trail of them?)

Thudlow Boink
05-31-2016, 11:00 AM
I have heard from many sources, which of course I cannot cite, that one of the biggest mistakes is to call Science Fiction a genre in the first place. SciFi is a setting. You can have any genre of book played out in a SciFi setting.It has occurred to me that, when you list the common genres that fiction can be classified as, some of them are defined by what kind of plot they have (e.g. mystery/detective, romance, adventure) and some are defined by what kind of setting they have (e.g. western, sea story). I think when most people think of "science fiction" (this also applies to fantasy), they think of a particular kind (or kinds, Trinopus) of setting (e.g. outer space, The Future).

But some people (purists?) will insist that it's not really science fiction unless science fictional elements are central to the plot. If you could tell basically the same story in a non-SF setting, it's not "real" science fiction—it's "science fantasy" or "space adventure" or some other label like that.

(I don't remember On the Beach well enough to say how it fits into this classification, and haven't read or seen Clockwork Orange.)

Malthus
05-31-2016, 11:04 AM
It has occurred to me that, when you list the common genres that fiction can be classified as, some of them are defined by what kind of plot they have (e.g. mystery/detective, romance, adventure) and some are defined by what kind of setting they have (e.g. western, sea story). I think when most people think of "science fiction" (this also applies to fantasy), they think of a particular kind (or kinds, Trinopus) of setting (e.g. outer space, The Future).

But some people (purists?) will insist that it's not really science fiction unless science fictional elements are central to the plot. If you could tell basically the same story in a non-SF setting, it's not "real" science fiction—it's "science fantasy" or "space adventure" or some other label like that.

(I don't remember On the Beach well enough to say how it fits into this classification, and haven't read or seen Clockwork Orange.)

I'd say that A Clockwork Orange meets even the most exacting definition of "science fiction", because a question of science (the possibility of deliberate, planned behavioral modification) is the central plot element.

It's referenced in the title: an "orange" (biological) that is "clockwork" (mechanical, planned).

The Other Waldo Pepper
05-31-2016, 11:23 AM
I have heard from many sources, which of course I cannot cite, that one of the biggest mistakes is to call Science Fiction a genre in the first place. SciFi is a setting. You can have any genre of book played out in a SciFi setting. A Clockwork Orange is a Psychological Thriller, with a SciFi (Near-Future) setting. I have never read or seen On the Beach, but here are some more examples: Alien is a horror movie, Aliens is a War Movie, Star Wars (IV) is a Buddy Adventure, Wall-E is a Love Story. They are all in a SciFi setting. As kunilou points out, Forbidden Planet is Shakespeare's The Tempest in a SciFi setting.

Isaac Asimov famously set out to write fair-play murder mysteries in a sci-fi setting: reasoning that, yes, you of course could make it pointless by having the sleuth whip out a never-before-mentioned device on the last page to solve the crime -- but you could likewise craft a completely mundane story that ends with a clue that hadn't been revealed to the reader, or a witness showing up out of nowhere to testify against someone who hadn't yet appeared in the book, or whatever.

So he figured an author who sufficiently covers the futuristic elements can then do all the usual stuff: exploring the motives and alibis of various characters, tossing in red herrings to make innocents look guilty, having folks slip up with innocuous remarks that prove they lied about what they knew and when they knew it -- only, y'know, with robots and rayguns and starships and so on.

But you could still do them as straightforward mysteries, was the idea.

(He'd even go the Columbo route, where sci-fi stuff factors into investigations that pretty much go nowhere -- because, hey, if the reader can plainly see that there's inconclusive evidence, then it's fair for the detective to bluff people into revealing the truth, right? He's working with the same information you have!)

Johnny L.A.
05-31-2016, 11:24 AM
How about this: A Clockwork Orange is Science Fiction because it extrapolates science (behavioural science) into the future in which the events take place. On The Beach is not Science Fiction because it takes place in the present day (when it was made) using existing technology, just like Fail Safe and The Bedford Incident.

Is The Hunt For Red October Science Fiction? It takes place in the present day, based upon the political situation when the book was written. (Real world events eclipsed the novel.) Red October was a Typhoon-class submarine, which exists, but it had a magnetohydrodynamic drive that exists, but would not work on a submarine. (In the novel it was a pump jet, which can give higher speeds before cavitation and it quieter than propellers.)

FWIW, the high school I went to had 'themed' English classes. Alas, Babylon was read in American Literature, but not in Science Fiction.

Chronos
05-31-2016, 11:28 AM
Quoth Thudlow Boink:

But some people (purists?) will insist that it's not really science fiction unless science fictional elements are central to the plot. If you could tell basically the same story in a non-SF setting, it's not "real" science fiction—it's "science fantasy" or "space adventure" or some other label like that.
Certainly, there are some stories which wouldn't be science fiction at all, except that the author shoehorned in a couple of minor aside references to SF tropes, presumably as a justification to getting them published in science fiction magazines. For instance, the short story "Gonna Roll the Bones" is set in a mining town with a number of gambling establishments, and that's really all you need to know about the setting. The unusual occurrences in the story are all transparently magical, not scientific. But there's a mention of spaceships flying overhead for no particular reason.

And don't even get me started on Pern.

scabpicker
05-31-2016, 11:43 AM
Hmm, I'm of the mind that thinks A Clockwork Orange most definitely is because it deals with fictional science.

I don't remember any fictional science in On The Beach.

I wasn't really aware of SF standing for Speculative Fiction before this thread, but OTB would qualify for that.

Just Asking Questions
05-31-2016, 01:17 PM
An interesting question!

The definition of what is SF can't just be the future, because you can set it in the past-present, such as 20000 Leagues.

If On the Beach is SF, then shouldn't also By Dawn's Early Light be? (I vote that OtB is not SF). How about The Day After? When the Wind Blows?

Are James Bond movies SF? They sure seem like it, what with fantastical spaceships, impossible tech gadgets, etc.

Is Gattaca SF? (I vote yes on that, but am I consistent? I don't know if I can justify my categorization.)

DrFidelius
05-31-2016, 01:47 PM
James Bond films are techno-thrillers, which is a sister genre to science fiction. As a rule of thumb, techno-thriller take place in the present day, and the protagonist is attempting to stop the application of a dangerous technology. If the status quo is returned to the original state by the end of the story, it is likely to be a techno-thriller.

Science fiction tends to explore the change, techno-thrillers tend to prevent the change.

YMMV

Crybaby Boobie
05-31-2016, 01:51 PM
How about The Road. It's post-apocalyptic, does that make it SF?

Voyager
05-31-2016, 01:54 PM
I have heard from many sources, which of course I cannot cite, that one of the biggest mistakes is to call Science Fiction a genre in the first place. SciFi is a setting. You can have any genre of book played out in a SciFi setting. A Clockwork Orange is a Psychological Thriller, with a SciFi (Near-Future) setting. I have never read or seen On the Beach, but here are some more examples: Alien is a horror movie, Aliens is a War Movie, Star Wars (IV) is a Buddy Adventure, Wall-E is a Love Story. They are all in a SciFi setting. As kunilou points out, Forbidden Planet is Shakespeare's The Tempest in a SciFi setting.

I have some books from the '50s about manned space travel which were definitely science fiction, and marketed as such. With minor changes you could set these books for today - say involving commercial space flight - and they'd be contemporary fiction. Hell, make it about the first trip to the moon, a big sf theme, and it becomes historical fiction.
All the same setting.
Your examples indicate that there is no such thing as genre. Buddy movie? You can have a mystery buddy movie, a comic buddy movie or an action-adventure buddy movie. That is just a subset of all of these.

Voyager
05-31-2016, 01:57 PM
Certainly, there are some stories which wouldn't be science fiction at all, except that the author shoehorned in a couple of minor aside references to SF tropes, presumably as a justification to getting them published in science fiction magazines. For instance, the short story "Gonna Roll the Bones" is set in a mining town with a number of gambling establishments, and that's really all you need to know about the setting. The unusual occurrences in the story are all transparently magical, not scientific. But there's a mention of spaceships flying overhead for no particular reason.

And don't even get me started on Pern.

The back cover of the very first issue of Galaxy (1950) had two columns, one a Western story segment with six shooter and horses and a space opera segment with rockets and blasters - identical except for the setting and props. The headline was "you'll never see this in Galaxy." So hacks rewriting trite plots with blasters is nothing new.

Miller
05-31-2016, 02:02 PM
Are James Bond movies SF? They sure seem like it, what with fantastical spaceships, impossible tech gadgets, etc.

Depends on which Bond film (or maybe which James Bond) you're talking about. Casino Royale isn't at all. Moonraker is, unquestionably.

escaped
05-31-2016, 02:08 PM
it doesnt have to be star trek or star wars to be science ficitom. Planet of the apes had no technical gadgetry it is scienc efiction. so was omgega man. logans run is good science fction story first a sbook then movie with minimal gadgetry,

The Other Waldo Pepper
05-31-2016, 03:03 PM
The back cover of the very first issue of Galaxy (1950) had two columns, one a Western story segment with six shooter and horses and a space opera segment with rockets and blasters - identical except for the setting and props. The headline was "you'll never see this in Galaxy." So hacks rewriting trite plots with blasters is nothing new.

IIRC, someone once did a non-hacky story where (SPOILERS!) every sci-fi trope you'd expect plays out when technologically superior invaders show up in a fantastic ship that, okay, granted, wasn't designed for precision flight within an atmosphere, but it of course gets the Empire's troops in place to (a) shrug at primitive weapons that glance off their body armor before they (b) fire on the locals for the win.

We find out in the last sentence that it's conquistadors killing Incans.

Biffy the Elephant Shrew
05-31-2016, 03:55 PM
Isaac Asimov famously set out to write fair-play murder mysteries in a sci-fi setting: [snip]
(He'd even go the Columbo route, where sci-fi stuff factors into investigations that pretty much go nowhere -- because, hey, if the reader can plainly see that there's inconclusive evidence, then it's fair for the detective to bluff people into revealing the truth, right? He's working with the same information you have!)

Oh, man, I loved the Asimov's Mysteries collection. I still have the tattered paperback I bought at a Thrifty drugstore book rack in 1968. And my favorite story in the book was "Pate de Foie Gras," where the fascinating biochemical investigation is full of those inconclusive blind alleys, and then the whole damn story ends with

no solution at all! Essentially, "beats the hell out of us, anyone out there got any ideas?" :smack:

Trinopus
05-31-2016, 04:45 PM
??

I am confused. I can come up with the same exact story set a century and a half earlier. In a Napoleanic Era warship (which is a technological machine in it's own right), you can also have a breakdown in the chain of command, crushing isolation that drives men insane, or disease that wipes out half the crew. Why is The Bedford Incident Sci-Fi? The presence of a telephone?

Because "historical fiction" is a different genre, and gentlemen don't trespass.

If it's got a sailing ship and a sea captain and gunpowder cannons, it's historical fiction. A similar story in a spaceship makes it science fiction. The deployment of nuclear weapons is what puts Bedford into sf. No Napoleonic Captain ever had the certainty of victory that the Captain of the Bedford had, but also the disincentive to deploy it. Even if you posited two Napoleonic ships in a heavy fog, you still fail to have the asymmetry of a submarine/destroyer standoff. (i.e., I argue that your story is not "the same exact story.")

And, yeah, this sounds like I'm agreeing that it's about "setting," but that isn't all there is to it. The Napoleonic story does not depend on "technology" in the same way...and only bad (or silly) sci fi depicts people in futuristic settings behaving as if they were in past historical epochs.

(Ming of Mongo is silly: he's supposed to be the ruler of a technologically advanced world...but he behaves like an ignorant Babylonian despot.)

Trinopus
05-31-2016, 04:48 PM
James Bond films are techno-thrillers, which is a sister genre to science fiction. As a rule of thumb, techno-thriller take place in the present day, and the protagonist is attempting to stop the application of a dangerous technology. If the status quo is returned to the original state by the end of the story, it is likely to be a techno-thriller.

Science fiction tends to explore the change, techno-thrillers tend to prevent the change.

YMMV

Super point; I hadn't thought about Techno-Thriller. I'd be happy to put The Bedford Incident into that genre.

Hail Ants
05-31-2016, 05:27 PM
Super point; I hadn't thought about Techno-Thriller. I'd be happy to put The Bedford Incident into that genre.If so then that's definitely where Red October belongs. Tom Clancy was commonly credited with creating the 'techno-thriller' genre (although he absolutely hated being credited for or being associated with this).

Ignoring 'literature', from a strictly movie-goer perspective, if this were the 90s and I was a video store owner there's no way I'd put On the Beach under Sci-Fi. It would go under War/Drama. Clockwork Orange however would definitely go under Sci-Fi...

Biffy the Elephant Shrew
05-31-2016, 05:37 PM
Ignoring 'literature', from a strictly movie-goer perspective, if this were the 90s and I was a video store owner there's no way I'd put On the Beach under Sci-Fi. It would go under War/Drama. Clockwork Orange however would definitely go under Sci-Fi...

But what if you were a bookstore owner? ;)

mlees
06-01-2016, 10:05 AM
Because "historical fiction" is a different genre, and gentlemen don't trespass.

If it's got a sailing ship and a sea captain and gunpowder cannons, it's historical fiction. A similar story in a spaceship makes it science fiction. The deployment of nuclear weapons is what puts Bedford into sf. No Napoleonic Captain ever had the certainty of victory that the Captain of the Bedford had, but also the disincentive to deploy it. Even if you posited two Napoleonic ships in a heavy fog, you still fail to have the asymmetry of a submarine/destroyer standoff. (i.e., I argue that your story is not "the same exact story.")

And, yeah, this sounds like I'm agreeing that it's about "setting," but that isn't all there is to it. The Napoleonic story does not depend on "technology" in the same way...and only bad (or silly) sci fi depicts people in futuristic settings behaving as if they were in past historical epochs.

(Ming of Mongo is silly: he's supposed to be the ruler of a technologically advanced world...but he behaves like an ignorant Babylonian despot.)

I respectfully disagree. (I guess my definition of SciFi is what might be the problem, here.)

It seems to me that the main plot point in the Bedford Incident is the Captain's obsession with the Russian sub (proving... something...Proving he's right, and the politicians wrong? Proving that he's a good CO? Does Sidney Poitier's presence distract him, or push him further? I don't remember...), and maintaining his crew on the "ragged edge", stress wise. (Ironically. He makes some comment about keeping his ship on a war footing to make sure his crew can actually handle wartime stress.)

The nuclear weapons are merely a plot device to represent a "line that must not be crossed", and cannot be undone when crossed. Nothing else. There is nothing magical or wonderous about the presence of nukes that creates this line, and I think other plot devices could have been used to the same literary effect.

I can imagine a Napoleanic scenario where a Captain action's end up committing his country to war, even to his ruination. (I have recently read novels that use similar language in that very setting. The point is/was being made about the Captain's awesome responsibilities and singular authority at sea.)

Randolph
06-01-2016, 10:26 AM
I know a lot of people are surprised when Flowers for Algernon is classified as science fiction.

Andy L
06-01-2016, 10:42 AM
IIRC, someone once did a non-hacky story where (SPOILERS!) every sci-fi trope you'd expect plays out when technologically superior invaders show up in a fantastic ship that, okay, granted, wasn't designed for precision flight within an atmosphere, but it of course gets the Empire's troops in place to (a) shrug at primitive weapons that glance off their body armor before they (b) fire on the locals for the win.

We find out in the last sentence that it's conquistadors killing Incans.

This is Randall Garrett's "Despoilers of the Golden Empire"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Despoilers_of_the_Golden_Empire

Arizona Mike
06-01-2016, 11:18 AM
Burgess dabbled quite a bit in SF territory - see also his The Wanting Seed and 1985.

Science Fiction, in its classical definition, examines the effect of technological innovation or change on society and individuals. Post-nuclear warfare stories count, IMO. Some SF writer once wrote that you could change a lot of near-future "SF" novels into "Political Thriller" novels by making the president the main character. I think Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain counts as science fiction, although others would disagree. Ultimately, it all comes down to which section the stocking clerk at the rapidly disappearing local Barnes and Noble store decides to place a book.

Most of what people consider "science fiction" is in fact classical fantasy which has been given a thin technological veneer. There is little to no scientific evidence for a wide variety of common tropes in SF - FTL travel, time travel, ETI, etc. But instead of a wizard waving his wand to make the hero cross long distances instantaneously, the SF author uses a "hyperdrive," instead of being conked on the head and magically awakening in King Arthur's Camelot the hero uses a "time machine," instead of elves and pixies, we have Vulcans and Fuzzies.

E-DUB
06-01-2016, 11:45 AM
My wife (a former bookseller) and I have this argument every once in a while. She doesn't regard "Slaughterhouse Five" as SF. Whereas I say, hey it's got aliens and time travel. Ditto "The Sparrow", hey it won awards in the SF field. You may not think it SF, but people in the field, who should know, clearly do.

Sometimes folks get a "No true Scottsman" thing going where something that is clearly in a category is removed from it by virtue of being too good to be considered as part of that category. (This is also done for marketing reasons, reinforcing that ghettoization, with books like Sagan's "Contact".)

And nobody's mentioned "Outland" yet?

mlees
06-01-2016, 11:51 AM
I was thinking SciFi was supposed to examine how certain new things changes/challenges Humans through (new?) technology or conditions (like XMen/psionic powers, or Aliens (like in The Thing, or The Day the Earth stood still).

Star Wars has "the force" (aka magic), I don't think the fancy gizmos drive the plot. The plot seems to be the "hero's journey" (in Episode IV), rebellion against political oppression, what have you. Even the Aliens are typically portrayed as very humanlike in motivations and personalities. I would classify it more closer to "fantasy" than SciFi. (The films haven't explore the ramifications of AI/droid sentience, which would make it more SciFi, by my reckoning. I assume the books do. I haven't read any of the EU.)

Arrrg! That's what I hate about labels. There's a lot of stuff that crosses over into multiple genres. :)

mlees
06-01-2016, 11:52 AM
And nobody's mentioned "Outland" yet?

The film with Sean Connery? High Noon in space. :)

Voyager
06-01-2016, 12:38 PM
IIRC, someone once did a non-hacky story where (SPOILERS!) every sci-fi trope you'd expect plays out when technologically superior invaders show up in a fantastic ship that, okay, granted, wasn't designed for precision flight within an atmosphere, but it of course gets the Empire's troops in place to (a) shrug at primitive weapons that glance off their body armor before they (b) fire on the locals for the win.

We find out in the last sentence that it's conquistadors killing Incans.

I remember that one. I don't remember if it was from the '50s (Astounding) or the '60s (Analog.) It would be a tricky one to classify - but probably sf from the Inca point of view. Kind of like War of the Worlds, written to some extent to make the British public think about what it felt like for the people they conquered. But clearly sf, of course.

Voyager
06-01-2016, 12:40 PM
I know a lot of people are surprised when Flowers for Algernon is classified as science fiction.

Why? Because people paid attention to the movie, and there were no zap guns? The original story appeared in F&SF, after all, and it all depends on an invention.
Or is it a case, as Kingsley Amis wrote

SF's no good
They say until we're deaf.
But this is good!
Then it's not sf.

The Other Waldo Pepper
06-01-2016, 01:11 PM
It would be a tricky one to classify - but probably sf from the Inca point of view. Kind of like War of the Worlds, written to some extent to make the British public think about what it felt like for the people they conquered. But clearly sf, of course.

Heh. How would we classify a story where someone fakes a sci-fi breakthrough?

So everything else in the book involves true-to-life depictions of existing tech, and the whole plot revolves around people reacting to the futuristic invention -- which doesn't actually work, but the characters don't know that, so they of course all act exactly as if they're in a work of science fiction?

(Except for anyone who knows the truth, but acts the same way to work a con?)

E-DUB
06-01-2016, 01:40 PM
Sounds a lot like this one, Waldo:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3437167-singularity-project

Also, science fiction is anything written by an established SF writer. Asimov has written at least two straight novels that I can think off and they're always in SF.

DrFidelius
06-01-2016, 01:43 PM
Conversely, Vonnegut decided to not write science fiction anymore because (IIRC) "critics always mistake the science fiction shelf for the urinal" (or words to that effect).

I don't believe he changed his style or tropes, he just stopped submitting his stories to genre publishers.

The Other Waldo Pepper
06-01-2016, 02:35 PM
Sounds a lot like this one, Waldo:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3437167-singularity-project

I was thinking of THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, but I'm sure there are other examples. (Heck, it's the archetypal SCOOBY-DOO plot, innit?)

At that, I've argued that the Phantom is a superhero who predates Superman; some folks dispute that by defining "a superhero" as "a super-powered hero". But like his father before him, and a dozen predecessors before that, Kit fights crime and saves lives while dressed up as The Ghost Who Walks -- which of course terrifies crooks who've heard the story and think they're up against a do-gooder who can't die.

"Big deal," people reply; "I said 'a super-powered hero', and he isn't one."

"Neither is Henry Cavill," I reply; "Henry, like Kit, is just a guy who dresses up like a fictional superhero! So even if Superman is a fictional superhero, and Kit is just a fictional hero, the Phantom is a fictional superhero in the story-within-a-story!"

What I'm getting at is, even if a story about some futuristic-technology hoax isn't science fiction, the con artist's story-within-the-story would be science fiction!

Trinopus
06-01-2016, 04:40 PM
I respectfully disagree. (I guess my definition of SciFi is what might be the problem, here.)

'Sokay; I backed off from my position anyway, and agreed to re-categorize The Bedford Incident as a "Techno-Thriller."

. . . I can imagine a Napoleanic scenario where a Captain action's end up committing his country to war, even to his ruination. (I have recently read novels that use similar language in that very setting. The point is/was being made about the Captain's awesome responsibilities and singular authority at sea.)

Yep! I read a lot of Napoleonic Naval Series fiction (why are they always series?) and that does come up.

I thought of another genre which might be defined as a "setting" -- the Western. The place and time are pretty much vital to the categorization.

(Although I also agree with those who describe the movie "Outland" as a "Space Western." In that sense, "Western" has to do with behavior: facing down the bad guys in a shoot-out.)

Exapno Mapcase
06-01-2016, 05:48 PM
I know a lot of people are surprised when Flowers for Algernon is classified as science fiction.

Daniel Keyes was core genre. He wrote at least a half dozen other stories for sf magazines before and after "Flowers." He edited sf magazines. He wrote comic books. He was one of us in a big way.

Then he got named an English professor at Ohio U. When I went there for grad school I of course planned to talk to him until I was told that he hated, hated, hated all the sci-fi nuts bothering him about the book and wouldn't talk to any. Interestingly, Walter Tevis, who wrote The Man Who Fell to Earth, was also in the English Dept. at the same time and reputedly had the same attitude, although he was essentially a mainstream writer who branched out.

I don't know if one of their attitides rubbed off against the other or just if the nerds were so obnoxious that they retreated in self-defense.

dropzone
06-01-2016, 10:13 PM
The term is Speculative Fiction and the really long, boring space walk in Outland is how we got twins, if you have to ask. Okay, maybe not THAT long, but there were boring parts after, too.

foolsguinea
06-02-2016, 12:34 AM
Of course they are. So is, say, Jurassic Park.

There is supposedly a discernible difference between science fiction, which explores possible scientific developments, and "skiffy" (also sometimes spelled "sci-fi") which has SF trappings but isn't particularly dependent on those developments. The books mentioned in the OP seem to be on the "true SF" side, though.

Exapno Mapcase
06-02-2016, 11:46 AM
The belief that SF depends on expert extrapolations of science is sheer propaganda, put out jointly by writers and fans. It came out of the crippling lack of self-esteem felt by those in the field because they were so looked down upon by the mainstream community. And it's simply not true.

I've recently read a bunch of novels from the 40s and 50s for an article that is in the current issue of The Digest Enthusiast. Not the Greatest Hits, but the regular books put out by recognizable names that make up the bulk of any era. I was stunned at how little real science I found. Lots of science-y words with no foundation. One book had the good guys beating the aliens because they had a weapon with hyperbolic polarization. Psi powers were omnipresent. Their social science lived up to that standard as well. The level of writing wasn't all that bad, a quantum (or do I mean quasar*) leap over the super-science nonsense of the 1930s. Some mild awareness of post-war social issues could be found. Yet most were embarrassing to read, especially since contemporaries gave them wonderful reviews. (I keep saying most and some because I found a few exceptions: Wilson's Tucker's The City in the Sea, his first novel, features an all-female run society with the only three-d women in any of the books; Arthur C. Clarke's first novel, Prelude to Space, is perfect in its extrapolation - but had been rejected by 30 publishers.)

Science Fiction is an attitude as much as it is contents. I normally make a case to include all the mainstream borderline and quasi-cases because people need to understand that SF is not spaceships. At the same time, I have to insist that an anti-science writer like Ray Bradbury is SF because his attitude and style in his heyday was pure SF. The terms can't be fixed or hemmed in. What do you do with super-science-style scienceless battling-aliens adventures? Call it all speculative fiction? I was part of the crowd that tried hard to make that the term back in the 70s. Nobody bought it. SF or F&SF or whatever your preferred term is has become an amorphous blob out of a 50s sci-fi creature feature. It's everywhere.


* John Simon's hate-filled one-line summary of his review of the original Star Wars (http://www.vulture.com/2015/12/nymag-original-star-wars-review-1977.html) ran for months in New York magazine and read "technically a quantum — or maybe quasar — leap beyond 2001."

Chronos
06-02-2016, 11:58 AM
It's probably fair enough to say that SF is based on extrapolations of science, but I wouldn't for a moment dream of calling most of those extrapolations "expert".