Sci-Fi vs. Science Fiction: Geek terminology preferences.

I heard a rant about how ‘true’ science fiction readers hate the term sci-fi…No, really, it happened! Couldn’t believe it myself, but, then again, I find it hard to believe that people get offended by ‘Trekkies’.

Is this the secret handshake of the literary world? “You must use the proper terminology or else we will take away your reading privileges!”

Do semantic arguments like this really get your panties in a bunch? Do they serve any useful purpose aside from stating loud and clear that you are a first class geek? Or do things like this just mean that someone has entirely too much time on their hands?


Well, I’ve never heard that “sci-fi” is frowned upon, but if you really want to sound highbrow you could always use the term “Speculative Fiction.”

And, IMHO, if you insist on the term Trekker, then you are a Trekkie.

I just give a hearty “Screw You!” to any snobs who try to categorize me, and I suggest you do the same.

It’s always bugged me that the term is pronounced “Sie fie”. It should be pronounced “Sie fih”. That sounds silly though. I think sci-fic would be a better term all around. But other than that, I don’t mind it.

I’ve heard the same thing. Sci-fi doesn’t bother me, but I can kinda understand where the bothered are coming from. Sci-fi, as a word, is often used to refer to the genre in a dismissive way, and I think that dismissal is what gets folks mad.

SF, on the other hand, isn’t as well-worn a term, and it can refer to science or speculative fiction. I think the sci-fliterati prefer SF because it’s not currently used to dismiss a work by the regular literati.

But getting upset over it is just silly.



SciFi is dismissive. Science Fiction is better, but better include science. Speculative Fiction is Science Fiction that is fuzzy on the science.

Remember that these are people who refer to themselves in the plural as Fen, so you can take them as seriously as you wish

Oh, yeah. Got into a debate over whether Star Wars was Science Fiction or not over on this thread (Warning: takes you to a different site.) I love arguments such as these, and I took the position that Star Wars is not science fiction by the dictionary definition of the phrase.

One of the posters (Zkribbler) defined the categories as such on page 2:

[q]"Let’s get some terms down…

SF (Speculative Fiction) is generally considered to have two subgenres: science fiction and fantasy.

Science ficition is fiction based upon the extrapolation of the laws of science.

Fantasy is fiction which ignores the laws of science.

Sci-Fi (at least until the introduction of the Sci-Fi Channel) was considered to be a perjoritive phrase directed at pulp works of science fiction…stories which focused more on ray guns and space ships than on their effects upon the human condition. Under this definition Star Wars is sci-fi–indeed it is classic sci-fi. However, as a literary work, Star Wars falls far below the high standards set out in Frankenstein, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and “Flowers for Algernon” – made into the movie Charlie, in which Cliff Robertson won an academy award for best actor.

For the record, their was a short-lived attempt to create a hybrid subgenre called science fantasy, in which the laws of magic are explained by the laws of science. It’s best example is Fred Saberhagen’s “Empire of the East.” I know of no example of this subgenre written in the last few decades."[/q]

I don’t get upset about this, I just like to parse out the terms. I also enjoy getting into debates about the difference viz a sport and a game. :smiley:

::sigh:: Preview is my friend. If a mod could please fix the quote tags on the above post, I would be truly appreciative.

Btw, “sci-fi” is pronounced “skiffy” - at least according to Harlan Ellison (who HATES the term “sci-fi” and has spent years deriding it - I bet one of your friends that you argued with is an Ellison reader, Tomcat.)

I used to work with a guy who hated the term “sci-fi” and cited Ellison whenever he ranted about it. This, of course, made us wind him up by using the term often. I personally don’t have much of a problem with it.

As for “Trekkies/Trekkers”, there’s a book called “The Completely Useless Guide to Doctor Who” that has a quote in it, something like, “Oh, you prefer ‘Trekker’ to ‘Trekkie’? So you’re sad and pedantic rather than merely sad.”

As someone at the very top of the Geek hierarchy, I can report that practically no pro science fiction writer uses the term “sci-fi.” The same for Fen* of literary science fiction.

Sci-fi is a dismissive term for space opera, not good science fiction. Alas, as David Hartwell has pointed out, space opera – originally also a pejorative – is now considered good (obviously the Star Wars influence – the movie was 40 years behind the literature and highly influenced by Doc Smith). And while good space opera can be fun, science fiction at its best deals with more than space battles and adventures.

There are some fen that do get upset at “sci-fi,” but most use the word as a shibboleth. If someone uses it, they’re not part of the community. If they begin to understand why it’s disliked, then can join (fen are very inclusive), but if you insist on using it, you aren’t going to be taken seriously.

*“Fen” is an old term and pretty much obsolete, but using “Fans” causes confusion with those who just like the stuff, so I used it in this post. Fen are people who attend science fiction cons (and not “media cons” – those for fans of a TV show or movie). Fen are a specific subculture, and are nothing like the image you have of sci-fi fans. Real SF conventions have never been portrayed accurately in the media. You have to attend to know what they’re like, but think 48-hour party where they talk about science fiction only when they’ve exhausted other subjects.

Yeah, but Ellison derides just about everything and whines about everything else.

A large second to RealityChuck on this one. I’ve been a voracious reader of the stuff for over 40 years, attended cons, covered cons, interviewed authors for publication, and corresponded with authors.

A very large chunk of SF fans cringe at the “sci-fi” term the way San Francisco natives cringe at “Frisco.” It’s not, as Tomcat would have it, a “secret literary handshake.” It’s more an indication of what thoughtful, considerate, well-read and polite people would use in reference to the genre.

That’s not to say the term is never used. It’s a good shorthand for the cheezoid portion of the SF spectrum, which flourishes on the nutrient of the medium like mold.

I don’t know… I worked for many years at the SciFi Channel. I’ve been attending cons for lo these 15 years. I even met my husband at one. The word “sci-fi” does not offend me, and I know many pros (writers and editors) who use the term too. I call it skiffy often, mainly because I’m lazy and I also happen to think its cute.

I’ve met Harlan many a time (we have a mutual close friend) and I have no idea why he hates the term so much. Maybe someday when I’m feeling up to hearing his answer I’ll ask him. :stuck_out_tongue:

Actually, I’m pretty sure that years ago it used to be a derisive term and he feels (correctly) that his writing is too good and touches on too many universal themes to be labelled with a name that makes people think that its silly, fluffy junk. You can probably argue it’s still a negative label to many - right or wrong there is still a certain stereotype associated with that term that exists in many peoples minds. My personal bugaboo is the term “mundane”… how horribly conceited it sounds!

I’m second tier on the Geek chart, but have converted a guy on the first tier to being a Doper. You’ll hear from him in a few weeks, I think. The man is, quite frankly, a hack with 69 books to his credit last time I checked. I’ve never heard him object to the term “Sci Fi”, and “Speculative Fiction” sounds a little highbrow for the company I usually keep. Me, I try to keep my inate geekiness within reasonable limits, which is why I don’t object to “Sci Fi” either. I also did get razzed once by a SCAdian about missing an SCA event for what he referred to as a “skiffy con.” This is why I try to keep my geekiness within reason.


The late Forrest J. (“4E”) Ackerman coined and publicized the term (although he later found out that there had been some private uses of it earlier). It popped into his head in 1954 after hearing the term “hi-fi” (which is why the i’s are long i’s; pronouncing it “skiffy” is just an in-joke in the pro world - nobody does so for real). The complete explanation/rant is on his web site: Click on Sci-fi’s origin.

The “loud voice” referred to is undoubtedly Ellison.

And yes, Chuck has it correct. Although there are many pros in the field who see absolutely nothing wrong with sci-fi, most of the rest of us understand that it is generally used as a term of derision, by people who know only the worst aspects of the field. I would argue that it is closer to using Frisco for San Francisco than to a racial slur, but it is truly a term of ignorance. I don’t understand why people would proudly stand up and insist upon their right to be thought ignorant by those who actually know something about a subject, but if that’s what you want, go right ahead.

“I’ve met Harlan many a time (we have a mutual close friend) and I have no idea why he hates the term so much. Maybe someday when I’m feeling up to hearing his answer I’ll ask him.”

Please do, Dr. Righteous. If you could tape the response, so much the better! :stuck_out_tongue:

IIRC, the essay where he vented about sci-fi was in the collection Strange Wine (almost typed Strange Brew there for a second!), in the introductory essay “Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don’t Look So Terrific Yourself.”

Reality, do you not care for space opera (ala Hyperion, Iain M. Banks’ Culture books, etc.)?

It’s been my experience that the elitists of any hobby will do anything in their power to avoid looking like the masses. They’ll take issue with anything as long as it lets them roll their eyes at you and explain why they happen to be different from the plebes.


slortar, the problem with your argument is that from the day Forey coined sci-fi, it has been the professional writers in the field who have detested the term most. Are you really calling them elitists of a hobby? They’re not. They’re working professionals of a high caliber, and they have earned the right not to be demeaned.

Okay, but the first I in “fidelity” is not long either. It should be “hie fih”.