What is science fiction?

Science fiction characteristics

Science fiction is a difficult genre to define, because science fiction stories may cover a wide range of topics and touch upon a wide range of themes. It is hard to find complete agreement on the elements necessary to consider a story science fiction, as almost all narrow definitions end up excluding works that belong in the genre. For example, if one tries to define science fiction through its use of a future setting, it would be necessary to exclude the Star Wars franchise, since it is set in the distant past; however, most people would agree that Star Wars is science fiction.

Instead of attempting a narrow definition, it is therefore more useful to make a list of elements that are common in science fiction (but not essential to it). For example, most science fictions stories feature one or more of the following elements:

  • Advanced technology
  • Future setting
  • Utopian or dystopian societies
  • Non-human characters such as aliens or robots
  • Interplanetary or intergalactic travel

Science fiction vs speculative fiction

Sometimes the term speculative fiction is used to classify works of science fiction that are fairly realistic in terms of technological development and touch upon more serious themes. This is partly a result of the science fiction genre’s low reputation historically - because science fiction was associated with popular culture and not considered serious literature, people did not like to classify important works by established authors as science fiction.

For example, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is sometimes labelled ‘speculati...

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