The Science Fiction Genre

“Where everything is possible miracles become commonplace, the familiar ceases to be self-evident,” Eric Hoffer.

Science Fiction, or SF (as it is referred to in the industry) is a genre that has become one of the most influential commodities in today’s market. From UFO’s to aliens , to undiscovered planets and universes, its limits are always expanding. Creative minds push SF forward with innovative and evolutionary concepts.

Although the popularity of SF might not be evident to the average person, it is a genre that can be identified by everyone. From major motion pictures like Star Wars and the Matrix, the Star Trek series and Dr. Who, to stories like Foundation by Isaac Asimov, everyone has delved into this art of speculative fiction at some point.

“I’m definitely a fan of the whole wormhole scheme,” said Mark Sheriff, a third year engineering student at Concordia. “Who wouldn’t want to walk through a portal and end up in a dimension thousands of light years away on the other side of the galaxy. It sure beats traffic!”

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction offers a concise definition of SF. The reference book was put together by two notable authorities in the field ; John Clute and Peter Nicholls.

“SF proper requires a consciousness of the scientific outlook and it probably also requires a sense of the possibilities of change, whether social or technological,” the book says.

To produce SF one must have an awareness of scientific comprehension and also be able to produce an articulate an inevitable forecast.

Today SF comes in the form of novels, movies, sitcoms, games, comics, illustrations and magazines. Each has its own fan base, and in totality comprises a community that is unique and interesting. SF has also been used as a device in other genres of culture as well.

Looking back at the chronology of SF in the past century, one can gain an appreciation for the people and the art.

It was the early 1800s that saw the debut of the first SF type novels such as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H.G Wells’ The Time Machine. These books are considered to be the origins of the development of SF.

In the 1930s the term “Science Fiction” was coined and gave way to a special category in publishing. Also in the late 1930s came the debut of noted authors such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and James Blish. From 1950 onwards the concepts in SF shifted from “hard” sciences (physics, astronomy) to “soft” sciences (psychology, sociology) gaining a much wider audience.

The crux of the classic genre of SF novels has been allocated to the years between 1930 and 1970. The advent of filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg (E.T and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and George Lucas (Star Wars) exploded SF to mainstream prominence and in the 1980s was enhanced by such notable writers as Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) and Hampton Fancher (BladeRunner).

It is generally noted that, after 1990, writers allowed fantasy and horror to join the echelon of the genre.

Today SF has taken on a completely new form, especially with rapid discoveries being made in the field of science and the creative genius of writers such as Terry Pratchett, Robert Jordan, Neil Gaiman and Urusula Le Guin.

SF culture is vibrant today, with people engaging in ventures that sustain and encourage the faculty of this field. Across the world there is a common bond shared by aficionados.

“We have a lot of writer’s community groups where people get together and discuss SF,” says Marta Lewandowski, a librarian at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction in the Toronto Public Library. “We have kids these days, ages 12 to 18, reading a lot of SF graphic novels. There’s also the world biggest SF convention that takes place annually,” she said.

The World Science Fiction convention (Worldcon), has been held annually since 1939 (excluding the years of the World War). Each convention is held in a different part of the world. Previous locations have been U.S, Canada, Australia and Germany. Fans have been known to attend from all parts of the globe.

The Hugo awards, which honor people for distinction in the field of SF as well as fantasy, are a big feature of the conventions. Winners are nominated by fellow members of Worldcon. Other attractions include presentations with distinguished scientists, Nobel Prize winners, writers, publishers, astronauts and fans. There is also a special “Masquerade” event which showcases SF costumes.

This year’s conference was held in Glasgow in August. The last time the conference was held in Canada was in 2003 in Toronto.

“It’s important for people to think about the future and to see where all the technology and curiosity is leading us” says amateur SF writer Dave Knight. “In my stories I try to show people that sometimes “probing” for alien species or other worlds might not bring about the glory that is expected. You don’t want to disturb a sleeping giant. But on the flip side you could gain tremendous knowledge and further the advancement of humanity if you strike gold. That’s the gamble in SF.”

Dystopia’s, hyper drive, sentient’s, disrupter’s, tachyons, cyborgs and Luna cities might one day be a reality. As time passes, new discoveries and projects governed by a passion to dream of the unknown fuel scientists to continue to press forward, making such imaginative prospects a possibility.

But at the end of the day, it is important to keep in mind that although SF projects us light years into the future into distant stars with aliens and other dimensions, the emphasis is on the experiences of human beings. The real celebration in SF is in actually being human.

“The earth? Oh the earth will be gone in a few seconds…I’m going to blow it up. It’s obstructing my view of Venus.”

– Marvin the Martian


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