Science fiction

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Science fiction is difficult to define, as it includes a wide range of subgenres and themes. Author and editor Damon Knight summed up the difficulty by stating that "science fiction is what we point to when we say it",[9] a definition echoed by author Mark C. Glassy, who argues that the definition of science fiction is like the definition of pornography: you don't know what it is, but you know it when you see it.[10] Vladimir Nabokov argued that if we were rigorous with our definitions, Shakespeare's play The Tempest would have to be termed science fiction.[11]

According to science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, "a handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method."[12] Rod Serling's definition is "fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible."[13] Lester del Rey wrote, "Even the devoted aficionado—or fan—has a hard time trying to explain what science fiction is", and that the reason for there not being a "full satisfactory definition" is that "there are no easily delineated limits to science fiction."[14]

Forrest J Ackerman used the term sci-fi at UCLA in 1954.[15] As science fiction entered popular culture, writers and fans active in the field came to associate the term with low-budget, low-tech "B-movies" and with low-quality pulp science fiction.[16][17][18] By the 1970s, critics within the field such as Terry Carr and Damon Knight were using sci-fi to distinguish hack-work from serious science fiction,[19] and around 1978, Susan Wood and others introduced the pronunciation "skiffy". Peter Nicholls writes that "SF" (or "sf") is "the preferred abbreviation within the community of sf writers and readers".[20] David Langford's monthly fanzine Ansible includes a regular section "As Others See Us" which offers numerous examples of "sci-fi" being used in a pejorative sense by people outside the genre.[21]


As a means of understanding the world through speculation and storytelling, science fiction has antecedents back to mythology, though precursors to science fiction as literature can be seen in Lucian's True History in the 2nd century,[22][23][24][25][26] some of the Arabian Nights tales,[27][28] The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter in the 10th century,[28] Ibn al-Nafis' Theologus Autodidactus in the 13th century,[29] and Jules Verne's A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in the 19th century.

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