F vs SF: Humorous article from Tor.com

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

lizmonster

Possibly A Mermaid Queen
Absolute Sage
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
10,322
Reaction score
7,921
Location
Massachusetts
Website
elizabethbonesteel.com
This is funny, but I have to say, the whole Spinrad incident is both eye-roll-y and sad.

I mean, I could have told him three years ago the fantasy market was much bigger than the SF market.
 

Roxxsmom

Beastly Fido
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 24, 2011
Messages
20,952
Reaction score
5,485
Location
Where faults collide
Website
doggedlywriting.blogspot.com
Made me chuckle. I do know people who are pretty dismissive of fantasy, as if compelling stories about the human condition can't utilize all manner of premises and settings.

The whole dichotomy between hard and soft SF and the idea that the former is "better" than the latter also baffles me. I get the idea that you can have plots where a scientific principle is the driving factor versus a social projection being the driving factor (not to mention plots that could simply be pirate or samurai stories set in space but are still loads of fun), but I was always rather baffled by the idea that one approach to SF is more valuable or legitimate than another. And of course, there's no reason why the categories must be mutually exclusive.

I was always rather puzzled about Dune getting included in examples of hard SF as well, and about its not being accused more often of being a fantasy novel set in space (the basic plot would work just fine in a traditional swords and sorcery style world, I think). I think the gender of a speculative fiction book's author has a definite effect on how it is categorized.

I mean, I could have told him three years ago the fantasy market was much bigger than the SF market.
Which may be another reason why SF readers consider themselves "better." When one feels outnumbered, there's a tendency to cling to a self-perception of being a member of an elite, discriminating group.

Quite a few of us love both, though.
 
Last edited:

Brightdreamer

Just Another Lazy Perfectionist
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 22, 2012
Messages
10,198
Reaction score
2,059
Location
USA
Website
brightdreamersbookreviews.blogspot.com
I was always rather puzzled about Dune getting included in examples of hard SF as well, and about its not being accused more often of being a fantasy novel set in space (the basic plot would work just fine in a traditional swords and sorcery style world, I think). I think the gender of a speculative fiction book's author has a definite effect on how it is categorized.

When I read Dune, I thought it was essentially a fantasy that happened to be set in space. It seemed to have much more in common with epic fantasy than science fiction I was familiar with. (But I came at it as a fantasy reader, more used to fantasy tropes and settings... TBH, those were the parts I preferred.)
 

Stytch

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2019
Messages
506
Reaction score
213
Location
N.C.
I've stopped trying to decide if I write fantasy or science fiction. I constantly pull elements of both, so I vote we just blaze that "SFF" as one big neon abbreviation and ditch the ever dividing slash mark. (SF/F)

Loved the piece though, thanks for sharing.
 

lizmonster

Possibly A Mermaid Queen
Absolute Sage
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
10,322
Reaction score
7,921
Location
Massachusetts
Website
elizabethbonesteel.com
The whole dichotomy between hard and soft SF and the idea that the former is "better" than the latter also baffles me.

But how much of a dichotomy is there, really? It feels an awful lot like the millennial/boomer stuff you read about - a handful of very noisy blowhards, and bloggers and media sites trying to fan the flames to get clicks. (Although heaven knows I'm not looped in on this stuff.)

I know the canine contingent, but that's a pretty transparent culture war issue. And that may have been part of what was feeding Spinrad, but mostly he seemed sort of oddly annoyed that fantasy had spilled into his SF. Which I honestly didn't know was a thing that pissed people off.
 

Brightdreamer

Just Another Lazy Perfectionist
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 22, 2012
Messages
10,198
Reaction score
2,059
Location
USA
Website
brightdreamersbookreviews.blogspot.com
And that may have been part of what was feeding Spinrad, but mostly he seemed sort of oddly annoyed that fantasy had spilled into his SF. Which I honestly didn't know was a thing that pissed people off.

People can be pissed off about anything if they set their minds to it. (Remember when "new Coke" was the doom of Western civilization?)
 

Kjbartolotta

Potentially has/is dog
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 15, 2014
Messages
4,171
Reaction score
990
Location
Los Angeles
I'm not sure you can pry sci-fi and fantasy apart from each other.
 

ALShades

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 23, 2019
Messages
57
Reaction score
13
Funny article. Most people don't seem to care either way, but I've known a few who thought SF needed a high concept to be considered SF. What's the Spinrad thing? I don't really keep up with drama.
 

lizmonster

Possibly A Mermaid Queen
Absolute Sage
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
10,322
Reaction score
7,921
Location
Massachusetts
Website
elizabethbonesteel.com
All fiction is fantasy. Non-fiction doubly so.

All fiction is also mystery, except some lit fic.

Funny article. Most people don't seem to care either way, but I've known a few who thought SF needed a high concept to be considered SF. What's the Spinrad thing? I don't really keep up with drama.

Spinrad wrote an op-ed for Asimov's. (That URL doesn't look at all permalink-ish; for future reference, it's the November/December 2019 issue.)

I'm not particularly interested in feeding the drama, so I'll say only this: Stories grow and change to reflect culture. You can either rail against that, or you can embrace it as beautiful. That doesn't mean you have to love all the genres and stories that result, but reflecting a wider world brings us more writers and more stories for every reader to choose from. The op-ed is indeed annoying, but I can't help but feel sad for someone who chooses to be angry like that.
 

Liz_V

Not my first rodeo.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
933
Reaction score
127
It'd be a better article if he weren't so busy mocking people on the other side of the argument from him by exaggerating to absurdity.


What I've run into, which I find discouraging for the field and personally, is SF advocates who insist that anything that isn't absolutely provably possible according to our current science is fantasy. So, for example, anything with FTL travel of any kind is actually fantasy. Which I have two problems with: (1) It assumes we've got the whole universe figured out. Um, have none of these people looked at the history of science for five consecutive seconds? Humanity has thought we had it all figured out before, and there's always been some surprise waiting to turn our whole understanding upside-down. I'm not so arrogant as to assume the universe is done with us on that score.

(2) is more concerning to me: It turns science fiction, the literature of ideas, into a dead end. How many of the scientific advances we enjoy today were created by people who were inspired by classic Star Trek and its ilk? Nobody holds Star Trek up as a bastion of scientific rigor, but what it did do was get people thinking what if.... And the same goes for a lot of the Golden Age SF; much of the science was shaky at best, or has since been thoroughly disproven, but those ideas got people thinking about ways to make them come true, and some pretty awesome stuff has come out of that pursuit. A lot of people imprinted on "science is cool!" from sources that many of SF's hardest-core fans would now insist aren't science fiction.

And that's just sad.

(For the record, I like both SF and fantasy, to the point that I generally forget to distinguish them as separate genres. Tell me a good story, I'm happy.)

(New Coke, however, was a diabolical plot against western civilization.)
 

zanzjan

killin' all teh werds
Staff member
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
VPX
VPXI
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 5, 2010
Messages
9,586
Reaction score
2,990
Location
home home homityhomehome

lizmonster

Possibly A Mermaid Queen
Absolute Sage
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
10,322
Reaction score
7,921
Location
Massachusetts
Website
elizabethbonesteel.com
What I've run into, which I find discouraging for the field and personally, is SF advocates who insist that anything that isn't absolutely provably possible according to our current science is fantasy. So, for example, anything with FTL travel of any kind is actually fantasy.

Heh. Used to be FTL just meant you weren't writing "hard" SF.

My brother's a physicist. I asked him once if it bothered him when people put FTL in SF stories. He gave me a look and said "No, Liz, because it's fiction." We do have amazing talks about what FTL travel would really mean, though. He hurts my brain and gives me plot bunnies.

It may also be worth noting, for those that don't know, that Tor's snark about a starship powered by orgasm is a reference to a novella called The Void Captain's Tale, written by Spinrad himself.
 

Introversion

Pie aren't squared, pie are round!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 17, 2013
Messages
7,092
Reaction score
4,699
Location
Massachusetts

So I started to read that, since Spinrad’s written some books I really enjoyed.

Then I began to skim.

Then to scroll... And scroll... And scroll...

Good lord. I think it’s fair to summarize as, “old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn, in novella form”?

Our understandable desire to label — this is SF, this is F, this is mystery — causes more trouble than it’s worth. It’s not just marketeers wanting it; there’s forty gazillion novels published every year, I don’t have time or money to read more than a few dozen, and I’d like some way to try to quickly winnow out the ones I’m likely to like. But mostly I just throw darts and hope for the best. Is Robin Sloan’s “Sourdough” F or SF? Or both? Dunno, but it was a lotta fun to read, so who cares?
 

Introversion

Pie aren't squared, pie are round!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 17, 2013
Messages
7,092
Reaction score
4,699
Location
Massachusetts
It may also be worth noting, for those that don't know, that Tor's snark about a starship powered by orgasm is a reference to a novella called The Void Captain's Tale, written by Spinrad himself.

Which, for those who haven’t, is a helluva compelling trainwreck to read, in the good sense. You quickly see the ruin that is coming, and you Just Gotta Watch...

But yeah. Warp 7, Mr. Sulu! Ohhhhh, myyyyy...
 

Liz_V

Not my first rodeo.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
933
Reaction score
127
It may also be worth noting, for those that don't know, that Tor's snark about a starship powered by orgasm is a reference to a novella called The Void Captain's Tale, written by Spinrad himself.

I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.
 

Liz_V

Not my first rodeo.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
933
Reaction score
127
Okay Introversion & lizmonster, you've successfully tempted me; I've requested it from the library!

Heh. Used to be FTL just meant you weren't writing "hard" SF.

Well, and before that, it meant you *were* writing hard SF, as long as you showed the math. What is and isn't hard SF changes as time goes on, which is one of the reasons I think it's silly to get too worked up about it.

That said, for a certain type of reader (like several in my book club), it's the scientific concepts that are the exciting part; character, plot, and even setting come second. So I can see where a novel based around a now-disproven concept would be less appealing to them. It's the extreme narrow-mindedness about what consitutes a valid scientific concept that worries me.

there’s forty gazillion novels published every year, I don’t have time or money to read more than a few dozen, and I’d like some way to try to quickly winnow out the ones I’m likely to like.

Me too, but I've never found genre to be a reliable indicator for that. Writing style, character types... the author's world-view, for lack of a better terminology, all have a lot more to do with whether I like a book than even the most fine-grained of sub-sub-sub-genre classification.
 

JohnLine

Owns a pen.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 18, 2011
Messages
448
Reaction score
82
Location
Burbank, California
Back in the days before the earth's crust had cooled, my old college science fiction professor used to say that the difference between science fiction and horror was whether or not the MC was aware of what is happening.

So if you look at something like say "Evil Dead 2", the MC spends the entire movie freaking out, so it's horror. But if you look at "I am Legend" (especially the book) where the MC does a bunch of science experiments to try to figure out what is going on, then we drift closer to Sci-fi.

To me, it's Scifi if the MC questions the world; Fantasy if they just sort of go along with it; and Horror if they are, well, horrified by it.
 

GeoWriter

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 17, 2014
Messages
145
Reaction score
13
To me, it's Scifi if the MC questions the world; Fantasy if they just sort of go along with it; and Horror if they are, well, horrified by it.

I really like this definition. It also suits my sensibilities as a science educator.

I have often distinguished science fiction from fantasy by whether the characters at least try to understand how things work, or why they work that way. Of course, you can also write an essay making fun of this definition since it clearly doesn't work with how books have been classified in the past...
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away