I was talking to someone the other day about one of my hobby-horses: the difference between sci-fi and s.f., why you need to have the two separate labels and why you need to be careful about which label you use. I should say that I love both sub-genres, and for that matter fantasy writing as well. As with all genres, there are example of the good, the bad and the ugly. A really rollicking space opera beats a dry, turgid s.f. offering hands down, but there is a lot to be said for a carefully constructed, well researched piece of s.f.
Whilst doing some chores, my mind wandered a bit and I think I may have come up with the first scientifically grounded definition of the difference between s.f. and sci-fi/fantasy. I’ve not done any research on this, so I’d be glad to hear differently, but I think that most definitions are grounded in linguistics i.e. we usually talk about s.f. as requiring scientific laws to be obeyed, whereas in Sci-fi any cod or quasi-science can be thrown into the mix. There are variations on this, and you could say that this is a scientific definition. My argument is that this is a veneer put on top of a more fundamental defintition, or if you like a secondary analysis. If we go back to the raw data, as it were, then we can find something which I think forms the core of the issue. It goes something like this:
There are a number of physical laws fundamental to science that need to be obeyed. There are also a number of things that we think are true, but sometimes only under certain conditions. One of the important ones is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. (I think that this is now perhaps a Pratchett “lie to children” , and there are circumstances where this might not be true, but under normal conditions, and indeed in more than 99% of the Universe, this is the truth). It can be changed (e.g. from chemical to mechanical, heat to light etc), but it cannot be removed from the Universe. Hence in s.f., energy is moved around using the laws that we understand and within the constraints that we know exist – there are few (if any) perfectly efficient systems for converting energy. In Sci-fi energy can be transmuted any-old-how, with no thought as to how that conversion is to be effected, no time constraints (instantaneous energy) and with no regard to energy balance – energy can be created or destroyed.
That’s my 2p, anyway. What do you think?