Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What is in a genre? (science fiction)

Is this sci-fi?
Interesting discussion over in QLH about genres in a query. Of course the most important thing about a query is hooking the agent with your AWESOME story. However, the query should convey a genre as well, and this is something I'm struggling with. I wrote, what I believe, to be a sci-fantasy, it may also be considered a soft sci-fi or futuristic UF (even though this technically doesn't exist). But apparently, because my query doesn't scream 'science!' 'technology!' it can't be a sci-fi.

This is where I think people have different ideas of genres. If you read hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi may look like fantasy to you, because there is no "real science" in it. But if that's the case, then Star Wars isn't sci-fi, it's just a western in space. And I can understand that, but really, it has aliens and spaceships, all the classic tropes of the sci-fi genre, so who cares if the technology is utter BS? It still looks and feels like a sci-fi.

But let's look at dystopias, those tend to focus more on the sociology and status quo, not the technology. Using George Orwell's 1984 as a example, sure there were two-way telescreens and cameras watching your every move (Big Brother's watching you!), but this wasn't what drove the story; it was the character's struggle against the system.

In soft sci-fi, there is going to be some handwavium where things "just work" with no further explanation, and although that may annoy some people, the point of the story wasn't to explain how the world/universe works; it's to give us something compelling to read. And considering how attention spans have shortened, a little handwavium helps move the plot along to stuff we really care about, like characters and the shit they go through.

Of course that doesn't mean the author shouldn't know how things work.

But yes, I believe you can have a valid sci-fi where the technology is more of an aid to the characters, out of the spotlight. And personally, I enjoy character-based stories (which soft sci-fi often is) more than plot-driven; it's what makes you give a damn about the characters and their dilemma. Otherwise, so what? The world is going to end? Oh well, I didn't care for that world anyways. MC getting shot at by aliens - tough luck for him!

So I suppose I'm at a lost as to why sci-fi must have technology at its focal point, or why people think that. If magic isn't at the center of a fantasy story, do we consider it not a fantasy?

What's important is how the world makes you feel, regardless whether the technology or the magic is center-stage or not. If I see spaceships and aliens, I'm calling it a sci-fi!