This recent question, reality check - How big could a space-ship get while still being plausible? - Worldbuilding Stack Exchange, reminded me of the difference between real "science fiction" and "sci-fi".
Science fiction takes a simple concept (ideally a possible event, but blatantly impossible can work too) and asks what if it actually happened? The resulting story is about the reactions of society and/or individuals to that speculative change.
Sci-fi is simply a normal, main-stream story that has been transposed into the tropes and memes that have become a standard part of science fiction. The story itself is not science fiction.
While it is possible to have good sci-fi, it still won't be science fiction. The original Star Trek was science fiction; the original Star Wars was sci-fi. The film Outland was blatant sci-fi (a remake of High Noon), but still well done.
This science fiction versus sci-fi distinction isn't recent. 70 years ago, Galaxy Magazine was founded on this basic premise:
As author Spider Robinson said, there is science fiction, and there is sci-fi, the plural of scum fum (or perhaps scus fus).
I realize it would be a big job, and is unlikely to happen, but it would make things a lot nicer if questions distinguished between science fiction and sci-fi.
I remember one of Isaac Asimov magazine editorials giving a very disparaging definition of "sci-fi", but can't seem to find it anywhere. And almost all the items I did find ended up referring to Asimov as a "sci-fi" writer, something that he would not have appreciated.
In Asimov quote on the crucial essence of science fiction, he stated:
What is important about science fiction, even crucial, is the very thing that gave it birth — the perception of change through technology. It is not that science fiction predIcts this particular change or that that makes it important; it is that it predicts CHANGE.
This crucial factor is something that sci-fi neglects; it doesn't care about how technology changes society, it only cares that society has changed, and simply makes use of that setting.
Admittedly, by now the distinction between "science fiction" and "sci-fi" has all but disappeared, at least in terminology, but that is the real problem here. When vocabulary changes, especially when distinct words become synonyms, meaning gets lost.
The comments given so far make several observations, each of which misses the point:
- The original distinction between sci-fi and sf had little to do with the quality of the writing or production (though there was often a high correlation).
- Neither did it have a lot to do with the plausibility of the underlying premises.
- Nor with hard versus soft science.
Yes, these are all important issues, and they can apply to both science fiction and sci-fi, but they are unrelated to the definition of "real" science fiction.
The text you quote (in the image) doesn't seem relevant at all. it just makes the claim that Galaxy will have what its author considers "quality content", but doesn't make any point about the distinction you are drawing between "sci-fi" and "science fiction". — terdon
No, that is exactly what it doesn't say. You are completely missing its point.
It doesn't say that their fiction will be "high quality"; it says that their fiction will be fiction that must be science fiction, as opposed to fiction that would work equally well in a different genre.
There are stories that can be told only in a science fiction setting. Consider classics such as The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, Frankenstein, Brave New World, or 1984. These novels are pure science fiction: their plots require the science fiction genre.
A novel such as Moby Dick could be written in a science fictional setting, with the Pequod as a space ship, and the whale as some kind of space monster. But no matter how well written it is, and no matter how believable it is, and no matter how hard the science is, it would still be "sci-fi", not "science fiction".
If you think 1984 is a story about things that happen to a man while working for a government agency, you didn't get it. 1984 is about something far deeper and broader than that; it is about society, about the need for war, about Stalinism, about truth, and about many other important ideas. But those ideas could be expressed only as an allegory using the techniques of science fiction; it simply wouldn't work as a mainstream novel.
That is what makes something science fiction; not the apparent genre, but the necessity for that genre.
The quoted article, 'It drives writers mad': why are authors still sniffy about sci-fi? | Books | The Guardian, is about authors that write science fiction and then deny that what they have written is science fiction. It's an excellent illustration of my point.
There is a good reason they do this, and that reason is directly related to the (current lack of) distinction between science fiction and sci-fi.
Consider an analogy. Suppose your knowledge of Christianity comes from such experiences as choir masters with Roman hands and nuns that rap knuckles with rulers when you don't follow their rules. You also learn about the Inquisition and Crusades as part of the history of Christianity. Later in life you happen to read the Bible and discover some amazing philosophical insights. But when you describe your new ideas to someone else, they tell you "yes, that's what Christianity is all about". "No," you say, "that's not Christianity, it's something far better than that!". The concepts you have developed are so much better than what you have come to think of as Christianity that they can't possibly be Christian.
The same thing happened when Margaret Atwood discovered that the best way to express her ideas about society, women, religion, politics, etc. was to use the devices of science fiction to build her metaphor. She of course didn't recognize it as such, because her past experience with that genre was with crappy sci-fi films and stories of, as she said, "monsters and spaceships". She must have thought: "This couldn't possibly be science fiction, it is so much better than that nonsense. Don't insult me!". But in fact she had written science fiction, she simply couldn't admit it because she didn't know that real science fiction even existed.
I know it's a lost cause, but once again:
- Science fiction stories contain metaphors, allegories, etc. that cannot be told in any other genre without losing their message.
- Sci-fi is a genre of stories that use the memes and tropes of science fiction to tell a story that could just as well have been told in a different genre.
I'll add this distinction to my list of lost words, the most egregious of which is "wherefore"'s being subsumed by "why", rendering poor Juliet's pivotal speech universally misunderstood.