Science Fiction

The Sci Fi That Isn’t

Bookmarked Boundary lines by Andrew LiptakAndrew Liptak (Transfer Orbit)

Is that *really* science fiction?

On paper, I’d make the assumption that if a book or author is tackling the subject matter that typically makes up a science fiction book, like newfangled technology or sciences, you’d categorize it as genre fiction. That isn’t the case: you don’t often see the works of Crichton — or for that matter, Tom Clancy and his military thrillers or Daniel Suarez, whose novel Delta-V is explicitly about mining asteroids included in that conversation.

What I think I’ve come to understand is that “Science Fiction” as a label is largely a construct that’s imposed on a body of work by a group of people, and that if you have a book or story that isn’t explicitly marketed to that small group of readers by way of a handful of select publishing outlets like Tor or Orbit or DAW or Baen, they might as well not exist.

I also think about this in relation to romance, and how SF readers will read SF that includes romance as long as it’s not marketed as a romance. And perhaps vice versa – some SF concepts in a romance aren’t enough to market it as light SF (and rightly so given the much larger market for romance books) – but there is the lost opportunity for those ideas to engage with the genre at large. Perhaps because so much of SF is adventure, war, and thriller stories, there’s less room in the genre for quiet stories. Are world changing stakes essential to SF? Vast universes? How subtle can it be and still be considered SF by the community?

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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