Hugo Greensback once observed that science fiction is…whatever science fiction editors buy. An observation that does much to demonstrate the broad variety of themes, plots, settings, and characters that make-up stories within the science fiction genre. Tom Shippey refers to science fiction stories as being best described as “fabril” fiction [fabril=a smith/technician]. That is, fiction that is concerned with the implications of technolgy and/or life in industrial and post-industrial settings. Science fiction is thus seen as literature that stands in opposition to pastoral literature. Science fiction puts characters, the human character, in settings that challenge us to define the scope of our humanity, the limits of our humanity and indeed even the nature of our humanity in view of scientific advances and the accompanying social changes that surround post-industrial mankind.
So I view science fiction as the definitive modern genre. A genre that allows humanity to express the eternal questions (who are we, why are we here, what is our eternal destiny?) in a post-industrial, post-modern world (some would even claim that, with the advances in AI and the manipulation of the human genome, we will soon be living in a post-human world). Science fiction is often able to communicate ideas to the modern mind through symbolism, allegory, and metaphor that the more traditional genres of literature/film are able to do now.
Soon I will write a post describing what science itself is, and to what extent the modern world is defined by and saturated with science, and why science fiction does so well to speak to humanity living in this modern scientific context.