So, Science Fiction has a Monopoly on Change?
What is science fiction? Define it. It seems that everyone who writes in the S.F. genre has their own, different definition. Here’s my definition: Science fiction is a branch of speculative fiction or fantasy that extrapolates from known or speculated science to produce a fictional work. It is simple and focuses on the science.
I mentioned yesterday that I was wanting to look at David Brin’s incorporation of concepts of change into the distinction between science fiction and fantasy. For Brin, science fiction is all about the change. Science fiction is about the possibilities of human progress and improvement. Fantasy is contrasted for its unchanging nature. A dark lord may be overthrown, but it is likely that the social structures in place at the beginning of the novel or series is still going to be in effect. It is understandable, then, that I have a problem with this definition.
My problem with Brin’s definition is that it opens up a binary that raises science fiction to a position of privilege. Science fiction= progress= good; fantasy= stasis= bad. This is bullshit.
Now, I understand some of the issues that Matthew David Surridge has with Brin’s contribution to the Polansky-Wright debate. The context of his comment about palantirs in every home is rather more problematic than I had originally thought.
Personally, I’m less disposed to Brin’s comments now than I was. It also raises the question of whether or not fantasy can be progressive. For Brin, that is an impossibility.
The one fantasy he points to that is progressive, Pratchett’s Discworld, he claims as science fiction. If that is the case, then so should The Lord of the Rings be considered science fiction because the entire novel is about change. The age of myths, of the elves, passes for the age of humanity. Now, the social structure does not change, but things are irreparably changed. In the end, his argument falls apart, I think.
While concepts of change makes for an interesting element to definitions of science fiction, it also causes a major bias to be introduced when contrasted to fantasy. That science fiction is being privileged over another genre, namely fantasy, is, I think, a troubling position.