Question of the Day, May 5, 2010

The Great JT

New member
Oct 6, 2008
The key word in "science fiction" is "fiction." True, "science" is in there too, but science fiction's great appeal is ficticious science, meaning you can make up your own science. Example, Star Trek. Seriously, any time some sort of technobabble shows up, you might as well just call it "science fiction blather."

Honestly, no one ever called out Star Trek for talking about multi-modal transmission buffering sub-space channels, so why are they calling out Dr. Who for being too much fiction and not enough science?

Also, on an unrelated bit, remember how the future looked in the 50's and 60's and how science saves the world (example, The Jetsons)? What happened to that?


New member
Mar 31, 2010
Pratchett's complaint was really more that Who used poor narrative structure, in that it's science-tools were pretty much just "Oh, I eliminate that plot point by turning the doohickey"

That said, really good Sci-Fi in the tradition of Ray Bradbury and the original Star Trek is about examining human ideas in the context of broader capabilities than we have now. Poor science fiction obsesses about the "realism" of inherently unrealistic technology.


Absolutely Useless
Jan 15, 2009
I like well-thought out sci-fi, that actually checks its facts as often as possible (usually after breaking one or two laws of physics but building logically from it), though crazy stuff that simply can't be explained is fun too.

All in all, as long as it's done well I don't think it really matters, 'Hard' sci-fi can become boring if it tries to ram too much stuff down your throat or if it's simply described badly to make to seem like a chore. Though can be really engrossing if done well.

While science-fiction with barely any science[footnote]Does that make it just "fiction"?[/footnote] can seem completely ridiculous and simply leave you cold, or it can be just crazy, silly, fun and you just won't care about the fact it makes no proper logical sense.

Cherry Cola

Your daddy, your Rock'n'Rolla
Jun 26, 2009
I don't mind Sci-fi going above what is possible.

What I don't mind is when people use science as Deus Ex Machina.

"I know how we solve this situation!"


"*points hand towards problem* SCIENCE! *Kaboom*"

It's like how Nostalgia Critic complains about how Return to Camelot is dumb because it just pulls magic out of its ass when it's set in an already established fantasy universe. The same applies for Sci-fi


New member
Nov 2, 2009
Um, does this question really need to be asked? IT'S CALLED SCIENCE FREAKING "FICTION!" i want my fiction to be as unrealistic as possible!


Jabbering Fool
Mar 31, 2010
I was always a subscriber to the Phillip k dick idea that "Good science fiction is story's in which the idea is the hero"


New member
Mar 20, 2010
Too often "Science Fiction" is an excuse to do whatever you want. It needs atleast a little grounding to meet the "Science" part.


Elite Member
Jun 27, 2009
United States
good science fiction should mix plausible technology with the supernatural in other words "Star Wars"


New member
Nov 5, 2007
I think good science fiction has a solid basis in modern science, but when they move into the unknown or things that are known but currently unexplained, they should have just about free reign. I only have two real stipulations on that: 1) whatever decisions the author makes about how their universe works should be explained if they become important, or at least left as an intentional mystery for the characters and the audience, and 2) that everything should be internally consistent. Once the author has set down the rules of their universe, those rules should always apply as described, and there shouldn't be any retconning of fundamental laws of physics. I can even accept magic in a sci-fi story if the setting treats that magic scientifically, explaining its limitations and keeping to them even when that becomes inconvenient.


New member
Nov 8, 2007
Whilst the label "fiction" suggests that a story can do absolutely anything it wants, that doesn't mean it should. A story is allowed to be unrealistic, as long as it is plausible and internally consistent. But then again, if a story becomes too surreal, there is a danger that the reader will not be able to identify with the characters or sitation.

In the case of Doctor Who, Pratchett had a problem because the Doctor could alleviate complex problems with a single sentence of gobble-de-gook. They do this in Star Trek too - as long as the sentence is sufficiently complicated, no one will question whether or not something is possible. It comes across as lazy writing, and what is worse, the reader/viewer doesn't know where to stand: "Oh. So they can repair that problem by barking a single sentence? Can they do that with every other problem? These situations have become too technical for me to understand, so they might as well."


The leading man, who else?
Aug 23, 2009
My favorite sci-fi is the really hard stuff, Alastair Reynolds is my favorite writer. But I still like softer 'sci-fantasy' like Star Wars or Hyperion.

The way I see it, if you want to make everything possible in your story, don't even try to technobabble your way out of it (the way Star Trek too often does). Just accept the possibilities you have as given and get the story moving from there.
The science in a science fiction story can be used as a very important and functional part of the story, but it doesn't necessarily have to. Creating a good futuristic story without technological background is certainly possible and often very succesful, but personally I prefer real science blowing my mind.

Hurr Durr Derp

New member
Apr 8, 2009
Glademaster said:
it is called fiction for a reason.
Crayzor said:
Its science fiction!
The Great JT said:
The key word in "science fiction" is "fiction."
cptawesome said:
Do you even realize what the word "fiction" means? It's just a shorter way of saying "this story didn't really happen". It has absolutely nothing to do with how realistic a story is. If it was just "Fiction", it could be almost anything. Calling it "Science Fiction" however, implies at least a foundation of scientific plausibility.

CSB Fisher

New member
Nov 4, 2009
I like both kinds of science fiction, it just depends on what mood I am in. I for instance loved Mass Effect, a world based deeply in science while also enjoying The Force Unleashed.


New member
Feb 11, 2010
Science fiction and fantasy are two different genres in my opinion, one (SF) being futuristic imagination, while another (fan.) is more of a past imagination, neither really bound by any sort of logic. As for people who claim Sci-fi has to be plausable, anything can make sense if explained properly, and if not boo-who, get over it.


New member
May 21, 2008
Eagle Est1986 said:
Nah, science fiction should really be based on good science, one or two departures from that are ok but many more and it's no longer science fiction.

Star Wars - fantasy
Star Trek - science fiction
You nearly got it right, if it wasn't for the newer Star Wars trilogy trying to turn it into sci-fi and doing very badly at it.


New member
Mar 18, 2010
I'll just quote Arthur C. Clarke, who said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Hence, I think EVERYTHING is possible in SF - the only distinction between fantasy and science fiction being that the events and themes of things pertaining to the SF genre CAN be scientifically EXPLAINED. But they don't necessarily have to be explained in such a manner (it really depends on the language of the author).

I voted "Everything is possible". Even an invisible pink unicorn (genetically modified + invisibility tech = voila!). And yes, even a planet made of ice cream (Douglas Adams), and robots that can feel pain in their robotic limbs, along with "ancient gods" in the future (Ilium, Olympos by Dan Simmons), or "the" Buddha himself (Lord of Light, by Zelazny) etc.

For example, I love 2001: A Space Odissey with all its precise science, and Star Trek, but I also love Homeworld (a blend beteen explained science and implied science), and at the other end, I also absolutely LOVE Star Wars.

I think Clarke's thought deserves another mention:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Cheers, good Sirs! :)


New member
Jun 5, 2009
There's "hard science fiction" exploring actual possibilities of near future. There's "science fantasy" where technology allows for unrealistic or outright bizzare turnings of events (yet not without internal consistency).

Then there's just pulling stuff out of your ass. It isn't really "science anything" when problems are just technobabbled away, now is it? It really is less like amazing technology and more like plain old magic by another name.


New member
Nov 4, 2009
Science fiction is not about making up solutions on the spot. Its roots are in SCIENCE after all.


Princess TLDR
Nov 20, 2009
I had the joy of being in a, brief, conversation with Spider Robinson a few years ago regarding exactly this question. Here's what I got out of it (TLDR at the bottom):

Turns out guideline for both SF and F are the same. Robinson made it clear, to me, regardless if you're talking about magic or technology, there has to be a set of defined rules. When you focus on the rules, the only difference between the two genres becomes the setting and available materials.

In Fantasy, magic without rules or structured behavior easily becomes laughable and cheesy. If you're in a story where all-of-a-sudden the main character whips out a massive damaging attack spell, you question "well why didn't you just use that before?" or "where the hell did that come from?" and "seriously, there's not consequence for using that?". It breaks the emersion. I know it's funny to talk about plausibility in a fantasy genre but it is there (or rather, it should be).

Good Fantasy sets up plausibility through structured rules about power balance and skills or object resources required to provide said magic. It should also include rules on how to "power up" the main character so bigger and better magic can be used. This then stops the generic "over kill" power from being over used and forces characters into conflicts about being able to use it. Fantasy has no established boundaries, you can setup any set of rules you want to establish the story.

Science Fiction sets up the same plausibility through the same use of rules but, basis for those rules often have pre established boundaries from real life. SF, even using advanced tech tends to have an unwritten expectation of being "realistic"; SF usually draw from existing resources, say mathematical and physical laws, and advances them into something we might be able to have or do in the future.

There are two types of SF I often see - the "hard core" SF is generated from existing laws and is often very ridged and structured around existing technology. And the lighter side of SF where the rules are established from existing tech but introduces new "magical" elements we haven?t dreamed of yet.

The again, there are plenty of SF stories that border on fantasy: when the tech goes beyond currently plausible technology and become magic? The reverse is true too. If a fantasy story doesn't use magic, then it's about the technology of the time -- but you would never call a medieval times based story science fiction, would you? So we're back to "setting" be the defining factor.

Regardless of genre, a good story is about the established rules. SF, I think, does a better job following these rules because it's more about physical object and physical resources. Whereas Fantasy and magic are often less tangible and have to be well established in advance for plausability.


We're more critical of SF because we know that its story lines could exist some day. We're less critical of Fantasy because we know magic isn't real and never will be.

So really, the difference between the two is (IMO):

a) semantic - when does future tech become a type of magic for us? When did tech look like magic to people in the past?

b) setting and material - an enchanted and a light saber could be considered the same basic literary construct.

A good story should be able to be told in any genre with a few tweaks to the object details. Think about putting some of your favorite games into the opposite genre -- if the story was good would the setting make that much difference. ;)