Join Prism Book Alliance® as Andrew Q Gordon goes Outside the Margins today.
What qualifies as Science Fiction? Does it require space ships and outer space? Is it an alternative version of earth where somethings are different, but the culture is otherwise the same? What about something set in the future? If the story is written in the past and the future has caught up to it, does that change the genre?
These might seem like silly questions, but lately I’ve been thinking about George Orwell’s 1984. I suspect I’m not alone because 1984 is #4 on the Kindle bestseller list as I write this. It’s #1 in Science Fiction, #1 in Literature and Fiction, and #1 in Classics. Clearly a lot of people are buying this book (or downloading it from Kindle Prime.)
I read the book a few years before 1984, so to me it was still set ‘in the future,’ but I never considered it Science Fiction. To me it was more a political book that made a statement than Science Fiction. The science never seemed very sciency. To someone reading it now, would they consider it Sci-Fi? I doubt it.
Compare that to 2001, A Space Odyssey. What I didn’t know until I started to research this post was that this ‘novel’ was based on the screen play Arthur C. Clarke wrote with Stanley Kubrik for the 1968 movie. It was, however, based on Clarke’s 1948 short story The Sentinel. Little bit of trivia, the short story was written for a competition and it failed to place. It wasn’t published until 1951 under the title, Sentinel of Eternity. I would love to know what stories beat this out as I’m certain none are as famous as this.
The year 2001 has clearly come and gone and manned space travel hasn’t made it to Saturn or Jupiter. So like 1984, it was set in the future when written, but to those who read it now, it’s set in the past. But 2001 has always been and always will be Sci-Fi. It, along with Star Trek and some other movies and TV shows, laid the ground work for the genre.
What about X-men, Iron Man, Batman, or Superman? Are they Sci-Fi? Paranormal? Urban Fantasy? They all have technology well beyond what we can create today, but they’re mostly known for their spandex and muscles. Does the fact they came from a comic book and the characters are called superheroes make them something other than Science Fiction?
How about something like Mork and Mindy? Dude from outer space comes to current day earth? Or I am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore? Lots of dudes from outer space come to current day earth. Sci-Fi or Not?
The notion of what something is called might seem insignificant, but it matters in the digital age. Readers search for books using search engines that troll the internet for information. Will the book show up if it’s listed as paranormal and someone searches for urban fantasy? I don’t know, but if your livelihood depended on selling books, it would be a huge question to answer.
But even before key words and search engine optimization, before target audiences were all the rage in fashioning on-line ads, there were card catalogs and library stacks divided by genre. I doubt Margret Mitchell would have been happy to have had Gone With The Wind sandwiched between Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings and Asimov’s Foundation.
This is especially true today. Romance is (and likely will always be) the champion. It outsells all other genres. But Sci-Fi/Fantasy does pretty well too, so labeling it correctly does matter. I’d bet not many browsers in the molecular biology section would have been interested in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.
As you can see, I’m not going to suggest the answer. So burn up Brandilyn’s comment section with your thoughts.
~Andrew Q Gordon
About Andrew Q Gordon
Andrew Q. Gordon wrote his first story back when yellow legal pads, ball point pens were common and a Smith Corona correctable typewriter was considered high tech. Adapting with technology, he now takes his MacBook somewhere quiet when he wants to write.
He currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his partner of twenty years, their young daughter and dog. In addition to dodging some very self-important D.C. ‘insiders’, Andrew uses his commute to catch up on his reading. When not working or writing, he enjoys soccer, high fantasy, baseball and seeing how much coffee he can drink in a day.
On his website: www.andrewqgordon.com,
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/andrewqugordon,
On Twitter: @andrewqgordon,
Or just email him: email@example.com
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