December 6, 2006 at 12:46 pm
I usually stay out of the comment threads except for technical issues or keeping order, but this subject’s too interesting to ignore.
Also, I worry that people may be getting too polarized over an easy misunderstanding.
What I’m seeing is that there are two different and historically valid meanings of ”science fiction,” and folks are arguing about this story without coming to terms on which usage they mean.
The first meaning of science fiction in use here, and I suspect the one most commonly understood among fans these days, is the literal “fiction based on science.”
That can be a loose or tight coupling, and you can spend years arguing whether time travel or FTL or psychohistory ever made any sense, but the premise that the author presents to the reader is that the divergence from our world is scientific, not magical.
This is distinct from fantasy, which is the other way around.
By this definition “Travels With My Cats” is clearly not science fiction — it’s fantasy.
I think it’s unambiguous in the story that Miss Wallace’s appearance is magical.
And I find it moderately odd that people are raising such a fuss about it in this story when Escape Pod has done so many fantasy stories, from “Three Wish Habit” onward.
The other definition of science fiction, just as valid and arguably more historically rooted, is exemplified by Damon Knight’s famous quote: “Science fiction means what we point to when we say it.”
It refers to that whole broad class of stuff that science fiction fans enjoy and gather to talk about.
That’s circular, but the fans manage to figure it out.
In more recent times that usage has been transferred to the more precise but less vivid label, “speculative fiction.”
And the Science Fiction Writers of America have renamed themselves to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (with the second “F” still invisible in their acronym), and bookstores have begun labeling their shelves “Science Fiction/Fantasy” instead of just science fiction, and so forth.
But the usage is still alive and common.
It’s what the World Science Fiction Convention means, and has always meant.
It’s how the Sci-Fi Channel gets to call itself “Sci-Fi” when they show plenty of fantasy and horror, too.
It’s the usage implicit in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine — and it’s what Escape Pod means when we call ourselves “The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine.”
Injecting ”and Fantasy” into that would be too many syllables and sound very clumsy.
And calling ourselves “The Speculative Fiction Podcast Magazine” would make sense to core fans but make it harder to reach out to those who aren’t in the conversation already.
“Science fiction” is a household term worldwide; “speculative fiction” is not.
Most people come here and get what we’re talking about, and in all longer descriptions we do mention fantasy too.
By this usage “Travels” is science fiction, simply because it appeared in a publication catering to the self-defined SF community and its appeal is among people who consider themselves science fiction fans.
What it’s about, by this usage, doesn’t really matter.
It’s clear to me that this is the perspective Mike is coming from — and he’s right, it’s the perspective the Hugo voters use too.
I don’t think this is any more or less valid than saying “Science fiction is about science.”
It’s just different.
But if neither side acknowledges that you’re talking about two different science fictions, this debate is just going to clunk along without really accomplishing anything.
(Though hopefully the participants are at least Having Fun discussing it.
I don’t object to argument here as long as no one is insulting anyone else personally — and that hasn’t happened.)