What is SF?

Some Thoughts on Genre

Finding a definition for science fiction is either the simplest thing in the world, or it is an impossible feat to accomplish, depending on who you ask. Author and critic Damon Knight is infamous for stating that “Science fiction is what we point to when we say ‘science fiction'” (viii), whereas author Samuel Delaney polemically called a definition of science fiction a “wholly imaginary object of the same ontological status as unicorns” (148). Both are right and in essence it all boils down to the question for what purpose a definition is needed. Publishers need it better sell books. Authors might be afraid of it because they can get stigmatized and readers use it to make sense of a given piece of art. In the introductory essay “What is SF?” John Rieder explores the different functions of genre and how they relate to SF, starting from Darko Suvin’s famous (and probably to date most used definition) of science fiction as a literature of  “estrangement and cognition” (3) he ends up closer to Damon Knight’s dictum than one would expect.

 

Lecture

This is the lecture “What is SF? – Some Thoughts on Genre” by Prof. Dr. John Rieder (University of Hawai’i):

Videofile – MP4

Or download this link via right-click and “save as…”: Lecture

Audiofile – MP3

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Essay

The introductory essay “What is SF? Some Thoughts on Genre” by Prof. Dr. John Rieder is available for download here:

Rieder, John – “What is SF? Some Thoughts on Genre”

 

Recommended Texts for Further Reading

  • Bould, Mark, et al., eds. The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction. London: Routledge, 2009.
  • Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. “The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 23.3 (1996): 385-88.
  • James, Edward, and Farah Mendlesohn, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.
  • Luckhurst, Roger. Science Fiction. London: Polity, 2005.
  • Roberts, Adam Charles. Science Fiction. The New Critical Idiom. London: Routledge, 2002.
  • Spencer, Kathleen L. “‘The Red Sun Is High, the Blue Low': Towards a Stylistic Description of Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 10.1 (1983): 35-49.

Interesting Links

 

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Works Cited on this page:

  • Delaney, Samuel. Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & The Politics of the Paraliterary. Middeltown: Wesleyan, 1999.
  • Knight, Damon. In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction. New York: Advent, 1967.
  • Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

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MLA Citation for this page:

 

Video Lecture:
Rieder, John. “What is SF? Some Thoughts on Genre”. Video Lecture. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2012.
<http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=137>.
Essay:
Rieder, John. “What is SF? Some Thoughts on Genre”. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2012.
<http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=137>. 1-17.
Info Page:
Lars Schmeink. “What is SF?” Web Page. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2012.
<http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=137>.

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