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How to define science fiction

As we all gathered in the NAF conference room, putting together this month’s Work In Progress report, our resident Turtle asked whether I was looking for a crit partner.

Giant Eye on digital background

Illustration by Iva Villi • stock.xchng

Well, I’m always open to beta readers, and Turtle is one of the best, but I had to warn her that Hope and Pride is not speculative fiction. It’s set in the present, and the heroine is an accountant. Bless her chelonian heart, Turtle wanted to read it anyway.

Hope and Pride did start out as a science fiction story, set in a near future world among makers of imaginary high-tech gadgets and software. But after a couple of abortive seat-of-the-pants drafts, I realized I really needed to get a handle on what the story was about. So I wrote a synopsis.

It contained no mention of science or gadgetry.

Which led me to realize that I had not written a science fiction story. I had written a story and given it science fiction props.

What’s the difference?

Stanley Schmidt, the former editor of the magazine Analog Science Fiction and Fact, compiled this guideline, still in place, to define science fiction stories:

…some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley’s _Frankenstein without the science and you’ll see what I mean. No story!

Conversely, if I can remove the technology from the story and still have a story, my story must not be science fiction. So I reset it in the present day, among manufacturers of small appliances and video games.

As we chatted about this around the table, Tim mentioned that he once learned from Michael Stackpole that technology introduced in a story needs to be imperative to the disaster or resolution. All the technology needed for the disaster in my story already exists — computers and the Internet. So this confirmed my decision to move Hope and Pride into the modern day.

Still, I find it amusing that one of the science fiction props I gave my heroine way back when — a tablet computer like the PADDs in Star Trek: The Next Generation — is still in the story. Only it’s spelled with one d and an i.

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About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

2 comments on “How to define science fiction

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