Day 443: What is Science Fiction?

Day 443: What is Science Fiction?

I unwittingly stepped into a genre debate today…or at least I *think* I did. There’s still a lot about what was being discussed in short sentences that I feel like I’m not fully understanding, but obviously it was enough to make me think about the question, since here I am wanting to write about it.

The discussion started around Battlestar Galactica, the reboot, which turned 10 years old today (for the *pilot* episode, not the miniseries), and the assertion that BSG was not, in fact, science fiction. That BSG is, in fact, a drama.

To be honest, I don’t understand the point that’s being made, nor do I understand why it’s being made. Two separate things, in my mind; what is being argued, and why it’s being argued.

To address the first, of course Battlestar Galactica is a drama. It’s not a story designed to make you laugh, nor does it end with everyone alive and well in a wedding. If we’re talking two basic kinds of stories, which would be very greek of us, then we have not a comedy, but a drama. That’s about as basic and ancient a definition of a story as you can get. See, NCIS:LA is also a drama, and NCIS:LA and Battlestar Galactica aren’t the same thing. Someone also said that BSG is a “military drama” if you strip out the space elements…but you can’t just do that, can you? IT’S IN SPACE. That’s a defining characteristic of the show. You can’t just take that away from it, because then it would be an entirely different show.

So, then, I guess, we need to define Science Fiction, yes? Now…perhaps what’s being debated here is that there is a general misuse of the term Science Fiction, and that it means something entirely different than what we all think it means. I concede that’s entirely possible. But I’d also wager that this forefathers-type definition of the term SciFi is completely outdated and rather meaningless today. Science Fiction now means anything that has to do with some element of as-yet-unrealized advancement in civilization, or perhaps even forgotten advancement. Technology, especially, shows up in Science Fiction, but it can also be human evolution, or even just a setting in some future date…in which case, often, civilization has collapsed and we’ve moved backwards technologically.

It’s pretty clearly different from realism, or stories set entirely in the realm of real life and history. It’s clearly different from Fantasy, which often includes elements of magic, or alternate ancient histories and lands. And, it’s different from Horror, which is a likewise broad “genre” that focuses on the darker side of humanity and story-telling, the morose and the macabre.

Where I’m going with all this is that firstly, Science Fiction has blossomed into a gigantic umbrella term for a lot of types of stories. I’d fiercely maintain, however, that it is still a precisely definable style. It’s about things that haven’t happened yet, that we think or fantasize may eventually happen. Secondly, since those attributes that make something Science Fiction are not inherently stories in and of themselves…Science Fiction stories are almost always hybrids with other genres. Westerns, Crime, Military (Naval in particular), Political, Thriller, Horror, Myth, Family drama…you name it, Sci Fi has been there.

So yes! Battlestar Galactica is absolutely a drama, or a military drama…but it’s also set in space with spaceships, other planets, and sophisticated robots which are 100% Science Fiction. It’s a Sci Fi show. See, that’s the twist, guys! That’s how you take old stories and make them new and fresh again. Trek was a Western, hugely popular in the 60s…set in SPACE. Ah, cool! A new twist on an old idea!

Okay…moving on.

The second question…why are we having this debate in the first place…that’s much more mysterious to me. I jumped into the conversation too late, methinks, and it was a thread on an entirely different subject so my request for elaboration was a bit of a hijack. But, I do want to know. Is Sci Fi this “dirty” word now, for some reason? Or, if it’s a matter of imprecision…why would we have that discussion over a television show which is about as broad and masses-driven as an form of story-telling can possibly be? I mean, TV networks wouldn’t even call BSG a Sci Fi show…it’d just be a “genre” show – ie- anything that isn’t set in the “Real World” past or present, as if Game of Thrones and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were the same type of show. But then…that’s kind of my point…they ARE the same kind of show in a very broad sense…and if that’s true, why get into a huff about it? Let someone call both of them a “genre” show. It’s not wrong. Nor is there anything negative about it.

I guess that’s what makes me bristle a bit at this entire debate; someone is telling me not to use the term Science Fiction. That automatically makes me feel like defending the term, which I (obviously) would do firmly. I fucking love Sci Fi, and I fucking love how broad-reaching it is and how many other genres it can dip into. I think Science Fiction makes everything better, everything more fun. Oh, you have a great idea about a bounty hunter? Set that shit in space and I am 100% fucking on board with that shit. You just doubled your fun-factor for me instantaneously.

So yeah…Battlestar Galactica is a motherfucking Sci Fi show…and I love(d) the poop out of it. Happy freaking 10th! Time flies,  don’t it?

End of Line.