What is Science Fiction? Oh, sure, we all know it when we see it, more or less, but what *is* it? How would you define it? Like planets and continents, It’s a vast and slippery beast without a solid definition. Well, ok, Planets have a definition now, but it’s a stupid and disingenuous one, and there’s still not a solidly agreed-upon definition for continents or subcontinents. That’s just not good enough for earthy young snobs like ourselves, now is it? If you can define it, you own it on some basic mental level.
We’ve spent a fair amount of time here on Republibot trying to define exactly what SF is ( http://www.republibot.com/content/roundtable-discussion-1-so-what-scienc... ) and what it isn’t, and what it’s job - if any - is. Towards the end of 2009, I was flabbergasted by some of the things a couple total strangers were telling me about what is and isn’t SF. They seemed rational enough, college educated, good jobs, but they had no freakin’ clue. It was like asking a polar bear for information about basketball - there was just no frame of reference. They seemed to believe it was the job of the genre to accurately predict the future, and things that didn’t do so could be discounted out of hand. Thus, for instance, “War of the Worlds” was now rubbish because the Martians never invaded.
I assumed these were just passing nitwits, but then I met a friend of a friend who claimed to really like SF, but had no idea what it is. Then another. Then another who felt that it was basically a modern version of astrology, and hence evil.
Wow and wower still.
Just for the hell of it, I decided to run a survey of people I know who were likely to answer surveys, just to see what the common opinions were. It’s not at all scientific, just a way of getting a general idea of the consensus, if any.
I kept it really simple: just five questions
1)What is Science Fiction? I don't want an essay, just give me the shortest sensible definition of what *you personally* think it means, what you think of when the term comes up. I want your definition, so don't look it up in a dictionary or whatever.
2) Is "Lost" a Science Fiction show? Yes or no? Please include a *short* explanation as to why you think it is or isn't. If you haven't actually seen the show, that doesn't matter, you can give me your impression from hearing other people talk about it and/or commercials.
3)What is "Doctor Who" all about? Just give a *short* explanation of what you think the show's premise is. Again, if you haven't actually seen it, that doesn't matter, I want to know what you *think* the show is about from secondhand comments. Again, don't cheat and look it up, I want your own opinion.
4) Name five science fiction movies or TV shows that don't have "Star" in the title, and aren't members of the major SF Franchises. (By which I mean Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, and Dr. Who aren't elligiable.) If you can't think of five off the top of your head, just list as many as you can think of.
5) What's the last Science Fiction book you've read? If you've never read one, just say that.
This was intended as a quick-and-dirty litmus, and here’s my reasoning: Question one is pretty self-explanatory. Question two is about the most popular American SF show at the present, so if people deny that it’s SF, they haven’t got a clue. Question three is about the most popular, longest running SF show in history (31 seasons and counting, 762 episodes. No, that’s not a typo: 762 episodes!). Given all that, if someone is even remotely interested in SF, they’ll have heard of it and sought it out. They may not like it (It’s a very uneven, frequently boring show through most of its run), but they’ll at least know what it is. Likewise, if they’ve never heard of it, odds are they’re just not all that into SF. Question four is just general knowledge: If you can only name Trek/Wars, again, you’re probably not all that into the genre. Question five is basically to let us know if they’re into the deep stuff or the shallow stuff. Again, if it’s a Star Wars/Star Trek title, odds are they’re really not into the more challenging stuff.
I sent out 44 questionnaires via email, I got twenty-four responses,