Over the years, a lot of authors and scholars far more knowledgeable (and opinionated) than me have tried to nail down science fiction, defining it in a variety of ways, sometimes in contrast to other genres like fantasy. Here are a few:
John W. Campbell: “Fiction is simply dreams written out. Science fiction consists of the hopes and dreams and fears (for some dreams are nightmares) of a technically based society.”
Isaac Asimov: “Social science fiction is that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings.”
Theodore Sturgeon: “A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content.”
Sam Moskowitz: “Science fiction is a branch of fantasy identifiable by the fact that it eases the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ on the part of its readers by utilizing an atmosphere of scientific credibility for its imaginative speculations in physical science, space, time, social science, and philosophy.”
Kingsley Amis: “Science fiction is that class of prose narrative treating a situation that could not arise in the world we know, but which is hypothesized on the basis of some innovation in science or technology, or pseudo-science or pseudo-technology. It is distinguished from pure fantasy by its need to achieve verisimilitude and win the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ through scientific plausibility.”
James Gunn: “[T]he one indispensable ingredient of science fiction [is] a belief in a world being changed by man’s intellect, a conviction that what was being written could really happen.”
As fitting, proper, eloquent, or erudite as these definitions may be, I’ll bet everyone reading these definitions can think of a science fiction story or novel that doesn’t quite fit. Another thing that seems to be missing from most of these definitions is the simple element of fun found in a lot of science fiction.
I’ve often thought that there are two distinct types of science fiction–the kind that makes you say, “Hmmm” and the kind that makes you say, “Wow!” In other words, there’s the contemplative, serious science fiction that looks at problems associated with technology and our future as a species, and then there’s that other branch of science fiction that considers the development of laser guns as a means of killing bug-eyed monsters and aiding the hero or heroine in getting laid.
I think the definitions above are all aimed at the “Hmmm” branch of SF. What definitions can we come up with for the Wow?