Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

(SciFi, Sci Fi, Sci-Fi…)

Yesterday I stated that I have google news reader searches set up for the phrases ‘science fiction’ and ‘sci fi’, and I noted a distinct difference in the links each of those aggregations supplies.

Today being a typical day, I figured I might catalog the links to clearly demonstrate that there is a divide and therefore further bolster my contention that we should encourage the use of the phrase ‘sci fi’ to stand for all non-science fiction content that the clueless THINK is science fiction.

To put it more succinctly – let’s let them take over the definition of ‘sci fi’ in order to strengthen and preserve the definition of ‘science fiction’.

Here’s today’s links for the search term “science fiction”

CNET.com’s RealDeal podcast interviews the people from Galacticast – who use the word scifi a lot


Wired news – Neal Stephenson


Newswire – pr about a ufo film


Canada.com – review of the Ellison biopic Dreams With Sharp Teeth


Denverpost.com reviews It Came From Outer Space (1953 ‘B’ movie)


Flick filosopher reviews Babylon AD


Booksonmars reviews the anthology Tales of Mars from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction


Teleread covers bookglutton’s sf first lines application for facebook (50’s SF artwork merged with quotes)


Sfawards watch on the Nebula site


Feast on books talks about libraries and book-saving in Vinge’s Rainbow’s End


Julian Ayrs covers Judith Merril

11 links, 7 of which deal with literary SF in one fashion or another – directly or second hand.  An eigth link covers classic SF film and a ninth covers a web application who’s source material is classic SF.

Here are the links for “Sci Fi”

Canadianpress – faux curse words in BSG


Newteevee – hulu will be getting some shows before they air


Cinemablend – BSG not airing until april 2009


Showmescifi – BSG coming in January 2009


Monsterscifishow – vote for a scifigeek for president


AMC/scifiscanner – vote for your favorite scifi alien – Klingons or ET?


Scifi sugar pie’s weblog – shows I love on the scifi channel (includes Ghostbusters and Scare Tactics)


Wetalktv – Charlie jade – through a mirror darkly episode airs tonite


9 links – not a one dealing with literary SF, most referencing the ‘fare’ offered by Skiffy Tube.  With the exception of AMC, not a single reference to historical SF.

Now ask yourself these questions:  which set of links more accurately reflects your own interests in science fiction?  Which set of links contains items you are more likely to click on?  Which has subjects you ‘care’ about?

 I could care less about any of the programming details concerning BSG; it’s nice that Hulu will now be getting to air lots of shows before they are broadcast, but few if any of those shows are going to be anything other than Sci Fi, so it’s hardly worth the energy to click on; I might vote in AMC’s poll – I’ve done so before – and I visit there regularly for Scalzi.  Why they use SciFi – other than the obvious ‘appeal to a wider audience’ is beyond me, but I’ll forgive them because AMC is more the ‘Sci Fi Channel’ than Skiffy Tube will ever be.  Vote for a self-described scifigeek for president? If it was him or McCain/Palin, I’d seriously consider voting Republican.  SciFi Sugar Pies’ picks?  Please.  Maybe she ought to get on the ticket with the geek…


I obviously clicked on every link listed above for this little survey, but generally I will probably click on 60 to 80 percent of the links in the ‘Science Fiction’ keyword search list and NOTHING in the ‘Sci Fi’ keyword seach list.


The above should also serve to illustrate to folks like Alistair Reynolds  (and Bill the SciFiGuy) that not ALL of the press has accepted the convention of using the abbreviation as a stand-in for the genre: Wired News, News Wire and the Denver Post (all of whom regularly provide coverage of things SFnal, all of whom have a fairly decent presence on the web) use Science Fiction as their convention.  Yay for stylebooks!


Furthermore, only two widespread sites (if Canadapress is widespread – I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now) use SciFi.  In fact, a strong case could be made that, at least here in the states, it seems as if the majority of the stylebooks eschew the use of the abbreviation.


Since I am in the habit of saving everything, I can provide a fair number of historical daily feeds from Google to back up my statement that the above is fairly typical. 


I think it provides a pretty clear picture of the fact that Sci Fi no longer means Science Fiction.  If you want to encompass everything even remotely related, use Science Fiction.  Conversely, if you want to refer specifically to literary SF, or things that are derived from literary SF, use Science Fiction.


If you want to refer specifically to (mostly bad) television shows and movies, or non-sensical reality shows, or things that will appeal to teenagers (until they acquire some experience and discriminatory powers), or people who believe that anything they are unfamiliar with or can’t explain belongs in the realm of the supernatural, or clueless references to the genre that come from ignorance – then by all means use Sci Fi, because that is what is currently defined by the phrase.


If you want to refer to the Sci Fi Channel, use Skiffy Tube.

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that the one sure way to up your traffic with a blog is to stick XXX in the title.

As I suspected, the fascination with SFnal BDSM imagery has not faded with time. 

I guess I’ll have to do some kind of weekly feature: Feast your eyes on this week’s PROBED BY ALIENS retro cover…

Lots of livejournal coverage of that one.  Makes me wonder a bit about who I’m hanging out with.


File 770 posted my outrage over twisted history.  Mike makes a distinction between ‘sci fi fanzine’ and ‘fandom’s fanzines’.  Considering my small rant about sci fi below, I guess Mike’s right. 


Skiffytube has dropped back down in the SF purity ratings game this week.  Not even a full third of the programming is remotely science fiction.  This was accomplihsed by removing all SF content from the channel for an entire day this week.

It’s probably a test.


In line with skiffy tube the channel, we now have the skiffy language police. Alistair Reynolds says “So here’s a suggestion. We get over the sci-fi thing. We can still keep talking about SF and science fiction, but we should give up the knee-jerk sense of insult whenever the sci-fi label is applied to what we do.”

Wrong.  This attitude is so dreadfully Neville Chamberlain.  Earlier in the piece Alistair said “To the average person in the street, sci-fi is what we do. It’s what copy-editors will always insist on putting into newspaper articles, even if the original author used the terms SF or science fiction. And guess what, I’m a sci-fi writer. I write sci-fi books. They get shelved in the sci-fi section.”

To them it’s what we do. And to the current administration, what they do at Guantanamo Bay isn’t torture. It’s ‘intensive interrogation’.

SF – SCIENCE FICTION – is about words and language as much as it is about anything else. Any political hack will tell you that once you start letting the other side create the definitions, you’ve lost.

It may be a lost cause – it certainly seems that way – but I’d much prefer to go down fighting than to tuck tail and run.

Maintaining the distinction may actually work in the long run.  Every day I get news feeds from google. One covers the keyword Sci Fi, the other the keyword Science Fiction. The Sci Fi feed produces links to stories that are almost universally crap: ECW discussions, bad anime, clueless ramblings about what star someone hopes to get an autograph from, paranormal television show reviews, self-published novels seeking a reader.   The Science Fiction feed produces links to reviews of real SF literature, commentary about conventions, fanzine reviews, new technologies, serious discussion and some frivolity. (The SF feed gets stories from the San Francisco Chronicle…)

It is clear from two plus years of google newreader feeds that Sci Fi is the great unwashed public’s name of choice for vaguely spacey CRAP. So let them keep it and use it. Let it spread. Because as popular terms spread, they water down and generalize, and I wouldn’t be at all upset if Sci Fi becomes a generalized word for CRAP.

THOSE people who use the word Sci Fi use it to describe all kinds of things that we know aren’t really Science Fiction.  As far as we’re concerned, the word is already synonymous with crap. Give it a few years and everyone will know that it’s synonymous with crap. It won’t be too much longer before THEY will have done the work for us, and there will be a true distinction between Sci Fi (crap) and Science Fiction (that literature thing).

Skiffy Tube is already educating a generation to believe that Sci Fi is profressional wrestling and ghost hunting. Which are decidedly NOT science fiction.  So let’s encourage them to use the word Sci Fi as a stand-in for excrement. Soon, very soon, when we say Science Fiction, they’ll know we’re not talking about Sci Fi.  I live for the day when someone stubs their toe or hits their thumb instead of the nail and shouts out in pain and agony – “OH SCI FI!”

(Apologies to Bill the Sci Fi guy who uses the phrase to suck in unsuspecting wrestling fans and then exposes them to Science Fiction.)


Here’s a guy who gets EVERYTHING wrong.  From Ansible:  “From a local-paper story celebrating Garry Jon Simpson’s feat of publishing his sf novel through the ‘author-funded’ Athena Press: ‘I enjoy writing science fiction as you don’t have to do a lot of research for it.’ (Winsford Guardian, 21 August) [SHS]”

Now read it again with my edits: “From a local-paper story celebrating Garry Jon Simpson’s feat of publishing his sci fi novel through the ‘author-funded’ Athena Press: ‘I enjoy writing sci fi as you don’t have to do a lot of research for it.”

See?  Now it actually makes sense and you don’t feel so embarrassed for Garry Jon anymore, do you?


Nader coments on the ‘death of science fiction’ here.  I have unformulated objections to his contentions and intend to ramble on about them, probably later on today.

I will say one thing.  I sure hope it’s sci fi that’s dead and not science fiction.

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First, you’ll need to read some science fiction.  Preferably a lot of science fiction. This is an unfortunately necessary first step and one that can’t really be skimped on. You could try getting by on a little urban fantasy or maybe some paranormal romance, but it is generally a good idea to go with the genuine article.

If you aren’t exactly sure what science fiction is, don’t worry! Most other people don’t have a clue either, but that hasn’t stopped them from reading it!  Just look for the words ‘science fiction’ somewhere on the cover of the book. If those two words are printed anywhere on the cover – front or back – you’ll be in safe territory.  (Not finding those words on the cover doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not science fiction. In fact it probably is. Publishers do this occassionally when they want to actually sell a few copies of a book.  You can read it, but for now it’s best to invest your time with books that are properly labelled.)

You will probably notice that there are many different kinds of science fiction. Don’t let this confuse you. Publishers like to put labels on books so that they can be put into the proper box.  These labels are, for the most part, nothing more than arbitrary adjectives – the same kinds of things you’ll find on bottles of household cleaners, things like ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘new and improved’, ‘lilac scented formula’ and ‘safe for pets’.

While mostly meaningless, these lables can be useful later on, so don’t worry about them now, but do make note of them.

You may also notice that these books come in a variety of thicknesses.  Since you need to read a lot of titles in a short period of time (presuming that you wish to make converts as soon as possible) it would be a good idea to stick with the thinner books.  Right now, thick is in. Book thickness is yet another publishing fad – like straight-legged jeans or flare-legged jeans – and like fashion, this trend is constantly changing. We’re concerned with volume right now, so don’t worry too much about wearing last summer’s bikini, at least you’re wearing a bikini.

The second thing you’ll need is a person.  Preferably someone who is not dead and preferably someone who can read. That’s not a hard and fast requirement – there are audio books, podcasts, movies and even anime versions of science fiction that the illiterate can enjoy, and lord knows there’s more than enough zombie fiction for readers who have passed on – but the ability to read on the part of your intended convert will help speed the process up.

One other thing to clear up before we move on to the actual conversion process. Some people get confused by the names used for science fiction. Here we use the full, formal, term – Science Fiction. Other people sometimes use SF (where the ‘S’ stands for Science and the ‘F’ for Fiction) or Sci Fi or SyPhy or Speculative Fiction or Speculative Literature or Science Fantasy or even ‘That Buck Rogers Stuff’.  Don’t let this fool you. It’s all Buck Rogers ‘stuff’. 

Buck who?  He’s the guy that played Captain Kirk before that upstart William Shatner came along.  Yes, it is way past the time that they should start calling it ‘that Captain Kirk stuff’, but science fiction as an industry is so so much living in the past that we won’t see that happen for at least another century. That is, if the singularity doesn’t happen first.  But we’re digressing. If the singularity does happen, none of this science fiction stuff will matter and if it doesn’t happen, reading about it will have been a waste of time.

So now you need a reader.  This is perhaps the most difficult requirement, as readers are elusive creatures who often go to great lengths to hide their true nature. You may also find yourself fooled by ‘writers’ who claim to be readers (they do this as a fairly successful strategy to lure in readers). Of course not all writers claim to be readers – only the good ones.

The easiest way to identify a reader is to find one holding a book. In the olden days you could usually count on finding people holding books in bookstores, but these days most of them seem to be holding coffee or DVDs rather than books.  You can try a bookstore, you might get lucky. You can try other public spaces as well. Libraries, like bookstores, have a lot fewer people in them holding books these days. Bathroom stalls can sometimes prove to be rewarding, if a bit awkward.  The best advice is – just keep your eyes open and go to places where there are lots of people.  Eventually you will find someone holding a book.

Next – examine the book. You’ll want to make sure that it’s a work of fiction – or at least a biography or history text. People reading non-fiction like “How To Get Rich In Ten Easy Steps” or “Your Political Philosophy Sucks – And You’re Stupid” are unlikely to make good candidates for conversion.  They’re hung up on ‘the real world’ and can’t waste time on make-believe, they need that time to catch up on cable news.

Assuming that it is a work of fiction that your intended convert is reading, you’re just about all set.

Next Week: Popping The Question

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Continuing Education

At the request of Bill the SciFi Guy

Course SF100: What is Science Fiction?
Prof. Jo Phan
Gernsback Auditorium, Wells Hall
M,W,F 11(am)-4(pm)

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Just to make things perfectly clear –


For the week of August 15 thru August 21, Skiffy Tube’s Science Fiction Purity Percentage is –


This represents a drop in science fiction content from the previous week.

Notably, this coming Tuesday’s line up manages to achieve more than 50% SF Purity (15 hours for a single day) – 62.5% to be precise – but the SICs make up for it on Wednesday by dropping that back down to 16.7% (4 hours).

Remember, if you want to see 100% Science Fiction Purity in Programming, visit The Classic Science Fiction Channel!  Included in our line up are these two fine SF films – one for old fogies and one for young snots –


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I’ve finished chapter 7 and have tweaked the online presentation of the story just a tad.  Navigation should now be straight-forward and intuitive.

Here’s the opening panel for Chapter 7 –

 “Oh! Whatever shall I do?” cried the Princess.
“You boys have defeated every last one of my terrors. Boo hoo. Boo hoo.”
For some unknown reason, the brothers didn’t take the girl’s distress seriously.

You can see the entire thing here.

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Science and Invention August 1923What’s in a name, hmmmm?  A rose is a rose is a rose.  Its also: a flower, Rosa Multiflora, a traditional Valentines Day gift and ‘that damn weed’ when you’ve forked ove the cash.

When Gernsback was playing around with the idea of introducing a new fiction genre he needed a name for it.  He originally chose Scientific Fiction (Science and Invention ‘Scientific Fiction Number’, August 1923).  He played around with this phrase and eventually settled on the portmanteau word Scientifiction, which was enshrined in the editorial of the first issue of Amazing Stories, April, 1926.

Hugo liked word play, particularly anagrams (see the contents page of his last SF magazine – Science Fiction +; virtually all of the bylines are anagrams of Hugo Gernsback) so its not too surprising that he was happy with ‘scientifiction’ – but I can’t imagine that too many other people were.  Its virtually unpronouncable and most definitly does not trip off the tongue.

Ultimately, it was thrown over for the easier to pronounce (and type) science fiction. That is, until the advent of Forest J. Ackerman, aka Forry Ackerman, aka 4E, aka 4SJ, aka Mr. Science Fiction. (As of this writing, the Acker-mini-mansion website was unavailable.)

Forry can basically be defined as the first fan.  He attended the first Worldcon in 1939, has amassed an enormous collection, writes, acts, agents, edits and publishes. 

Like Hugo, the man enjoys playing with words and he is generally credited with coining the phrase Sci Fi. Many liked it, many more didn’t.  It is ironic that Sci Fi was perceived as a pejorative by ‘tru fans’ – having been coined as it was by the original trufan: Ackerman was awarded a special Hugo Award (#1 Fan Personality).  Nevertheless, it was a phrase hated by many traditionalists.  Ellison referred to it as “the sound of crickets fucking”. 

For a good few decades, Science Fiction (shortened at some point during this time to S.F., most likely as a competitive move) was used by the traditionalists to refer to real science fiction and sci fi was used to denigrate bad SF; those using the phrase SciFi were regarded as neophytes or wannabes and many such fans were treated to shoutfests at conventions if they dared use it in front of traditionalists.

This war of the names, interestingly enough, took place at about the same time that Star Trek fandom was coming into its own, and the collision between the two camps (trufandom and trekkies) reflects the battle over the names.  Bruce Southard notes, quoting Patricia Byrd: “‘there is a close, if not always amiable, relationship between Star Trek and other science fiction fans, who like to think of themselves as purists and of Star Trek fans as television-star smitten pre-teens’. The attitude of the the “purists” undoubtedly derives from the fact that science fiction fandom has been in existence since the early 1930s.  Those interested in Star Trek, accordingly, a Johnnies-come-lately who have adopted the trappings of fandom but who do not fully participate in the multiplicity of fannish activities.” (emphasis mine).

This was going on at the time that I attended my first convention – a Trek con (the first one).  I attended two more Trek conventions (at the time it was perfectly ok to refer to ourselves as ‘Trekkies’; only later did the name morph into ‘Trekkers’ – but that’s another fannish story) before attenting my first ‘real’ science fiction convention (a Philcon).  It was only then that I realized that not every SF fan wanted to dress up as Captain Kirk.  I was also quickly indoctrinated in the proper use of phrases (Science Fiction or SF, not SciFi) and became one of those fans who would not allow a conversation to continue unless and until the utterance of SciFi had been corrected.

More tomorrow.

Quick note to commentors:  I haven’t been checking my spam filter all that frequently and found a few legit comments in there, which have now been allowed past the gate.  I’ll check my spam more frequently now.

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The king is dead. So’s the Queen and the Court Jester.

As some may know, the SciFi Channel has been eviscerating expanding the definition of science fiction.  They’re doing this under the leadership of a new director who has determined that in order to both capture the brand and enlarge their audience, they need to feature shows that will appeal to folks other than ‘geeky guys’.

That apparently means that professional wrestling and paranormal investigations have now been classed as scifi.

We’re witnessing the realization of The Marching Morons.  Get your tickets to Venus here, the line forms on the right.  Don’t bother packing, everything you need will be supplied.  Yes, you can leave your brain behind, you definately won’t need it on Venus.

Michael Copobianco, the out-going president of SFWA, had this to say:

Capobianco said the success of science fiction on television and at the movies has not been matched by similar success for writers.

“One of the things we’ve discussed is, ‘Should our books resemble the media works that are out there?'” he said. “Should they be dumbed down or watered down to appeal to a wider audience?”

I sure hope the incoming administration at SFWA answers with a resounding “NO!” – but I have little faith in that actually happening.  Here’s why:

Dumbing down = $. 

Its really that simple.  Unfortunate, but true.  Look around and you’ll see that anything with any share in the global market is ‘widening its base’, which is marketing hype for ‘dumbing down’.  The process frequently involves nothing more than slapping the brand label onto something that is already widely distributed. 

The SciFi Channel has now replaced a host of definitions of science fiction with the moronically simple phrase “what if?”.  Wow.  When they start adding children’s programming, don’t be surprised when Barney shows up (what if dinosaurs were really purple and could sing?).

Of course, dumbing down science fiction is impossible without destroying the ‘brand’, but that’s not going to stop SFC.  And, as these things go, those with the global media platform are the ones who get to set the agenda – and the definition.  So the battle is already over and you can kiss science fiction goodbye.  I’ll see you all in the What If section of the bookstore.


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A few days ago I posted some images and a little history on the SF/F magazine.  Its now time to move on to the golden age, which started with John W. Campbell’s assumption of the editor’s chair at Astounding Stories.

But before that happened, John W. wrote for the magazines, and one of the magazines he wrote for was called Astounding Stories of Super Science.

 January of 1930. 

 Hugo’s magazines underwent another name change

 and expansion into a quarterly edition of the same name.

 A little later on in the decade, Wonder again changed its title:


Several other good looking magazines were also produced, but never amounted to much:


 And then, in 1934, the UK produced its first SF mag – Scoops, a weekly newspaper for teens:

 Which was followed shortly thereafter by a number of ‘adult’ British titles:


 The end of the decade saw a boom in SF & Fantasy pulps, many going on to long and venerable careers:









  Culminating with another John W. Campbell inspired pulp –


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I’m a crotchety old fan.  I’m a curmudgeon.  An old fart.  I happily subscribe to the world view that change is bad and therefore we must fear it.  Nothing good ever comes from change. 

I’m an uber science fiction fan.  I’ve been reading the stuff for four plus decades and, while I can’t hold a candle to Forry Ackerman in the longevity (or even the collection) department, I’m certainly on his side of the generational divide.  I think Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Russell, Chandler, Smith (all three), Brackett, Brunner, Aldis, Anderson, Niven, Pournell, Pohl, Dick, Disch, Dickson, Delaney, Moorcock, Spinrad Kornbluth, Silverberg and yes, even Ellison, are science fiction.  

Alas, I seem to be in the minority.   That’s ok.  Kids never seem to know what’s good for ’em until they’re old enough to be waving their own old-man stick around.  What gets my goatee are the reasons I’m in the minority.

Old scifi isn’t literary enough.  Old scifi lacks characterization.  Old scifi is, you know, old

I’ll defy any whip-snapping guttersnipe to explain to me what ‘not literary enough’ means.  There’s words on the page that make sentences.  Several follow each other in paragraphs.  Eventually they all combine to tell a story.  Does every single paragraph have to appeal to each one of my five senses?  Do I have to keep a copy of the OED handy when I read?  Is a program required to keep track of the characters?  Must I be transported on airy waves of meaningless, time wasting drivel?  Fah.  Take an English class.

And what’s all this crap about characterization? I’m sorry if the younger generation has been so swaddled in sensory overload that it takes a sledgehammer to make even the minutest impression on their creaseless brains, but I shouldn’t have to pay the price.  They’re so out of touch that they can’t even recognize a stereotype anymore.  Stereotypes make it easier to get to the story.  We read for the story – remember?

I don’t need to know whythe bad guy is a bad guy – he’s a bad guy with bad guy motivations who’s gonna do bad guy things.  Scientists will invent neat stuff because they’re scientists.  Engineers will figure out how to solve technological problems because they’re engineers.  Nubile young daughters will fall in love with heroes because they’re nubile young daughters and heroes will win the day for the obvious reason.  What the hell else do you need to know? If you want to spend all your time trying to figure out who is who and why is why – go read a suspense thriller, but stay out of my science fiction.

Old.  Outdated. The world they wrote in no longer exists.  The references aren’t relevant.  Some of them don’t even mention computers (thank god).

To which I say – what the hell happened to your sense of wonder?  Do you mean to sit there and tell me that you’re going to let the lack of specific technological advances put you off a science fiction story?  That you can’t imagine your way around a reference to vacuum tubes or punch cards?  What a sorry bunch of intellectual wimps! 

So what that it didn’t happen that way.  It might have.  If you listen to the latest theories on how the Universe really works, you’d know that there are probably an infinitude of parallel universes.  For really real.  You don’t even have to pretend anymore, not even a little.  Because you know what?  There IS a universe where they went to the Moon using punch cards to plot ballistic trajectories.  There IS a universe where computers are still room-sized behemoths, another where people fly around cities using personal jetpacks, another where Venus is inhabited by intelligent amphibians and still another where the imagination of science fiction fans isn’t straight-jacketed by ‘what really happened’.

Science is now telling you that everything you can possibly imagine – in infinite and endless combination – is really happening somewhere.  The old authors and ancient stories give you a ringside seat into some of those worlds and what do you do?  You stick your sense-of-wonder in a box and retreat into the gray, toneless world of only accepting things you can see. 

Talk about fearing change. 

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