Listening to a discussion about what science fiction is, is enlightening in some ways and affirming in others. Having studied both science fiction as well as fantasy before, the question is a familiar one. The answer, as well, is still as cagey to pin down. I think, in the end, I would say that technology/ science/ scientific thought is a necessary component of science fiction as it acts as the avatar of consciousness for the writer and the reader. It may also serve as the backdrop, but I really don’t think that space, the future, time travel, experimentation etc. is as important as this idea of exploring consciousness and what it means to be a human being. Of course the science and technology are there, but a ray gun does not necessarily make a story science fiction. Speculation. The big, “What would happen if …”, is the point of science fiction, and of course given the fact that it is rooted in mythology and fairy tales, it definitely doesn’t surprise me that someone would point out that science fiction is also a cautionary tale. Science Fiction explores shadow and evil as completely as any tale written by Charles Perrault, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy or Voltaire.
It seems to me that both Science Fiction and Fantasy are approaching the same Big Idea but they take different routes to get there. Although fantasy is often touted as a male genre, its guiding principle of magic is quite female. Magic comes from Nature, is connected to the spirit or feelings, and is channeled through an active use of Will (Well … historically the will power part would be attributed to men, wouldn’t it?). In fantasy, magic needs to be controlled because a person with rogue magical powers is usually destructive. I can’t help getting Castiglione out of my head, and the general principle that women have powers that can lead men astray, and it is the man’s duty to control her so that both he and she can live happy lives.
Fantasy, also usually involves a Creator of some sort – a powerful being or entity that may help to guide the hero towards an Enlightened use of power. Science Fiction, on the other hand, replaces the creator with science and human will. So the question, in science fiction is how do humans reach a state of enlightened use of power?
This question is crucial when I consider the question: “How do we treat aliens and why?”