Dissertation Introduction

Defining Science-Fiction For The Next Millenium by Paul Spragg


In this dissertation, I shall be looking at the science-fiction genre, and the form that it takes in today’s market. I shall examine various cross-media examples of the genre and try to determine what makes a book, film or television series science-fiction. As this is a difficult area to define as a genre, this dissertation will proceed to break down aspects of science-fiction in order to provide characteristics by which it can be easily recognised, facets that set it apart from other genres.

These areas are:

Nationalism: the ability of science-fiction to show a nation’s cultural development, past and present;

Science fact: the links between science in reality and science in fiction;

Warning: showing possible dangers of technology now and in the future;

Escapism: pure fantasy, and whether it is possible for science-fiction to be used purely for enjoyment, with no deeper subtext.

I conclude that each type of science-fiction must contain at least one of these elements to be classified as part of the genre.


"There has been no shortage of attempts to reach a satisfactory definition of this ‘new literature’. The first edition of the authoritative Encyclopaedia of Science-Fiction cited no less than 22 definitions.”
Reading By Starlight, p.6

A solid definition of science-fiction has been attempted by numerous analysts, including the ‘fount of all knowledge’ mentioned in the above quote. Debate continues over which books, films and television series can be considered science-fictional, and why. This essay is intended to demonstrate that in a similar way to every living thing having to prove itself alive through a set of criteria, the works of science-fiction can be classified in a similar way. Whether book or film, a claim to be science-fiction must be proven through traits it exhibits which are exclusive to the genre.

This dissertation is aimed as an examination of the current trends in science-fiction; what is making the genre grow, and where it may lead in the future. Its main thrust is in defining exactly what is expected of science-fiction today, trying to determine why it is popular (especially now) using cross-media examples of the different aspects the genre has and how it uses certain techniques to communicate a message, or purely to entertain.

"A work of sf should be concerned with the extension of scientific knowledge and all manner of consequences thereof; and it should be imaginatively and intellectually adventurous.”
Reading By Starlight, p.6

Whilst this may be true, it is only one theory I will examine, along with three other major areas into which I believe much (if not all) of science-fiction can be classified. These areas will become the basis to a definition of science-fiction, and are:

1/ Nationalism: Science-fiction often reflects on the lifestyle of people in the country in which it is made. I will look at cross-cultural programming; how the UK’s flagship science-fiction show, ‘Doctor Who’ has fared overseas, and how its US counterpart ‘Star Trek’ has made the transition across the Atlantic. What makes each of these shows unique, and how much do they owe to the cultures in which they were created and made?

2/ Science Fact: How has the world of science been influenced by the world of fiction? Has science-fiction moved us closer or further away from the major technological discoveries, and how has proof of various scientific ideas affected the fictional world?

3/ Warning: Much of science-fiction tries to warn about the future, or interprets our actions today through allegorical stories set in the future. Should we pay any attention to what could eventually be a very real future?

4/ Escapism: Science-fiction as pure fantasy, and the fantasy sub-genre itself. What are the borders of science-fiction, and how far do they extend?

Each of these four areas will take up one chapter utilising various examples from different types of media, including television, radio, cinema and the publishing world of books and comics. This emphasis on all media is due to science-fiction’s ability to exist as a strong force in many different forms, each of which is contributing its own ideas to the genre. There is also an unusually high amount of crossover with science-fiction books becoming films, films being transferred to television, then television series becoming books, taking the genre full circle. The dissertation will concentrate on the two main powers of science-fiction, America and the UK, comparing and contrasting their attitudes towards the genre.

I will also look at the early days of science-fiction to examine how the way we see the world now and in the future has changed since the days of the genre pioneers such as Verne and Wells. This will include an examination of how important their ideas are today.

Now you can go here to continue to Chapter I.

Or you could return to the Portfolio page or the beginning.

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