Definitions of science fiction

There have been many attempts at defining science fiction.[1] This is a list of definitions that have been offered by authors, editors, critics and fans over the years since science fiction became a genre. Definitions of related terms such as "science fantasy", "speculative fiction", and "fabulation" are included where they are intended as definitions of aspects of science fiction or because they illuminate related definitions—see e.g. Robert Scholes's definitions of "fabulation" and "structural fabulation" below. Some definitions of sub-types of science fiction are included, too; for example see David Ketterer's definition of "philosophically-oriented science fiction". In addition, some definitions are included that define, for example, a science fiction story, rather than science fiction itself, since these also illuminate an underlying definition of science fiction.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, contains an extensive discussion of the problem of definition, under the heading "Definitions of SF". The authors regard Darko Suvin's definition as having been most useful in catalysing academic debate, though they consider disagreements to be inevitable as science fiction is not homogeneous. Suvin's cited definition, dating from 1972, is: "a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author's empirical environment."[2] The authors of the Encyclopedia article—Brian Stableford, Clute, and Nicholls—explain that, by "cognition", Suvin refers to the seeking of rational understanding, while his concept of estrangement is similar to the idea of alienation developed by Bertolt Brecht, that is, a means of making the subject matter recognizable while also seeming unfamiliar.

The order of the quotations is chronological; quotations without definite dates are listed last. The list below omits Hugo Gernsback's later redefining of the term "science fiction". According to anthologist, populist and historian of the genre Sam Moskowitz (1920 – 1997), Gernback final words on the matter were: "Science fiction is a form of popular entertainment which contains elements of known, extrapolation of known or logical theoretical science". The list also omits John W. Campbell's infamous "Science fiction is what I say it is".


In chronological order

Undated (alphabetically by author)


  1. From the introduction to George O. Smith's Venus Equilateral series, originally published in 1947.[8]
  2. Originally published in the May 1966 issue of Extrapolation.[18][19]


  1. For example, Patrick Parrinder comments that "[d]efinitions of science fiction are not so much a series of logical approximations to an elusive ideal, as a small, parasitic subgenre in themselves." Parrinder, Patrick (1980). Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching. London: New Accents.
  2. Stableford, Brian; Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (1993). "Definitions of SF". In Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter. Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. London: Orbit/Little, Brown and Company. pp. 311–314. ISBN 1-85723-124-4.
  3. Originally published in the April 1926 issue of Amazing Stories
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Quoted in [1993] in: Stableford, Brian; Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (1993). "Definitions of SF". In Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter. Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. London: Orbit/Little, Brown and Company. pp. 311–314. ISBN 1-85723-124-4.
  5. Originally published in Pilgrims of Space and Time (1947)
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Quoted in Jakubowski, Maxim; Edwards, Malcolm, eds. (1983) [1983]. The Complete Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy Lists. London: Granada. ISBN 0-586-05678-5.
  7. 1 2 Originally in Eshbach, Lloyd Arthur, ed. (1947). Of Worlds Beyond. New York: Fantasy Press. p. 91.; cited from 1964 reprint.
  8. Smith, George O. (1975). Venus Equilateral. London: Futura Publications. pp. 910.
  9. Knight, Damon (1952). "Science Fiction Adventures". Science Fiction Adventures (1952 magazine) (1): 122. Punctuation was misprinted in the original magazine; the quote is punctuated as Knight had it in his collection of essays In Search of Wonder, Chicago: Advent, 1956.
  10. James Blish, writing as William Atheling, Jr., cited this definition of Sturgeon's from a talk he had given. Blish's article was published in the Autumn 1952 issue of Red Boggs' fanzine Skyhook. Sturgeon subsequently complained to Blish that he had intended the definition to apply only to good science fiction.Atheling Jr., William (1967). The Issue At Hand. Chicago: Advent. p. 14.
  11. Davenport, Basil (1955). Inquiry Into Science Fiction. New York: Longmans, Green and Co. p. 15.
  12. Wyndham, John (1963). The Seeds of Time. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p. 7., quoted from the Penguin reprint; the original publication was 1956 by Michael Joseph.
  13. "Definitions of Science Fiction". Archived from the original on 18 October 2006. Retrieved 3 December 2006.
  14. From Heinlein's essay "Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults and Virtues", originally in Davenport, Basil, ed. (1959). The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism. Advent.; cited from Knight, Damon, ed. (1977). Turning Points:Essays on the Art of Science Fiction. New York: Harper and Row. p. 9.
  15. Amis, Kingsley (1960). New Maps of Hell. New York: Ballantine. p. 14.
  16. In "Science-Fantasy and Translations:Two More Cans of Worms", by James Blish. Cited from a 1974 reprint of Blish, James (1970). More Issues At Hand. Chicago: Advent. p. 100.. According to the front matter, this essay was originally published in two parts, in 1960 and 1964. Blish lists a variety of sources, some fanzines and some professional magazines, from which the book was drawn, but does not specify which particular sources formed the basis of this essay.
  17. Rod Serling (1962-03-09). The Twilight Zone, "The Fugitive".
  18. Parrinder, Patrick (2000). Learning from Other Worlds. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. p. 300.
  19. Clareson, Thomas D. (1971). Sf: The Other Side of Realism. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press. p. 60.
  20. Originally published in 1972
  21. Aldiss, Brian (1973). Billion Year Spree.
  22. Aldiss, Brian; Wingrove, David (1986). Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. London: Gollancz. ISBN 0-575-03942-6.
  23. Farrell, Edmund J.; Gage, Thomas E.; Pfordresher, John; et al., eds. (1974). Science Fact/Fiction. Scott, Foresman and Company. Introduction by Ray Bradbury.
  24. The quote is from the introduction to Spinrad, Norman, ed. (1974). Modern Science Fiction. Anchor Press.
  25. Asimov, "How Easy to See the Future!", Natural History, 1975
  26. 1 2 Scholes, Robert (1975). Structural Fabulation.
  27. Scholes, Robert; Rabkin, Eric S. (1977). Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision. London: Oxford University Press.
  28. Road to Science Fiction Vol 1.
  29. Metamorphoses of SF No 63.
  30. 1 2 Parrinder, Patrick (1980). Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching. London: New Accents. p. 15.
  31. Pringle, David (1985). Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. London: Xanadu. p. 9.
  32. Robinson, Kim Stanley (1987). "Notes for an Essay on Cecelia Holland". Foundation: the international review of science fiction (40). ISSN 0306-4964. Archived December 1, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  33. Evans, Christopher (1988). Writing Science Fiction. London: A & C Black. p. 9.
  34. Greenberg, Martin; Asimov, Isaac, eds. (1990). Cosmic Critiques. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books. p. 6.
  35. Clarke, Arthur C. (2000). Patrick Nielsen Hayden, ed. The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke. New York: Orb Books. p. ix. ISBN 0-312-87860-5.
  36. Prucher, Jeff (2007). Brave New Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 171.
  37. Milner, Andrew (2012). Locating Science Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. p. 39-40.
  38. Pandey, Ashish (2005). Academic Dictionary of Fiction. Delhi, India: Isha Books. p. 137. Retrieved 3 October 2011.
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