Toward a Definition of Science Fiction
Source Definition/Observation
Aldiss, Brian in Billion Year Spree (8). "Science fiction is the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mould."
Asimov, Isaac (paraphrased in The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) (257) "[Science fiction] is fiction about the future of science and scientists."
Ateberry, Brian, in Teacher’s Guide to Accompany The Norton Book of Science Fiction (29-30) "[W]hat distinguishes science fiction from other kinds of fiction is a peculiar compromise between scientific truth and untruth. Samuel Delany has analyzed this compromise in terms of the SF text’s subjunctivity ("About 5,750 Words"). What he means by this term is the degree to which every statement in the fiction describes a hypothetical condition: something that is not happening, has not happened, could not have happened in the past (unlike realistic fiction), but might happen, given the proper changes in society and scientific knowledge. Another word for subjunctivity might be ‘ifness,’ the condition of being contingent.

"What SF is contingent upon is change that does not violate the reader’s understanding of scientifically defined reality, which is not to say that we necessarily accept any statement in the text as scientifically valid. Rather, we accept reference within SF as allusions to science, broadly conceived of as a field of endeavor, a way of mapping the universe, and a way of speaking about the universe and the attempt to comprehend it."

Ballard, J. G. in A User’s Guide to the Millennium (193-94) "One can almost make the case that science fiction, far from being a disreputable minor genre, in fact constitutes the strongest literary tradition of the twentieth century, and may well be its authentic literature. Within its pages, as in our lives, archaic myth and scientific apocalypse collide and fuse. However naively, it had tried to respond to the most significant events of our time--the threat of nuclear war, over-population, the computer revolution, the possibilities and abuses of physical science, the ecological dangers to our planet, the consumer society as benign tyranny--topics that haunt our minds but are scarcely considered by the mainstream novel. If few great names stand out in science fiction, this reflects its collaborative nature, just as no great names stand out in the design of the Boeing 747 or, for that matter, Chartres Cathedral."
Campbell, John in Of Worlds Beyond (1947) (quoted in James Gunn, "The Readers of Hard Science Fiction" 74) "To be science fiction, not fantasy, an honest effort at prophetic extrapolation of the known must be made. Ghosts can enter science fiction, if they’re logically explained, but not if they are simply the ghosts of fantasy. Prophetic extrapolation can derive from a number of different sources, and apply in a number of fields. Sociology, psychology, and para-psychology are, today, not true sciences; therefore, instead of forecasting future results of application of sociological science of today, we must forecast the development of a science of sociology. From there the story can take off."
Card, Orson Scott in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (11) "What SF writers write is SF."
Conklin, Groff, "What is Good Science Fiction" (16) "The best definition of science fiction is that it consists of stories in which one or more definitely scientific notion or theory or actual discovery is extrapolated, played with, embroidered on, in a non-logical, or fictional sense, and thus carried beyond the realm of the immediately possible in an effort to see how much fun the author and reader can have exploring the imaginary outer reaches of a given idea’s potentialities."
Del Ray, Lester (quoted by Clareson, "The Other Side of Realism" 1) "[Science fiction] is the myth-making principle of human nature today."
Delany, Samuel R. in an interview with Larry McCaffery in Across the Wounded Galaxies (79) "[Science fiction is] a new way of reading, a new way of making texts make sense--collectively producing a new set of codes. [SF writers invented the genre] by writing new kinds of sentences and embedding them in contexts in which those sentences were readable."
Franklin, H. Bruce, Future Perfect (vii) "In fact, one good working definition of science fiction may be the literature which, growing with science and technology, evaluates it and relates it meaningfully to the rest of human existence."
Frye, Northrup, The Anatomy of Criticism (49) "Science fiction frequently tries to imagine what life would be like on a plane as far above us as we are above savagery; its setting is often of a kind that appears to us technologically miraculous. It is thus a mode of romance with a strong tendency to myth."
Gernsback, Hugo (quoted in Fiedler 11) "By ‘scientifction’ . . . I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe type of story--a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision."
Gunn, James, The Road to Science Fiction, Vol. 4 (16) "Science fiction is the branch of literature that deals with the effects of change on people in the real world as it can be projected into the past, the future, or to distant places. It often concerns itself with scientific or technological change, and it usually involves matters whose importance is greater than the individual or the community; often the civilization or the race itself is in danger."
Harper Handbook of Literature  "Fiction in which new and futuristic scientific developments propel the plot."
Heard, Gerald, Modern Science Fiction (255) "Science fiction is the prophetic . . . the apocalyptic literature of our particular and culminating epoch of crisis."
Heinlein, Robert (quoted in Parrinder 16) "Realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method."
Hillegas, Mark R., Shadows of Imagination (xvii) "Science fiction is the myth of machine civilization, which, in its utopian extrapolation, it tends to glorify."
Knight, Damon (quoted in James Gunn, "The Readers of Hard Science Fiction" 71) "Science Fiction is what I mean when I point to it."
Knight, Damon, In Search of Wonder (4) "What we get from science fiction--what keeps us reading it, in spite of our doubts and occasional disgust--is not different from the thing that makes mainstream stories rewarding, but only expressed differently. We live on a minute island of known things. Our undiminished wonder at the mystery which surrounds us is what makes us human. In science fiction we can approach that mystery, not in small, everyday symbols, but in big ones of space and time."
LeGuin, Ursula K., "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown" (106) "And what is science fiction at its best but just a ‘new tool’ as Mrs. Woolf avowedly sought 50 years ago, a crazy, protean, left-handed monkey-wrench, which can be put to any use the craftsman has in mind--satire, extrapolation, prediction, absurdity, exactitude, exaggeration, warning, message-carrying, tale-telling, whatever you like--an infinitely expanding metaphor exactly suited to an expanding universe, a broken mirror, broken into numberless fragments, any one of which is capable of reflecting, for a moment, the left eye and nose of the reader, and also the farthest stars shining in the depths of the remotest galaxy.?
LeGuin, Ursula K., from the introduction to The Norton Book of Science Fiction (23-24) "Science fiction, then, commonly uses techniques both from the realistic and the fantastic traditions of narrative to tell a story of which a referent, implicit or explicit, is the mind-set, the content, or the mythos of science and technology.

"In his Strategies of Fantasy, Brian Attebery shows how science fiction uses science as its ‘megatext.’ The nourishing medium, the origin of the imagery, the motive of the narrative, is to be found in the contents, assumptions, and world view of modern science and technology. ‘Science [writes Attebery] surrounds, supports, and judges SF in much the same way the Bible grounds Christian devotional poetry.’"

LeGuin, Ursula K., in the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness (149) "Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive. All fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is metaphor. "All fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors, drawn from certain great dominants of our contemporary life--science, all the sciences and technology, and the relativistic and the historical outlook, among them. Space travel is one of those metaphors, so is an alternative society, an alternative biology; the future is another. The future, in fiction, is a metaphor."
Lem, Stanislaw in Microworlds (35) "It is the premise of science fiction that anything shown shall in principle be interpretable empirically and rationally. In science fiction there can be no inexplicable marvels, no transcendence, no devils or demons--and the patterns of occurrence must be verisimilar."
Lewis, C. S., "On Science Fiction" (68-69) "In this kind of story the pseudo-scientific apparatus is to be taken simply as a ‘machine’ in the sense which that word bore for the Neo-Classical critics. The most superficial appearance of plausibility--the merest sop to our critical intellect--will do. I am inclined to think that frankly supernatural methods are best. I took a hero once to Mars in a space-ship, but when I knew better I had angels convey him to Venus. Nor need the strange worlds, when we get there, be at all strictly tied to scientific probabilities. It is their wonder, or beauty, or suggestiveness that matter."
Lundwall, Sam J, from Science Fiction: What It’s All About (22) A simplified definition would be that the author of a ‘straight’ science fiction story proceeds from (or alleges to proceed from) known facts, developed in a credible way, whereas the author of a fantasy story starts with an idea and builds a world around it. The question of whether a certain story of imagination is a fantasy or a science fiction work would depend upon the device the author uses to explain his projected or unreal world. If he uses the gimmick or device of saying: ‘This is a logical or probable assumption based upon known science, which is going to develop from known science or from investigations of areas not yet quite explored but suspected,’ then one could call it science fiction. But if he asks the reader to suspend his disbelief simply because of the fun of it, in other words, just to say: ‘Here is a fairy tale I’m going to tell you,’ then it is fantasy. It could actually be the same story."
Malzberg, Barry, in Engines of the Night (83-84) "Science fiction will always offer easier alternatives. Science fiction will always be slanted, by definition, to taking its readers out of the world. Only weak people, however--pat Freudianism and the great cult psychology movements of the seventies have taught us--want out of the world. Strong people want in. Strong people want to, must deal with life as it is presented. Science fiction if a literature for the weak, the defenseless, the handicapped and the scorned. Panacea and pap."
McConnell, Frank in "Sturgeon’s Law: First Corollary" (15) "If this appears that I am arguing for a deconstruction of our ideas of generic norms, returning us to a primal chaos of fictive forms in which all fictive forms are equally privileged; if this appears that I am arguing for the dismantling of the concept itself, ‘science fiction,’ as more a barrier than an aid to reading; if this seems as if I am saying that all fiction worth examining is, one way or another, science fiction; it is because that is what I am doing."
Merrill, Judith (quoted in Science Fiction: The Future (2) "Science fiction is not fiction about science, but fiction which endeavors to find the meaning in science and in the scientific technology we are constructing."
Moskowitz, Sam, quoted in Science Fiction: The Future (1) "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 o f science credibility for its imaginative speculations in physical science, space, time, social science and philosophy."
Pringle, David, in Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novel (9)s "Science fiction is a form of fantastic fiction which exploits the imaginative perspectives of modern science."
Slusser, George E., "The Ideal Worlds of Science Fiction" (214) "If poetry can be said to aspire to the condition of music, then science fiction tends toward that of pure idea. That idea is, we are told, Science. But science fiction is two words, and it is strange if not paradoxical that, in this fiction, science, as idea almost synonymous with the original sense of that word, disembodied vision, should so strongly claim a precise locus, a literary form that is "ideal" in a very particular way. For the sense of this term, denoting as it does the absolute, unique, and singular, is qualified in science fiction, the literature that, constantly reembodying the disembodied, claims as its ideal a condition of materiality equal to that of the material universe its science encounters."
Sturgeon, Theodore (paraphrased in The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) (257) "The term can be applied only to a story in which wherein removal of its scientific content would invalidate the narrative."
Sturgeon, Theodore (source unknown) Nine tenths of science fiction is crap. Of course, nine tenths of everything is crap. (rough paraphrase)
Suvin, Darko, in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (4) Science fiction is "the literature of cognitive estrangement."
Wilson, William, from A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject (1851); quoted in Parrinder (2) "[Thomas] Campbell says that ‘Fiction in poetry is not the reverse of truth, but her soft and enchanting resemblance.’ Now this applies especially to Science-Fiction, in which the revealed truths of Science may be given interwoven with a pleasing story which may itself be poetical and true--thus circulating a knowledge of the Poetry of science clothed in a garb of the Poetry of Life."
Wordsworth, William, "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" "If the labours of men of Science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the Poet will sleep then no more than at present, but he will be ready to follow the steps of the man of Science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the Science itself. The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist, or Mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the Poet's art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the followers of these respective Sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings. If the time should ever come when what is now called Science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the Poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the Being thus produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man."

Works Cited

Aldiss, Brian. Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction. NY: Schocken, 1973.
Allen, Dick, ed. Science Fiction: The Future. 2nd Edition. NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1983.
Ash, Brian, ed. The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. NY: Harmony Books, 1977.
Ateberry, Brian. Teacher’s Guide to Accompany The Norton Book of Science Fiction. NY: W. W. Norton, 1993.
Ballard, J. G. A User’s Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews. New York: Picador, 1996.
Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Cincinnati: Writers Digest Books, 1990.
Clareson, Thomas. "The Other Side of Realism."
___, ed. SF: The Other Side of Realism: Essays on Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction. Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1971.
Conklin, Groff. "What is Good Science Fiction?" Junior Libraries 15 April 1958.
Fiedler, Leslie A. "Introduction." In Dreams Awake: A Historical-Critical Anthology of Science Fiction. New York: Dell, 1975.
Franklin, H. Bruce. Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Oxford U P, 1978.
Frye, Northrup. The Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U P, 1971.
___, Sheridan Baker, and George Perkins. The Harper Handbook to Literature. NY: Harper and Row, 1985.
Gunn, James. "The Readers of Hard Science Fiction." Slusser and Rabkin. 70-81
___, ed. The Road to Science Fiction: From Here to Forever. Vol. 4. Clarkston, GA: White Wolf Publishing, 1982.
Heard, Gerald. Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future. New York: Coward-McCann, 1953.
Hillegas, Mark R., ed. Shadows of Imagination: The Fantasies of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1961.
Knight, Damon.In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction. Chicago: Advent, 1967.
Le Guin, Ursula K. "Íntroduction to The Left Hand of Darkness." The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. Ed. Susan Wood. NY: Berkley Medallion, 1979: 145-49.
___. "Introduction." LeGuin and Ateberry. 15-42.
___. "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown." The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction Ed. Susan Wood. NY: Berkley Medallion, 1979: 91-110.
___ and Brian Ateberry, eds. The Norton Book of Science Fiction. NY: W. W. Norton, 1993.
Lem, Stanislaw. Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy. Ed. Franz Rottensteiner. NY: HBJ, 1984.
Lewis, C. S. "On Science Fiction." Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. NY: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1966.
Lundwall, Sam J. Science Fiction: What It’s All About. NY: Ace Books, 1971.
Malzberg, Barry. The Engines of the Night: Science Fiction in the Eighties. Garden City: Doubleday, 1982.
McCaffery, Larry, ed. Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers. Urbana: Illinois University Press, 1990.
McConnell, Frank. "Sturgeon’s Law: First Corollary." Slusser and Rabkin. 14-23.
Minyard, Applewhite, ed. Decades of Science Fiction. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Publishing, 1998.
Parrinder, Patrick. Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching. New Accents. 
Pringle, David. Science Fiction, The 100 Best Novels: An English Language Selection, 1949-1984. NY: Carroll and Graf, 1984.
Slusser, George E., "The Ideal Worlds of Science Fiction." Slusser and Rabkin. 214-44.
___. and Eric S. Rabkin, ed. Hard Science Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois U P, 1986.
Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale U P, 1979.
Wilson, William, A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject (1851).