Defining What is Sci-Fi: Making the Case (2009)

dreamstimefree_42078491 “Defining Sci-Fi: Is it Genre, Fantasy or Something Else Entirely?”

Because I watch so much television, I am frequently asked what kinds of shows I watch.  This question usually perplexes me as it is nearly impossible to classify the kinds of shows I watch under one label.  But in the interest of being succinct, I usually just respond:  sci-fi shows.  For, after all, the “sci-fi” label does cover a multitude of types of TV shows.

However, when looking up the definition of “science fiction,” I found that it can be defined as:

“Fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals, or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

“A literary or cinematic genre in which fantasy, typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or developments, environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets, forms part of the plot or background.” (American Heritage Dictionary)

“Science fiction is a broad genre of fiction that often involves speculations on current or future science or technology.  Science fiction can also be synonymous with the broader definition of speculative fiction, which includes:  fantasy, horror, and related genres.  Science fiction is largely based on writing entertainingly and rationally about alternate possibilities in settings that are contrary to known reality.”

Thus, upon further research, I found that the very question of “what is sci-fi?” has confounded much more intelligent and articulate minds than mine.  “Science fiction includes such a wide range of themes and subgenres that it is notoriously difficult to define.  This is a list of definitions that have been offered by authors, editors, critics and fans over the years since science fiction became clearly separate from other genres.”  (Wikipedia)  (See Wikipedia’s category on “Definitions of Science Fiction” for a more detailed analysis.)

So with this much confusion as to what is science-fiction, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that nearly everything I watch on TV is science-fiction in some form or another.

To help you identify what category shows that you may watch fall into, I have compiled a list of sci-fi shows of 2009 broken down by category as follows:

(1) Classic sci-fi (involves: future science, the future, time travel, space travel, space-western, space-opera, alternate reality, alternate history, space-military, apocalyptic)

“Battlestar Galactica” (space-opera, space travel, future science, the future)
“Caprica” (space-opera, space travel, future science, the future)
“Day One” (apocalyptic)
“Doctor Who” (time travel, space travel)
“Dollhouse” (future science)
“Eureka” (future science, time travel, alternate reality)
“Flash Forward” (the future, time travel)
“Fringe” (future science, alternate reality)
“Kyle XY” (future science)
“Life on Mars” (the future, alternate reality)
“Lost” (future science, time travel)
“My Own Worst Enemy” (future science)
“Stargate SG1” (future science, time travel, space travel, space-military)
“Stargate: Atlantis” (future science, time travel, space travel, space-military)
“Stargate: Universe” (future science, time travel, space travel, space-military)
“Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles” (time travel, future science, apocalyptic)
“Torchwood” (future science, time travel, space travel)
“V” (space travel, future science)
“Virtuality” (space travel, the future)
“Warehouse 13” (future science, space travel)

(2) Fantasy (lost world, sword and sorcery, mystical, theological, past life)

“Drop Dead Diva” (theological, past life)
“Eastwick” (mystical)
“Eli Stone” (theological)
“Ghost Whisperer” (theological, past life)
“Kings” (theological)
“Legend of the Seeker” (lost world)
“Past Life” (theological, past life)
“Primeval” (lost world)
“Pushing Daisies” (theological, mystical)
“Reaper” (theological, mystical)
“Sanctuary” (lost world)
“Saving Grace” (theological)
“Survivors” (lost world)

(3) Horror (gothic, ghost, monster, occult, slasher, survival, supernatural)

“Being Human” (monster)
“Dexter” (slasher, monster)
“Medium” (occult)
“Supernatural” (ghost, monster, occult, supernatural)
“True Blood” (monster, supernatural)
“Vampire Diaries” (monster, supernatural)

(4) Comic (superhero, superhuman)

“Chuck” (superhuman)
“Heroes” (superhuman)
“Human Target” (superhuman)
“Smallville” (superhero)
“The Listener” (superhuman)

As you can see from the above list, there are really quite a few ways to define what is “science fiction” or what constitutes a sci-fi show – particularly, as we frequently tend to lump anything outside of our current known existence as “sci-fi” for the lack of a better or easier way to describe it.

It really is startling to realize that so much of what is on television can fit into the sci-fi category.  For even “Desperate Housewives” could be considered a member of the sci-fi family simply because of the voice-over narration which is done in each episode by a dead person.  (Though I imagine that is Marc Cherry’s worst nightmare to have his beloved show called “science fiction.”)

Despite the proliferation of TV shows crossing over into the sci-fi genre, there are still some distinct categories that do not mingle with the sci-fi realm, such as medical dramas, cop shows, soap operas, games shows, reality shows, family drama, sitcoms, and teenage angst.  But it still feels that there are so many modern shows that offer some kind of sci-fi element.

So the next time someone asks you which kinds of television shows you watch, think carefully.  You just might be watching more sci-fi than you know!

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