In his book The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction, Istvan Csicery-Ronay Jr. explains some of the most common themes of science fiction. He did this in order to examine how these themes could apply and impact our lives as we navigate a world that relies increasingly on technology and information. However, they also make great guidelines for examining science fiction and for writing your own stories that take place somewhere far off in time and space.
We went over these seven beauties early in the semester in my SF/Fantasy literature course, but today we went over them again. It was an optional class today that focused more on fantasy than science-fiction, and we came up with our own seven beauties of fantasy because the two genres overlap and are entwined in so many way. After class, I came up with my own list the horror, but could only come up with five beauties. Oh well.
Anyway, I thought I’d do a trilogy of posts that focused on the different beauties for each genre, because they are related genres and because they overlap in so many ways, so it’s interesting to examine some of the mores and common themes of these three genres. First, I’d like to start with the seven beauties of science fiction, because that’s what I learned first and it’s from these that my class created the seven beauties of fantasy, and I created the five beauties of horror.
With each beauty, I give a definition and an example, some from books and movies I’ve read/watched, some from my own work, and some that I’ve just heard about. If you have any examples, please let me know. I may just add them into the list.
1. Neologisms–new words or phrases that are exclusive to the world of the story. Every term that refers to something that only exists in that world, that’s a neologism. Consider the term twanking from the short story Mr. Boy, or warp in Star Trek. Those terms are a part of the story, and outside the story don’t have any relevance (unless, for the latter term, you’re a theoretical physicist trying to figure out how to warp something from one end of the room to the other).
2. Novums–technology or inventions that exist only in the story of the world. Take the ansible from Ender’s Game, or the lightsaber, or the TARDIS. These are technologies years ahead of us, only existing in stories and as imitations we see sometimes at comic book conventions. One can consider the flying saucer a novum, because as far as we know, real flying saucers don’t exist.
3. Historical extrapolation–referring to events that happened in the past in order to explain the world as it is now. You know how in Episode IV of Star Wars Obi-Wan explains how the Empire rose and the Jedi Order was destroyed thanks to Darth Vader? That’s historical extrapolation. It’s referring to events not always seen in the actual story to explain how the world we are in came to be. Other examples include how the first invasion of the Buggers in Ender’s Game creates Ender’s world and the aliens coming to Japan during the Meiji era in GinTama.
4. Oxymoron–implausibility or absurdities that only work in the story. An example of this would be crossing a human with a housefly to get a man-fly or radiation causing the dead to rise, like in the original Night of the Living Dead. Another way to look at this would be the idea that the human species develops in other regions of the universe at the same time, and when all the species come together, they find out they are all similar. It’s not likely, is it? Yet we see it in science-fiction and we don’t question it.
5. Scientific Impertinence–when laws that are deemed “unbreakable” by science are broken. Travelling at light-speed without expanding your mass to incredible sizes or traveling through time and space all in the course of a second without any aftershocks or side-effects might count as this. Scientifically, they can’t happen, but they do in these stories.
6. Sublime chronotopes– the space/time of the story. A science-fiction story is our world with added elements of scientific nature. Therefore, Star Trek and everything in its franchise are technically taking place in this world, but in the future and on other planets or in the void of space. Therefore, defining the sublime chronotopes of a story is defining its time and space relative to yours.
7. Parable–what’s the story about? Most sci-fi stories, we will find, is a parable that explores a certain issue. District 9 is about apartheid and racism. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? explores what it means to be human. 2001: A Space Odyssey is about mankind’s dependence on technology. And A.I. Artificial Intelligence explores what could happen if robots and humans learned to bond with each other.
Whether you agree or disagree with these 7 Beauties of Science Fiction, they are useful in exploring the genre. And sometimes you can even use them as a tool in the endless debates that seem to come from popular franchises and stories.
What do you think of the 7 Beauties listed here? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Do you have any examples?