What is Science Fiction? (& Win New Mike Resnick Western Steampunk!)

Read below for a chance to win the new Mike Resnick “Weird West” steampunk novel, Buntline Special, being released this week.

So exactly what is science fiction?  Each month, I write a column for Tor.com highlighting the month’s releases in speculative fiction (sci fi, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and Young Adult paranormal). It’s called “Fiction Affliction,” partly because I’m addicted to books, and partly because classifying what book goes in what genre is a royal pain.

To purists, sci-fi means spaceships and tech. Yet the genre today encompass much more: dystopian drama, alternative history, steampunk, etc.

If you asked me: “Do you like to read science fiction?” I’d say no because I don’t like space stories. But there are some releases, technically science fiction, that I can’t wait to get my hands on. One of them is today’s giveaway!

The following Science Fiction books are coming out in December. For full descriptions, visit my Tor.com Fiction Affliction column.

December Sci-Fi Releases:

* The Buntline Special, by Mike Resnick (Pyr)
The year is 1881. The United States of America ends at the Mississippi River, and beyond lies the Indian nations, where the magic of powerful Medicine Men has halted the advance of the Americans east of the river. An American government desperate to expand its territory sends Thomas Alva Edison to the town of Tombstone to discover a scientific means of counteracting magic. Hired to protect this great genius: Wyatt Earp and his brothers. But there are plenty who would like to see the Earps and Edison dead. Riding to their aid are old friends Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. Against them stand the Apache wizard Geronimo and the Clanton gang. Battle lines are drawn, and the Clanton gang sends for Johnny Ringo—but what shows up instead is The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo, returned from the dead and looking for a fight. Think you know what happened at the O.K. Corral? Think again, as five-time Hugo winner Mike Resnick takes on his first steampunk western.  TO WIN A COPY OF BUNTLINE SPECIAL, LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW. +1 for comment, +1 for blog follow, +1 for Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, +1 for tweeting the contest!

* Love and  Rockets, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes (Daw)
An anthology of original stories tackling romance in space.

* Alien Tango, by Gini Koch (Daw)
Marketing manager Katherine “Kitty” Katt  investigates an experimental spacecraft that arrives at Kennedy Space Center and save her high school boyfriend.

* Songs of the Dying Earth, edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois (Tor)
Top writers put their own spin on Jack Vance’s Dying Earth world, including Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Moon, Dan Simmons, Kage Baker, and more.

* Back to the Moon, by Travis S Taylor and Les Johnson (Baen)
U.S. astronauts travel to moon to rescue Chinese counterparts.

* Atlantis and Other Places, by Harry Turtledove (Roc)
Collection of alternative history stories, set everywhere from Atlantis to the Rhine.

*The Keep, by F. Paul Wilson (Tor)
A re-release in trade paperback. Something’s killing Nazis in Transylvania.

* Ghost Country, by Patrick Lee (Harper)
Scientist sees into the Doomsday future, and it isn’t good. Can she change it?

* Age of Odin, by James Lovegrove (Solaris)
Washed-up soldier finds himself fighting alongside Norse pantheon.

* Engineering Infidelity, edited by Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)
An anthology of hard sci-fi stories.

So, what does “science fiction” mean to you?

(A quick bit of business: Congrats to Teri Anne for winning the new Marjorie M. Liu novel–I’ll be contacting you shortly!  )

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

16 thoughts on “What is Science Fiction? (& Win New Mike Resnick Western Steampunk!)

  1. The Buntline Special sounds like a really interesting read and I will have to get a copy to read one way or the other.
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  2. For me Science Fiction is about what is scientifically possible with current trends in technology and just a little smidgen of imagination.
    That’s the rule I use, used, when I wrote ‘The Cloud Connection’.
    The story uses themes of current developments in nanotechnology, climate change and developments in politics and private military companies.
    It’s currently only available at Smashwords.com.

    There’s more info on the nanotechnology, climate change, politics and science of the book at http://www.softmachine.net

    Nathan McGrath.

  3. I think science fiction isn’t just about the future or cool gadgets; good science fiction should also comment on our society today.

    Please enter me into the contest: +3 Comment, Blog & Twitter follow

    Thank you!

  4. I always believed that one reads SF, Fantasy or what have you to go beyond what you know, or think you know about the world. Also, it’s a great escape from the troubles and concerns of the current situation, whatever it may be.

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  5. There’s a lot to be said about classifying speculative fiction by the furniture it contains (space ships vs. spell books). It matches the atmosphere to the reader’s expectations.

    That said, if there is one thing that logically sets apart sci-fi from fantasy, it is that the worlds of sci-fi operate according to familiar rules of the *social sciences*, even if the physical sciences don’t work realistically. When our Spacer Spiff gets into a spaceship, that spaceship may operate by principles contradictory to everything we know about physics, but it was assembled by an absolutely recognizable economic system. You can trace the bill of materials all the way back to the unobtanium mines of Vega, and every step of the chain is governed by either profit maximization or totalitarian political control.

    Now Druid Dan probably collects all the materials for his flying spell personally. He harvests misteltoe by the full moon. Social science doesn’t work in his world, because psychology is deeply intertwined with physics. Druid Dan can fly because his mind is attuned to Nature. Spacer Spiff’s ship will fly when *anyone* punches the launch button, even Patches, Spacer Spiff’s admittedly highly trained border collie. When that switch closes, it energizes relays supplying current to the unobtanium reciprocator of the ship’s oscillation thruster.

    Now when Spacer Spiff battles the forces of the nefarious Altarian Federation, it’s probably because of the Federation’s ambitions to seize control of those unobtanium mines on Vega, thus gaining control of a material critical to interstellar commerce. In other words, its all about economics. When Druid Dan challenges the Dark Lord of Dhee, it is because the latter wishes to spread his personal corruption over the land, drowning it in perpetual darkness. It’s about extending the boundaries of the self by force. That’s a repetitive theme in fantasy, to unlawfully take from others to extend one’s self. Vampires drink blood to extend a semblance of life; dark wizards seek to extend the scope of their personality by subjugating others to their will.

    By that definition, it’s quite possible to write a fantasy story with science fiction furniture: Star Wars for example. I’ve also personally written a sci-fi story about wizards. The key is that the struggles between them are economic and political. Choosing sides between the Dark Lord and Captains of Light has no moral or supernatural significance; it’s all about the balance of power.

  6. @ James–you and me too! I think it sounds so bizarre it has to be good.

    @ Nathan–your book sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out on Smashwords.

    @Whoo. Yep, me too. I really like dystopian SF for that reason, although it’s depressing.

    @SandyG–I haven’t read The Keep, but it sounds interesting. One of those risky kinds of topics, too.

    @Ogre…”incredible genre wonk”…sorry, I’m gonna have to steal that one. Great username too!

    @sffan12. Escapism! I’m all for it. Except I still can’t get into trad fantasy much.

  7. OOoh! I won, I won!

    Science fiction scares the hell out of me, because science is what I do in real life, and I really try hard not to make too much of it up. And then when I start imagining freaky science experiments gone wrong as plotlines, I get all twisted up with “Oh, well, THAT can never happen.” I do much better with believing that a nerdy librarian can get kidnapped by gansters and rescued by a Navy Seal with perfect levels of body hair. SO much more realistic.

  8. @ Matt–I love this explanation. I’d really never thought about the “furniture” helping define the genre but that’s a good way of looking at it.

    @TERI ANNE–I don’t have your email address. Email me at suzannej3523@gmail.com and let me know where to mail your book!

  9. I love Star Wars but I haven’t read a lot of science fiction other than SW. I really do need to remedy this.

    And the cover of Buntline Special is awesome!

    blog and twitter follower

  10. This sounds very cool. I just finished up a terrific workshop on writing Steampunk. This genre offers so much to readers and writers alike. I will definitely have to put this book on my to buy list.

  11. I have read so many discussions about what is and is not science fiction but I don’t think I have ever come across a description that can be called “definitive”. And I don’t think I ever will.

    I have been reading “speculative fiction” for the past 50 years from the early days of the Amazing, Fantastic, Galaxy, Orbit and Analog magazines (and others). My first writing heroes were people like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein etc.

    Trying to classify a story into a specific genre is something only publishers really want to do, not readers.

    I think it was George R R Martin (who was first a science fiction writer, by his own admission), who once showed how a SCiFi short story could very simple be changed into a Fantasy story, simply by changing a few words.

    This debate is equivalent to arguing about how many angels you can fit on the head of a pin.

    My advice. Read what you enjoy and by authors who capture your attention and to hell with the genre.

    Thanks for the giveaway.


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  12. I have been hearing alot of good things about steam punk novels recently, sadly I have never picked one up but looking forward to reading one soon. Im not interested in this giveaway just wanted to comment!