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On genres, modes, distances and invention


I won’t say where, or on what, I was at the time but this weekend I was thinking about definitions of hard science fiction for a podcast, and my thoughts spiralled out from there to definitions of science fiction itself. And it occurred to me that sf narratives break down into three rough forms: encountering the Other, embracing the Other and rejecting the Other. And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to hold true. Think of a random sf novel, like… Dune. That’s embracing the Other – both Paul Atreides becoming a Fremen and learning to  use his new-found powers.

Since its earliest days, science fiction stories have been characterised by distance just as much as they’ve been characterised by science and/or technology. Alongside the Gernsbackian tales of new inventions which would improve the lives of all were stories of alien places and the strange peoples found there. Distance is a signifier for the “exotic” (in both meanings of the word). Before science fiction, they told tales of the South Seas.

The further away a place is, the more Other it is – it’s a simplistic formula, but this is pulp fiction, after all. The difficulty of the journey is less important than the distance travelled. There are very few Shangri-Las hidden in inaccessible mountain valleys, or their galactic equivalents, but lots of worlds on the rim of the empire or the edges of the galaxy. Travel itself is not uncomfortable, but does take time. Real spacecraft are small and cramped, with no amenities. Sf’s starships are interstellar ocean liners with cabins and restaurants and promenades. This is because the journey does not matter, it is only a metaphor. If there are hardships, they are associated with either finding the destination, or at the destination itself. Off the top of my head, the only sf story I can think of in which the journey itself is an obstacle is Ursula K Le Guin’s ‘The Shobies’ Story’ (in Gwyneth Jones’ Buonarotti stories, and her novel Spirit, there’s a similar effect with interstellar travel, but it does not make the journey an obstacle). No doubt there are other stories, though I maintain such stories are rare within the genre.

But then, there’s not much that’s Other about the act of travelling from A to B. Even in the Le Guin story mentioned above, the means of making the journey affects the travellers’ perceptions of their destination, making the act of encountering, or even embracing, the Other so much harder and more prone to misunderstanding.

Space opera, of course, is traditionally predicated on rejecting the Other, as is military sf. The drama in both subgenres typically derives from conflict, either from within the world or from without. And the further the enemy is from known space, the more Other they generally are. Even when they’re humans, they’re typically barbarians from the edge of the empire – though that may simply be science fiction ripping off the history of the Roman empire… which it has done far too many times.

The same argument might well apply to fantasy, even though it is a different genre. I suspect there are more narratives of rejecting the Other in epic commercial fantasy than of the other two forms. Given its generally consolatory nature, this is no surprise. Other modes of fantasy may well be more evenly distributed – I’m not as well read in fantasy as I am science fiction. It might well be that the same argument does not apply to fantasy, given that it is an entirely different genre to sf.

Science fiction is not, and has never been, a branch of the fantastic. You can’t categorise fiction by the degrees of invention it exhibits. All fiction by definition contains invention, whether it’s literary fiction with made-up characters , fantasy with made-up worlds, or science fiction with made-up science and/or technology. Nor can you categorise by trope… because first you would have to define each and every trope. And lay out the conditions under which each trope is fantasy and not science fiction, or vice versa. If a fantasy novel has a dragon in it, then it does not follow that all novels containing dragons are fantasy. And so on. Science fiction is a fundamentally different genre to fantasy, and it’s an historical accident that the two are typically marketed alongside each other.


22 thoughts on “On genres, modes, distances and invention

  1. I’ve said it before, but to me SF (good SF, anyway) and fantasy are utterly at odds because they exemplify the conflict between science vs superstition, the wonder of understanding vs the more lazy but less satisfying attraction to magic.

    Lumping SF and fantasy together is not-quite-but-almost like trying to plump Peter Higgs or Steven Hawking together with the Pope or a fairyologist.

  2. Very interesting post, Ian. I think you’re right that fantasy is fundamentally different than SF, but primarily in the mechanism differentiating the imagined fictional world from ours (magic/metaphysics vs. science/technology). But I’d also argue that the border is more permeable and less “hard” than you are assuming.

    A lot of space opera, after all, is essentially “epic fantasy in space.” The technology is so far-advanced (and with so threadbare a foundation in physical science) that it functions like magic; aliens function like elves, dwarves and so forth; political units are decidedly retrograde (aristocratic, imperial, etc.); etc.

    And then there’s stuff like The Book of the New Sun that appears to be fantasy, but then looks like it’s “really” science fiction–but in the end, that ambiguity just serves to underscore how fuzzy the border is.

    This isn’t to say there aren’t powerful differences, and I think if you take two paradigmatic examples of each and put them side-by-side (let’s say THE STARS, MY DESTINATION and A GAME OF THRONES), then the differences do look pretty stark. And, of course, the “real” reason why we talk about “SF/F” is because they are marketed together and readership overlaps. 🙂

    • Just a note: not ALL space opera, but SOME. Other space opera is not at all “epic fantasy in space.”

    • I think you’re still categorising by tropes. The difference between the two genres is much more than whether one contains spaceships, or whether the science currently maps onto our knowledge of the universe. Jonathan McCalmont put it quite well on Twitter today: “fantasy assumes that the logic of human stories is the logic of the world”.

      • I like Jonathan’s characterization, and I do believe that general tendencies do exist, as do common logics–and in that sense I agree with both of you.

        I’m just wary of any attempt to define that superimposes harder borders among genres than are observable in the field. That’s analogous to “sampling on the dependent variable” in comparative analysis.

        Rather, when placing science fiction and fantasy next to each other, I see a pretty big and significant grey area where authors are (self-consciously and unconsciously) borrowing across and transgressing boundaries. Reading a book like ANCILLARY JUSTICE, it’s hard not to see that it is linked in logic as well as tropes to a good chunk of epic fantasy. THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, which we’ve discussed in definitional context before, is another example–a deliberate transgression of the SF/F boundary. So I don’t see hard borders; I see fuzzy and permeable borders.

        (Also, I beg to differ on whether the original post counts as “categorizing by tropes”–magic and metaphysics are what makes fantasy fantasy; science and technology are what make science fiction science fiction. These aren’t tropes–these are the genres’ fundamental mechanisms. And besides, tropes are both constitutive of and reflect a book’s internal logic!)

        • I never said the borders were hard, and whether they understand what they’re doing or not, authors can and do mix the two. But just because a sf text exhibits a few tropes common in fantasy, that does not make it cross-genre. Star Wars is science fiction, Dune is science fiction. That’s a fundamental characteristic of the texts, and even those fantasy tropes they make use they do so in a science fiction context.

          I also disagree that “magic and metaphysics are what makes fantasy fantasy; science and technology are what make science fiction science fiction”. What about gunpowder fantasies? They feature science, but they’re fantasies. And while I don’t agree with Clarke’s dictum, certainly much space opera has its science and technology behave like magic – such as FTL, perhaps the most widely-used sf trope there is.

          • You’re right about gunpowder fantasy being, in large part, about a specific set or mode of technology–but a backwards looking one. Epic fantasy is too: after all, swords, castles and siege weapons are also forms of technology. So when I said “technology,” I really should have said “technology beyond or in advance of our own.”

            SF is, to me, basically about what changes when something in the realm of science/technology goes beyond our present understandings/capabilities (often but not exclusively in the sense of “advancement”). What kind of stories can be told if/when humans (or non-humans) colonize other planets, build starships capable of reaching other systems, grow up on generation starships, inhabit virtual worlds nearly as rich and complex as our physical world, etc.? To me that’s the essence of what makes SF SF, and though some space opera can function as fantasy in significant and crucial ways, to me it’s still SF if something along these lines constitutes the fundamental question at hand.

            Fantasy, by contrast, is basically about what changes when something in the realm of magic/metaphysics goes beyond our scientific understanding/capabilities. What kind of stories can be told if humans (or non-humans) are subject to, and at least some can access, forces or powers that can’t be reconciled with accepted science? This is the essence of fantasy–from epic to urban.

            Interesting that you brought up Star Wars as “definitely SF.” To me it’s actually both SF and fantasy, because it fits both of these descriptions Though as SF it’s ultra-soft, the setting is still fundamentally SF to me. However, “the Force” and the whole Jedi/Sith thing is pure fantasy. I guess don’t see a problem with categorizing it as a hybrid either.

            However, let’s agree to never call anything “science fantasy” while we’re at it 🙂

          • # Star Wars is science fiction, Dune is science fiction.

            On what basis? I think a fairly strong case can be made for ‘Dune’, but I feel Star-Wars is right out.

            Star-wars has no real science in it, it has sounds in space, laser ‘bolts’ that move slowly enough to be seen, and swords made of beams of light that magically stop at 1 meter. That’s before we consider things like FTL travel, which are admittedly more respectable. It has ‘the force’. The force is magik, plain and simple. Under Mr McCalmont’s definition, it’s fantasy, as it’s a tale of a young farmboy who succeeds because he has a noble soul, and is the son of a powerful wizard.

            Whatever level you look at it Star Wars comes out as fantasy.

            • You’re still looking at the tropes. It’s not about the tropes. You can put dragons into sf, that doesn’t magically make it fantasy.

              • No, I’m looking at star wars from the underlying philosophies that are supposed to be part of science fiction. I’m not saying that Star-wars is or isnt’ science fiction because it has spaceships or monsters in it, a fiction could have spacecraft and be fantasy, or could have spacecraft and be SF. The point I’m making is that one commonly extended argument for a thing being SF, is that the underlying world of the story is scientifically plausible (that’s the headline of this blog, right?). But star-wars isn’t. The problem isn’t that that there are energy weapons in Star Wars, there could be and it could still be science-fiction. The problem is that star-wars energy weapons don’t even try to make any scientific sense. Star-wars doesn’t just bend the rules of scientific orthodoxy, it totally ignores them, they are irrelevant to it.

                Then I applied Mr McCalmont’s rule, which you yourself said is a question of underlying philosophy. By this rule Star Wars is fantasy, as it is about a farmboy who saves the world (or at least one world) because he’s noble and brave, and the secret son of a powerful (evil) wizard. He’s Harry Potter with droids.

                I didn’t apply your rule of ‘encountering the other’ because I don’t think your advancing it as a means to decide between something being SF, and not SF. Even if you were (and there’s big problems with that as I’ve said in my other posts, because ‘encountering the other’ is strong in fantasy and horror too) it still seems to me that Star Wars is not SF. I don’t see that Star Wars is really about encountering/rejecting/embracing ‘the Other’ in any meaningful sense. Nothing about Skywalker’s world is ‘other’ to him, it’s the world he lives in. Unlike Paul Atredies his development into Jedi doesn’t concern ‘the other’. It’s his destiny, it’s his true calling, his father was a jedi and he has always been meant to be one. Paul Atreidies is entering an alien group, Luke Skywalker isn’t.

                I can’t see anything about Star Wars that isn’t explainable in terms of a coming-of-age story where the farm-boy saves the day and rescues the princess. To me it seems a fairy-tale.

                What grounds are you putting forwards for Star Wars being SF? I must say, I’m surprised that you, or all people, would want Star Wars in the fold! I’m happy to eject it into the outer darkness myself.

                What can you point to in Star Wars and say ‘this makes it SF’? And remember, it’ll have to be something that you can’t find in a work of horror, fantasy, or romance, otherwise you could just as well claim it proves membership of any of those other genres.

                • If it’s a workable rule, that doesn’t mean I get to pick and choose what is and what isn’t sf 🙂 You’re right that my thoughts on the Other are not in anyway intended as a definition of sf, they’re just something descriptive of sf that occurred to me.

                  Why is Star Wars sf? It doesn’t have to be “scientifically plausible”. FTL isn’t scientifically plausible – not if you’re reasonably well-informed on physics and cosmology. But FTL fits within a framework in which it, and other elements, are enabled by properties by the universe as determined by the author. The author assumes the universe allows FTL, the author doesn’t simply make it happen because. And it’s that distinction which, to me, makes Star Wars sf.

  3. # “fantasy assumes that the logic of human stories is the logic of the world”.

    I’m taking this line to mean that in fantasy human values and human virtues subsume realism within the story. i.e. that the story is told to illustrate some point about human nature, and that the rules of the world, even of the imagined world within the story, are bent to that purpose. I think that’s what it means, but it’s hard to tell off one line (and that’s the problem with twitter all over).

    But science fiction does that all the time. I think this rule would make ‘Dune’ fantasy. It would certainly make ‘Star Wars’ fantasy, as this is a story driven entirely by the ‘honest farm-boy makes good’ trope. I don’t have much of a problem with those two being considered ‘fantasy with SF trappings’ (SW surely is just that) but I think the rot goes further. Much ‘golden-age’ science fiction was almost mythic in nature, with the ‘engineer/mage’ or heroic space-warrior overcoming all odds regardless of realism. What little EE Smith I’ve read (didn’t like EE Smith) deployed a lot of ‘techno-magic’, as I recall.

    Even ‘Star-trek’ contains a strong element of the ‘logic of human stories’ being dominant. Kirk will save the day because he is bold and heroic, Spock will always be a secondary character because he cannot understand the complexities of human emotion, etc, etc.

    The first thing that comes to mind, for me, as not following the logic of human stories, is the disaster fiction of John Wyndham. These stories are just about survival, without much real moral, and the world dominates the characters in it. The protagonist of ‘The Day of the Triffids’ hasn’t been saved from blindness because he is a just man, or a wise man, or anything, he’s been saved by blind chance. The people in these stories are just rats running through a fictional maze. But that’s just one avenue of science fiction, I wouldn’t say Wyndham was representitive of the whole genre.

    I can see that science fiction has perhaps been *less* guilty of twisting reality (whether ‘real’ reality or the fictional world) than fantasy, but not much. I can’t see that the difference is strong enough to build a distinction on. Worse, most forms of fiction bend the rules in this way. Many, if not most, stories are told to make an ideological point, or to illustrate virtuous or reprehensible behavior (the former in fables of all sorts, the latter perhaps in horror fiction, where people often come to a sticky end because of how they conduct themselves) so I have a sneaking suspicion that the word ‘fantasy’ in the opening of this ought to be ‘fiction’.

    There’s a deeper problem here that a story that created a fantastical world, but stuck rigidly to the rules of that created world (a sort of ‘Cold Equations’ with magic) would not be fantasy, even if it contained dragons and god-knows-what-else. This is a result that most people would consider a reductio ad absurdum.

    For me, I draw a different line between SF & F, though I suspect it’s as flawed as any other distinction: SF asserts that the world could be as depicted, or something like it. Fantasy doesn’t make that assertion. Even if something like the fantasy world *could* exist, that’s not the point, for fantasy. This means that SF is an inherently subversive genre, because it directly challenges the existing order (and has, of course, been repeatedly used for just this purpose). Hence if you’re living under a repressive regime, you’d probably be much wiser to write fantasy than SF. I wonder if that has any connection to the places where magical realism is, or isn’t, popular. Someone should do a study of that.

    • I took Jonathan’s comment to mean that the logic which operates in stories is extended to apply to the world of the story. Things happen because. The peasant hero can change the world because.

      Again, if you look at the tropes in a text then you can confuse sf for fantasy and vice versa. It’s my contention that the difference is philosophical, it lies in the substrate on which the stories are written. It’s not an emergent quality of the elements used in the story.

      • # I took Jonathan’s comment to mean that the logic which operates in stories is
        # extended to apply to the world of the story. Things happen because. The
        # peasant hero can change the world because.

        I think this is very close to my own reading of the comment. On this basis though a lot of what’s called ‘science fiction’ is actually fantasy. Star Wars is the Ur-example, but Dune too is driven by the fact that Paul is the Kitchy Bandersnatch, or whatever it was. These storylines are respectful of persons, and things happen in the story for a reason. However, that’s no reason to discount this definition, it may be true that much of what gets labeled ‘science fiction’ is, in fact, fantasy. I’ve always thought that of Star Wars myself.

        But I suspect there’s no one thing that can be used to divide fiction up into one genre or another. For instance, adding a dragon or a ghost to a piece of fiction isn’t enough to make it fantasy or horror. I think you need many elements working together in order to make a work one specific genre or another. Even the underlying philosophy of the story doesn’t make a work one genre or another. Plenty of thriller fiction features things that happen ‘because’, because the protagonist is a bold ‘can do’ person, because ‘our’ belief systems are better than ‘theirs’, because.. whatever. But this doesn’t make them fantasy. On the other hand it would be quite possible to write a fantasy piece in which things didn’t ‘happen because’, in which the characters were just victims of brute events happening in the story (as in Wyndham’s fiction). It would be a fantasy piece because, although one common ‘philosophical’ trope might have been removed, other aspects of the story combine to tip the balance into fantasy overall.

        I think that both in Mr McCalmont’s theory, and yours, are useful ways of looking at fiction, but I think they apply to all fiction. Any fiction can deal with ‘the other’ in a number of ways, and any fiction can subsume the characters to the story, or the story to character (the ‘because’ of stories is often moral, as in fables, but this is almost always expressed through character). Thus these theories have a much wider application than just the genres of SF & F.

  4. # And it occurred to me that sf narratives break down into three rough forms: encountering
    # the Other, embracing the Other and rejecting the Other.

    I think you’ve got something here, but you’re applying it too widely. There’s much SF that this definition doesn’t fit to without a LOT of joinery. Who is ‘the other’ in ‘Flowers for Algernon’? It could be claimed that ‘the other’ in this is the protagonist’s uplifted self, but it really doesn’t feel right to claim this, he never feels that his before and after self are ‘other’ and the whole narrative is a smooth gradient from one condition to the next. Who is the ‘other’ in 1984? Is it Big Brother? Again, I don’t feel so. Who is the ‘other’ in The Handmaid’s Tale? The best candidate there would be the protagonist themselves (which I guess is not impossible, that’s certainly the case in The Man Who Fell to Earth). Is time itself the other in Ted Chiang’s “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”? What about in his ‘Exhalation’, is entropy the ‘other’ there? What about in ‘The world in winter’ or ‘The death of grass’?

    Like all definitions, one can stretch it to cover all these cases, but I don’t feel that’s an honest approach. I don’t really think this definition covers all of science fiction. But I do think it covers a significant subset, which doesn’t really have a name, but is the interstellar SF that typified the American ‘Golden Age’, and this is what a lot of people think of when they think of SF. Perhaps someone ought to come up with a name to describe this particular subset?

    I wonder now just how much difference there was between UK and US SF in the 50’s and 60’s. It seems to me (on very little evidence, I admit) that UK SF was much more about the end of civilisation, and that it was US SF that was about voyaging out into the unknown, and thus it’s in the latter domain that your definition works.

    There’s another problem with the definition though, and it’s one that you allude to in this post. Stories about interacting with ‘the other’ predate science-fiction, they’ve been told since the dawn on time. This is particularly true of ‘conflict with the other’ stories, which seem to have existed in most human societies. The Illiad, Beowulf, and much of the Old Testament fits this model. In modern times, as you note, these ‘other narratives’ exist in fantasy, but they’re also present in much military and spy-fiction. In Horror, the other is generally the supernatural, but I’ve still read and watched horror fiction where the other is embraced (e.g. M Night Shalyman’s ‘the sixth sense’). Romantic fiction is particularly interesting in this regard, because I think the core point of such fiction (though admittedly I’m basing this on sparse reading) is to move from rejection of the other, or rejection of the self by the other, to acceptance of and by the other. In romantic fiction the ‘other’ is the person that the protag is going to wind up falling in love with, but it normally starts out from a position of loathing, or self-loathing, either ‘I am unworthy of them’ or ‘I’m gonna kill them’, and then pumps the reader up into a lather of negative emotion, until the moment comes when the characters realize they’re made for each other, the bubble bursts, and a cathartic release is achieved.

    So, lots of different types of fiction deal with ‘the other’ in the ways you describe, but not all SF does. You’ve got a point here about a set of fictions, but the set does not completely cover all science-fiction, and also overlaps large amounts of other territories, I feel.

    • The Other is not necessarily a thing, it can also be a situation. So you have the comfortable situation with which the reader – throughout most of sf’s history, assumed to be a middle-class white American male in his twenties or thirties – and then the writer takes them out of that situation, much as Keyes does with his narrator in Flowers for Algernon. This is why I tied the Other to distance. You measure the Other using metaphorical distance, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a place.

      I don’t know how my theory maps onto fantasy, and I said as much. I suspect the genre is more resistant to it.

      • # The Other is not necessarily a thing, it can also be a situation.

        Yeeesss… I can see that, but we’re getting dangerously close to ‘anything can be the other’, which might undermine the value of the term.

        For a situation to be ‘the other’ though, I think it has to be strange to the protag. If we say the situation is strange only to the reader, then the problem is that all fiction (or almost all) exhibits that aspect. People read to experience strange situations.

        If we say that, say, 1984 is about ‘the other’ because the situation of Winston Smith is ‘the other’ for the reader, then we can say that just about every work of fiction is also about the other in this respect. In which case, what utility does the term have in discussing fiction?

        # So you have the comfortable situation with which the reader, throughout most
        # of sf’s history, assumed to be a middle-class white American male in his
        # twenties or thirties and then the writer takes them out of that situation, much
        # as Keyes does with his narrator in Flowers for Algernon.

        I’m not sure that the class, race, gender or age of the reader is as relevant here as you seem to think it is. I would think there’s very few people on the planet who, picking up a work of SF or fantasy, would not find that it took them out of their situation. This is not so true of ‘realist’ fiction, and I suspect that writers of such fiction have to do more ‘work’ in some way to engage the reader. SF, fantasy and horror have it easy in this regard, because few of us, of any denomination, have experienced a haunting, met a dragon, or watched c-beams glitter in the dark near Tannhäuser Gate. I don’t think, that when sitting down to write SF, you have to consider how to take any particular person ‘out of their situation’, if you’re not taking the whole human race out of their situation, then it’s probably not SF.

        # This is why I tied the Other to distance. You measure the Other using
        # metaphorical distance, but that doesn?t mean it has to be a place.

        Again, the problem is that now ‘the other’ can be a person, thing, situation, or place, separated from us by some form of distance. This makes nearly everything in all forms of fiction ‘the other’. If the situation of Winston Smith is ‘the other’ for the reader, then so is the situation of James Bond or anyone else. The term has become The Blob and consumed everything.

        It also means that this treatment is not specific to SF. You might not have been asserting that it is specific to SF, though. I can’t tell whether you mean that the treatment of the other is unique to SF, or whether it occurs in all types of fiction, and thus occurs in SF. If you mean it to be unique to SF then I suspect you’ve got to be more stricter with the term, and not allow it to encompass almost anything.

        # I don’t know how my theory maps onto fantasy, and I said as much.
        # I suspect the genre is more resistant to it.

        Personally I think it will map better onto fantasy, but I’m unsure why. It’s just a gut feeling. I think it will also map strongly onto horror. Horror is even more about encountering ‘the other’ than SF or fantasy is. Whereas I think there are some SF stories that are not about interaction with ‘the other’, it’s hard to imagine a horror story that wouldn’t be about this.

  5. With regard to your closing assertion, that it is mere “historical accident that the two [SF & Fantasy] are typically marketed alongside each other.”

    I do not quite agree with this. Although they are definitely distinct, they is something they have in common, something they share that other genres don’t, that has lead to them having many fans in common (and hence being marketed alongside each other).

    I think that both SF and Fantasy (or “Speculative Fiction” if you prefer) differ from from other forms of fiction in that they suspend the commonly/widely accepted facts of reality. Other fiction may invent characters and minor events that do not affect our commonly accepted notion of reality. These general facts may be historical in nature, or be with regard to the laws of physics as we known them, etc. Yes, all fiction invents stuff but general fiction always operates within these parameters whereas SF and fantasy always break out of these in some way or another.

    What distinguishes SF & Fantasy is the rationale behind the suspension of these commonly held notions.

    • Before the appearance of Amazing Stories, fiction magazines would often contain stories by Francis Stevens alongside two-fisted thriller tales. Are we to assume both are the same because they appeared in the magazine together?

      To some extent, all fiction plays with reality. The problem with using that as a yardstick is that it becomes a matter of degree – at what point do we decide reality has been changed enough for a work to be considered science fiction or fantasy? And why should we separate them into two distinct genres if that’s our only defining characteristic? This is why I think definitions like this are not especially useful – they don’t rely on qualities intrinsic and unique to the text. An example – Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo is set in an invented Central American country,Costaguana. (And it’s not the only literary classic to be set in an invented place.) How is Costaguana any different to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom? You can go to Central America and you won’t find it; you can go to Mars and you won’t find Helium (the city).

      • Firstly, I am not trying claim SF and Fantasy are the same, only that they have something in common, that separates them from other genres of fiction and that, perhaps, accounts for why they are usually marketed side by side.

        Secondly, yes, of course all fiction plays with reality to some extent (by definition). My point was to make a distinction between the private, minor facts of reality and the public, general, commonly known facts of reality. I appreciate that this distinction may well may not be so hard and fast and there will be stories that inhabit the grey areas in between but I still think it does serve as a general guideline. Like any such distinctions, there will always be exceptions to any rule. I haven’t read “Nostromo” so I can’t comment on your example specifically.

        • Yes, but my point is it’s not a useful critical distinction. For marketing purposes, it’s fine. But I think in critical discussions of genre works, as I said, a definition based on something intrinsic and unique is necessary.

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