What is science fiction? Debates for decades have tried to define what science fiction is, exactly, often trying to exclude some piece of the genre and emphasize others. Such debates are likely irresolvable. In the words of Justice Potter, you "know it when [you] see it". There is a lot of science fiction published every year, and much of it varies, from the fantastical to dystopic to transcendent visions of humanity and its various possible futures. We are willing to have a broad definition of what science fiction is-- but our main concern is trying to find fiction that makes us rethink policy debates.
We should also caveat an oft-repeated concern: some avoid science fiction because they don’t think it is “good literature”. We, in part, agree: there is a lot of bad science fiction published every year. But, as the editor Theodore Sturgeon once said, “90% of everything is crap.” Given that most published literature is bad, it’s obvious that most science fiction is likely not to be good as well. We believe that there is a spectrum of quality for stories, but that there can sometimes still be awkwardly written tales that can make us think differently about real world problems.
Science fiction stories can be divided into four different categories. As described by the Hugo awards definitions:
- Novel: story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more.
- Novella: story of between seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) and forty thousand (40,000) words.
- Novelette: story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) words.
- Short Story: less than seven thousand five hundred (7,500) words.
Here at SciFi Policy, we have a special focus on short stories through novellas. Numerous references already exist for assessing what books are available in science fiction every year -- check out major websites like io9, tor.com and SFRevu.com. If there is an important policy message in a book, it will become part of the discussion. There are, however, very few resources for identifying short stories in science fiction. Moreover, if you’re looking for something that a congressional staffer or federal decision maker can read, the story often needs to be short. Shorter stories are worth focusing on because they have a better chance to go viral, whether among policy-makers or the public.
Here is a partial list of the magazines that publish short fiction (novella through short stories). Some of them are paper or kindle subscription only, but increasingly more and more magazines are putting stories online.
- Analog Science Fiction and Fact - Known for publishing more ‘hard science,’ with stories more focused on specific technological advances
- Asimov’s Astounding Science Fiction
- Fantasy and Science Fiction
- Tor.com - This one has a lot of blog posts but also publishes original stories. They also have monthly summaries of new books that come out.
- Nature Futures - Published by the journal Nature
- Issues in Science and Technology - A publication of the National Academy of Sciences, which has committed to publishing 1 SciFi story per quarter.
RECURRING SCIENCE FICTION ANTHOLOGIES THAT ARE KNOWN FOR ADDRESSING POLICY ISSUES:
- MIT’s Twelve Tomorrows
- Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future - Led by Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination.
- Jonathan Strahan's Engineering Infinity series
Finally, Sam Tomaino’s brief summaries over at SFRevu.com are an invaluable resource in sifting through the substantional amount of material published each month.
Across all of these magazines and anthologies, there are several dozen short fiction pieces published every month. One of the best resources for discovering what new science fiction short stories are coming out is SFRevu.com’s prolific Sam Tomaino. His column (Note that the link will direct you to July, 2015; just skim through to find the month and year you’d like) provides several-sentence summaries of all SciFi short fiction published each month. Given that there are too many short stories published in a month for any mortal human to read them all, we sometimes skim through Tomaino’s SFRevu blurbs to decide which stories are worth reading That helps us triage 80% of the SciFi that's out there, searching for stories that seem to be relevant to a contemporary policy debate.
However, given all of this: it’s still hard to find science fiction stories that can help us think through policy issues. Likely more such fiction needs to be written -- but there are still gems that are published every year.
As time permits, our blog will attempt to curate and write about new science fiction stories that may help us think through issues in a different way. Your thoughts and suggestions on candidate stories or resources for finding policy relevant scifi are welcome: shoot them over to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet them at us @scifipolicy.