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Podcast logo of black retro UFO on a red background with the text Every Single Sci-Fi Film Ever*. *Almost.

1. What is Science Fiction?

And so we begin! The very first episode. Before we start the journey of examining every single sci-fi film ever* we must understand what science fiction is. In this episode I speak to science fiction scholars Lisa Yaszek and Glynn Morgan about the definitions of this well-known genre. What is the difference between science fiction and fantasy? Are superhero movies sci-fi? Are the we the real monsters? Please be warned: as always there are spoilers ahead!

*Almost

The experts
I am extreme lucky to have these guests with me.

Lisa Yaszek has known sci-fi very well for very many years. She is Regents Professor of Science Fiction Studies in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech. Lisa researches and teaches science fiction and has authored, compiled, and edited numerous books on the topic. Her Future is Female books not only draw attention to the huge contribution of women writers in the genre but also have wonderful retro covers! (I am not judging a book by its cover but I am judging the cover!)

Lisa was President of the Science Fiction Research Association from 2009-2010 and serves as an advisory board member for About SF. She has won many awards for contributions to science fiction and serves as a juror for sci-fi writing awards.

Glyn Morgan is Curator of Exhibitions at The British Science Museum and put together the Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination exhibition which has moved on from London, UK and is currently showing in Hong Kong. There is also a beautiful book that accompanied the exhibition here. He is a lecturer and former editor of Vector, the Critical Journal of the British Science Fiction Association. He has written extensively about sci-fi and speculative fiction and has served as an award judge. 


Chapters 

00:00 Introduction to show and guests
02:58 Lisa’s definition: Darko Suvin and his three criteria
10:24 Glynn’s definition: Damon Knight’s one criteria
16:50 Are superhero films science fiction?
18:38 Magic Vs science
20:28 The history of comic books, superheroes and science fiction
26:36 Mysticism in science fiction
34:12 What even is science?
37:44 Is everything in space sci-fi?
43:57 Aliens and monsters
49:40 AI, robots and fembots
55:34 Time travel and multiverses
59:57 Dystopia, utopia, and Star Trek
01:12:13 Conclusion

The shownotes

  • Wikipedia’s list of definitions of science fiction including ones from “the big three”. 'The big three' is a relatively common term in science fiction literature to refer to the writers Arthur C Clark, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.

  • Darko Suvin (Lisa’s favourite of definition) is a retired Canadian academic, writer and critic.

  • Damon Knight (Glyn’s favourite definition) was an American Sci-fi author, editor and critic.  

  • Ray Bradbury is the writer of many books including Fahrenheit 451 which is often listed as one of the greatest American novels of all time.

  • You can read Arthur C Clarke’s three laws here. 

  • Gertrude Barrows Bennet, was a science fiction and fantasy author born in 1884 and known by the pseudonym Francis Stevens. The first “lab grown” superhero story Lisa refers to is The Curious Experience of Thomas Dunbar

  • Zenna Henderson was a science fiction and fantasy writer born in 1917.

  • Wilmar Shiras was an American Science fiction author born in 1908

  • The Three-Body Problem is a successful science fiction book series by Chinese writer Liu Cixin. A television series based on the books premiered on March 21st 2024 on Netflix.

  • Benjamin Banneker was an American mathematician, astronomer and compiler of almanacs born in 1731.

  • Glyn mentions the science of the forest talking to itself. A lot of this work is based on new discoveries regarding mushrooms and underground mycelium networks. The Star Trek: Discovery character Paul Stamets is named after the real-life Paul Stamets who is a self-taught mycologist and has worked extensively with fungi.

  • The SETI Institute’s research into whale communication can be found on their website. Laurence Doyle is the name of the research scientist. 

  • Kim Stanley Robinson is a prolific American science fiction writer. Born in 1952 he is widely known for his Red Mars trilogy.

  • Stalisław Lem was a Polish science fiction writer born in 1921. He is best known for his book Solaris which has also been adapted for the big screen. The Soviet film adaptation by Andrei Tarkovsky perhaps the most famous but there is also a 2002 version directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney.

  • Richard Dawkins is a British evolutionary biologist who wrote his internationally best-selling book The Selfish Gene in 1976.

  • Naomi Alderton is a British writer born in 1974. The Power is the name of her science fiction novel which has been adapted into a television series available to watch on Amazon Prime. 

  • R.U.R. is a book written by Czech writer Karel Čapek in 1920. This is the first time the word robot was introduced to the world. The concept of a machine resembling a living being is much older. 

  • Susan Sontag’s 1965 seminal essay The Imagination of Disaster about science fiction cinema can be read here.

  • Lisa mentions Chinelo Onwualu. You can learn more about her here

  • The word utopia comes from the 1516 book Utopia by Sir Thomas Moore. The ancient Greek meaning Glyn mentions translates to “no place”.

  • Brave New World is a 1931 science fiction novel written by British writer Aldous Huxley. The Island (a story about a utopia) was Huxley’s final work before his death. 

  • Ada Palmer is an American writer and historian born in 1981. Her book To Like the Lightning is the first of the four book Terra Ignota series.

  • Ursula K Le Guin was a prolific writer of speculative fiction. She was an American born in 1929. You can learn more about her here. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is the story referred to. It was the winner of the 1974 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. 

  • NK Jemisin’s response, The One’s Who Stay and Fight can be read here.

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