A couple of weeks ago I summarized several interesting panel discussions I saw at the World SF Convention in San Jose in mid-August. One panel was about definitions of SF, not so much good or bad definitions as different types of definitions. It was actually a lecture, not a panel, by a Texas academic named Paul Saka, and it ended with his preferred kind of definition, that as prototype, or exemplar, describing average or best examples. He quoted (on his last slide of his presentation) a long paragraph by Frederik Pohl from the 1978 SFWA-SFRA anthology SCIENCE FICTION: CONTEMPORARY MYTHOLOGY, edited by Warrick, Greenberg, and Olander…a copy of which I’ve now tracked down, so I can provide his Pohl quote in full:
Does the story tell me something worth knowing, that I had not known before, about the relationship between man and technology? Does it enlighten me on some area of science where I had been in the dark? Does it open a new horizon for my thinking? Does it lead me to think new kinds of thoughts, that I would not otherwise perhaps have thought at all? Does it suggest possibilities about the alternative possible future courses my world can take? Does it illuminate events and trends of today, by showing me where they may lead tomorrow? Does it give me a fresh and objective point of view on my own world and culture, perhaps by letting me see it through the eyes of a different kind of creature entirely, from a planet light-years away?
Of course, as Saka stipulated, this is a description of *good* science fiction. It doesn’t identify how we know that a bad, routine, formula story that does none of the things Pohl cites is still science fiction. There are surely many more examples of the latter than of Pohl’s exemplars.