Tag Archives: Rotten Tomatoes

Dodging the Sci-Fi stigma

nogeeksThere is a certain aversion to fantasy and science fiction by those who aren’t outright fans of those genres.

And yet there are some sci fi authors among the best-selling writers in America — of any genre. And somehow, their books aren’t kept in the “science fiction” section near the back of the bookstore, but rather among the cool kids up front with “popular fiction”. What’s the difference?

Consider Stephen King: It is a giant spider demon from another planet in outer space. You can’t get anymore ‘sci-fi’ than that. King has also delved into wizards, vampires, ancient kingdoms with honor codes, and even dragons.

Dean Koontz is another. His work is filled with talking animals, magic powers, demons and other strange monsters.

You can’t find these two authors in science fiction with Asimov and Heinlein and Card and Sanderson.


Is it because they are SO successful, they now transcend genre? They are now somehow ‘better’ than science fiction?

Could it be the other way around: Their success is thanks in part to the fact they were never relegated to those back shelves at all? King is an impressive writer, but he can’t get me to turn pages nearly as fast as Orson Scott Card or Brandon Sanderson or Dan Simmons.

And I can’t think of any reason why Dan Simmons shouldn’t be more popular than Stephen King, given the quality of work and depth of story and strength of character I’ve seen in both of their writing, except this: Dan Simmons is “science fiction” (though he has won awards in every genre) and Stephen King “isn’t”.

To a sci-fi fan, aversion to science fiction is bizarre, especially given the number of ‘exceptions’ allowed by non-fans of sci fi. A look at Rotten Tomatoes’ top movies of all time reveals any number of movies are technically science fiction or fantasy by any definition.

#2: Toy Story Two: A movie beloved by all, I can’t think of a single person who didn’t like it; kid or adult. The premise is that toys are magically living beings which spring to life when their owner isn’t around.

#7: The Wizard of Oz. Come on, now; “WIZARD” is in the title.

#15: Toy Story (the original)

#18: King Kong

#20: Seven Samurai

#28: Aliens

#30: The Evil Dead

#36: The Adventures of Robin Hood

#39: The Bride of Frankenstein

#49: Mary Poppins

#60 & #61: The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day

There are more, but the point is made.  Furthermore, while some of these are genre-classified as ‘science fiction’, you won’t find others of them (such as Mary Poppins or Toy Story) relegated to such a back aisle of the video store. (Although a story identical to Mary Poppins in every way except set in Middle Earth instead of London would be thus punished.)

The dogfight sequence at the end of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope is indistinguishable from World War II dogfights for one simple reason: Lucas used WWII footage and movies as templates for his storyboard, camera angles, cuts, and even dialog. Heck, he even named the imperial armies ‘Storm Troopers’ after Nazi Germany’s armies.

Plenty of people who “hate science fiction” loved The Matrix. Plenty of people who “hate fantasy” loved Braveheart.

Some have said that ‘horror’ or ‘thriller’ doesn’t fall under the science fiction umbrella. This argument certainly lends credence to Stephen King’s inclusion with the cool kids, but it doesn’t explain why Ann Rice is stuck in the fantasy section.

Some have said that if your story falls in modern times, then it isn’t fantasy or science fiction. Bullsh–evik. Do you mean to tell me that Terminator and Predator aren’t out-and-out science fiction? What about E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds?  Of course these are sci-fi. And every last one of them is set in the present day.

Furthermore, ‘horror’ isn’t even a genre, properly speaking; indeed, neither are science fiction and fantasy. If they were, where would steampunk fall: Into science fiction or fantasy? What about a story where wizards fight off a zombie invasion: Horror or Fantasy? What about I am Legend? Horror or science fiction?

No, together these three genres are considered speculative fiction, and they are nearly indistinguishable when you consider them together.

Romulans/Dark Elves
Klingons/Orcs (or by TNG, more like Dwarves)
Starfleet Federation/Council of Elrond

Stargates or portals to other dimensions? Advanced technology or magic spells? Nanotechnology or innate superpowers? Evolution or deification? These are the dilineations between science fiction and fantasy, and yet none of them are mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, the concepts of science fiction aren’t exclusive from those of ‘popular’ fiction either. A Sheriff from a western plays much the same role as a Jedi or a Starfleet Captain or a Captain of Gondor. Guns, phasers, and blasters serve identical purposes in action scenes.

Sometimes normal stories are classified as ‘science fiction’ for no discernable reason. Rotten Tomatoes lists The Truman Show as science fiction/fantasy even though there isn’t a single alien, space ship, sword, magic spell, or laser in the entire movie. Cube is similarly categorized.

So what’s the difference? If there’s space travel in a movie does it automatically carry the sci-fi stigma? What about Apollo 13? Deep Impact? Armageddon?

If a work is ‘science fiction’ or ‘fantasy”, is it now impossible for it to be a Romance or a Comedy? I doubt it.

I don’t have the answers to all of these questions. If I did, I’d make sure to always call my work “thriller” or “popular fiction” instead of “science fiction” when trying to promote my work to anti-geeks. I’d sell my romantic science fiction stories as “Romance”, the humorous ones as “Comedy”, the character-driven stories as “Drama”, and the action-based stories as “Action Thriller.” It’d be much nicer to be included on those shelves instead of stuck among the Trekkies.

But I’d be lying. Because science fiction is exploration of the imagination, asking the question, “what if?” and that’s what I write, no matter where or when it’s set.

While I was wondering how to classify my stories which take place in present-day America, I wondered where Dean Koontz and Stephen King were first published. I looked up their bibliogrophies and checked their earliest published short stories.

As I said, you can’t find them in the ‘science fiction’ section. They’re too cool to be included with the real freaks and geeks who worship dragons and space and go to conventions.

But they were originally published in magazines of science fiction. Go figure. I guess the marketing companies think they’ve returned to planet earth. They were just allowed to bring their imaginations with them.