An Introduction to Science Fiction
by L. Ron Hubbard
Only about a tenth of my stories were written for the fields of science fiction and fantasy. I was what they called a high-production writer, and these fields were just not big enough to take everything I could write. I gained my original reputation in other writing fields during the eight years before the Street and Smith interview.
Campbell, without saying too much about it, considered the bulk of the stories I gave him to be not science fiction but fantasy, an altogether different thing. Some of my stories he eagerly published as science fiction—among them Final Blackout. Many more, actually. I had, myself, somewhat of a science background, had done some pioneer work in rockets and liquid gases, but I was studying the branches of man’s past knowledge at that time to see whether he had ever come up with anything valid. This, and a love of the ancient tales now called The Arabian Nights, led me to write quite a bit of fantasy. To handle this fantasy material, Campbell introduced another magazine, Unknown. As long as I was writing novels for it, it continued. But the war came and I and others went, and I think Unknown only lasted about forty months. Such novels were a bit hard to come by. And they were not really Campbell’s strength.
So anyone seeking to say that science fiction is a branch of fantasy or an extension of it is unfortunately colliding with a time-honored professional usage of terms. This is an age of mixed genres. I hear different forms of music mixed together like soup. I see so many different styles of dance tangled together into one “dance” that I wonder whether the choreographers really know the different genres of dance anymore. There is abroad today the concept that only conflict produces new things. Perhaps the philosopher Hegel introduced that, but he also said that war was necessary for the mental health of the people and a lot of other nonsense. If all new ideas have to spring from the conflict between old ones, one must deny that virgin ideas can be conceived.
So what would pure science fiction be?
It has been surmised that science fiction must come from an age where science exists. At the risk of raising dispute and outcry—which I have risked all my life and received but not been bothered by, and have gone on and done my job anyway—I wish to point out some things:
Science fiction does NOT come after the fact of a scientific discovery or development. It is the herald of possibility. It is the plea that someone should work on the future. Yet it is not prophecy. It is the dream that precedes the dawn when the inventor or scientist awakens and goes to his books or his lab saying, “I wonder whether I could make that dream come true in the world of real science.”
You can go back to Lucian, second century A.D., or to Johannes Kepler (1571–1630)—who founded modern dynamical astronomy and who also wrote Somnium, an imaginary space flight to the moon—or to Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein, or to Poe or Verne or Wells and ponder whether this was really science fiction. Let us take an example: a man invents an eggbeater. A writer later writes a story about an eggbeater. He has not, thereby, written science fiction. Let us continue the example: a man writes a story about some metal that, when twiddled, beats an egg, but no such tool has ever before existed in fact. He has now written science fiction. Somebody else, a week or a hundred years later, reads the story and says, “Well, well. Maybe it could be done.” And makes an eggbeater. But whether or not it was possible that twiddling two pieces of metal would beat eggs, or whether or not anybody ever did it afterward, the man still has written science fiction.
How do you look at this word “fiction”? It is a sort of homograph. In this case it means two different things. A professor of literature knows it means “a literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact; the category of literature comprising works of this kind, including novels, short stories and plays.” It is derived from the Latin fictio, a making, a fashioning, from fictus, past participle of fingere, to touch, form, mold.
But when we join the word to “science” and get “science fiction,” the word “fiction” acquires two meanings in the same use: 1) the science used in the story is at least partly fictional; and 2) any story is fiction. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines science fiction as “fiction in which scientific developments and discoveries form an element of plot or background; especially a work of fiction based on prediction of future scientific possibilities.”
So, by dictionary definition and a lot of discussions with Campbell and fellow writers of that time, science fiction has to do with the material universe and sciences; these can include economics, sociology, medicine, and suchlike, all of which have a material base.
Then what is fantasy?
Well, believe me, if it were simply the application of vivid imagination, then a lot of economists and government people and such would be fully qualified authors! Applying the word “imaginative” to fantasy would be like calling an entire library “some words.” Too simplistic, too general a term.
In these modern times many of the ingredients that make up “fantasy” as a type of fiction have vanished from the stage. You hardly even find them in encyclopedias anymore. These subjects were spiritualism, mythology, magic, divination, the supernatural and many other fields of that type.
None of them had anything really to do with the real universe. This does not necessarily mean that they never had any validity or that they will not again arise; it merely means that man, currently, has sunk into a materialistic binge.
“Well, believe me, if it were simply the application of vivid imagination, then a lot of economists and government people and such would be fully qualified authors!”
The bulk of these subjects consists of false data, but there probably never will come a time when all such phenomena are explained. The primary reason such a vast body of knowledge dropped from view is that material science has been undergoing a long series of successes. But I do notice that every time modern science thinks it is down to the nitty-gritty of it all, it runs into (and sometimes adopts) such things as the Egyptian myths that man came from mud, or something like that. But the only point I am trying to make here is that there is a whole body of phenomena that we cannot classify as “material.” They are the nonmaterial, nonuniverse subjects. And no matter how false many of the old ideas were, they still existed; who knows but what there might not be some validity in some bits of them. One would have to study these subjects to have a complete comprehension of all the knowledge and beliefs possible. I am not opening the door to someone’s saying I believe in all these things: I am only saying that there is another realm besides dedicated—and even simple-minded—materialism.
“Fantasy,” so far as literature is concerned, is defined in the dictionary as “literary or dramatic fiction characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements.” Even that is a bit limited as a definition.
So fantasy could be called any fiction that takes up elements such as spiritualism, mythology, magic, divination, the supernatural and so on. The Arabian Nights was a gathering together of the tales of many, many countries and civilizations—not just of Arabia as many believe. Its actual title was A Thousand and One Nights of Entertainment. It abounds with examples of fantasy fiction.