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Science Fiction

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What is science fiction? Many would associate this genre of fiction with robots, space ships, and the future, and perhaps correctly recognize Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury as big players in the field. A more scholarly definition might explain that scientific facts, assumptions, and hypotheses form the basis of science fiction, with the adventures set in the future, on other planets, in other dimensions in space or time, or under new variants of scientific law. Although both clearly establish science fiction apart from other genres of literature, neither incorporates older works from eminent writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, or even Shakespeare. Stories from many contemporary writers also fail to make the science fiction grade with such strict limitations.

A more adequate definition for the genre is needed then, one that gives additional room to include other works. The definition shouldn't water down the requirements, though.

Science fiction begins with a fundamental question: What if? For example, what if Martians invaded England? Or what if firemen didn't put out fires, but instead started them to burn books? Or what if aliens played a part in the evolution of humankind? The search for answers forms the respective plot summaries of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The writers suppose a different set of circumstances from everyday life as we know it, which then leads to questions, answers, and entirely new possibilities. In other words, the stories of science fiction don't just ask a question like, "What if Martians invaded England?" The question provides the impetus for the story.

Of course, many works outside the genre begin with the same question. However, the answer proves essential to science fiction, as it serves as the foundation for all events in the story. The tale may survive a shift of characters, setting, or events, but any change to the inspiring question utterly alters the story, if not actually prevents its creation. Remove the invading Martians, the pyromaniac firemen, or the aliens guiding human evolution, and there simply isn't a story.

Science fiction should also provide commentary on the world. The slightly altered past or present of the stories, the future settings, or distant locales provide contrast with our own world, and thus allow a glimpse into the difficulties that threaten our society here and now. This unique aspect means that characters speak to our culture as a whole or to the human condition. Contrast this to other genres, which may focus on romance, mystery, or a fleeting moment in someone's life.

Science fiction must contain an element of science--it's called science fiction, after all. But that element may simply provide a background to the larger story, and the tale need not necessarily fill itself with futuristic gadgetry.

Lastly, there's one final point to consider. The leap into the future fantastic requires some plausible explanation before we are willing to suspend our disbelief.


Step 1: Listen to the article, which is almost five minutes long. Listen only, and don't worry about understanding everything.
Step 2: Listen once more, and try to understand the general information of each paragraph. In your head, explain a paragraph's main idea in one or two sentences. Write your paragraph summaries after you have listened to the whole article. Listen again, check your answers, and compare your answers with a partner.
Step 3: Look at the article, which has missing vocabulary words. Try to write any words that you remember from the listening. Listen once more, and write the missing words.
Step 4: Read the article, and look up any unknown words. Now listen again. Can you understand more?
Step 5: Listen! Listen! Listen! Listen to the article on the train or in your free time. Each time you listen, you will slowly improve!

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