A sci fi ABC would be easy to do right off the top of your head, right?
A – Asimov
B – Bradbury
C – A Clockwork Orange
D – Dune
… and so on. Of course, great material, all the way down.
You could do one for kids:
A is for Alien
B is for… whatever B is for – Blaster? Bazinga?
But science fiction is about exploration and ideas, right? This is not a list of famous titles and authors. And you probably don’t need help remembering your ABCs.
Our ABeCeDary is a touch less obvious and sometimes abstract. (Here’s a resource I found useful for rummaging around in the details of the genre.)
I have even commandeered a few professionals for the illustrations – except for those done by me and my little cousins, who nevertheless – take my word for it – are from another planet. [Artist deets are at the end.]
A – Afrofuturism – We talked a little about the vastness of Afrofuturism a long time ago in a post; it cannot be summarized briefly or by me. The African American experience has a few analogs to certain sci fi tropes: alien abduction from a home, control via the tools of ¨advanced” technologies (from iron shackles to ankle bracelets), or oppression from more or less invisible forces (cf/ct The Matrix with The New Jim Crow). If sci fi in general is about asking “What if..?”, then Afrofuturism uses the same question to project an alternate reality or future for African Americans. Read Octavia Butler or Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, for example. (See below: Dystopia and Nichelle Nichols)
B – Biopunk – You can almost slap “punk” onto anything and make it a subgenre: Steampunk, Disneypunk, MidCenturyModernpunk. This one kinda makes sense though. Biopunk combines biology and technology, which is not really sci fi in and of itself (these days), but can ask “What would happen if…” – we replaced our eyes with better mechanical ones? we could put our consciousness into a computer? is a cyborg a man or a machine? and so on. That is sci fi, ergo biopunk. Look at The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi or, you know, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
C – Conlang – Constructed languages are those which are built from scratch, from Esperanto to Klingon. (We did a post on it once.) They are sci fi not just because they can add depth to a fictional world, but because there are some who believe changing our language can actually change how we think (Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) and therefore our future. James Cooke Brown invented Loglan and wrote a novel (The Troika Incident) to illustrate the possibilities of the idea: by sharing an expansive language, humanity is able to create a future utopia.
D – Dystopia – It has to be the hottest subgenre at the moment. Every blog and website has its own recent list of dystopian stories, including ours (from last Spring), so I won’t bother listing the titles you already know. Just this: we are living the backstory of all of them. We’re not in the dystopia; we’re in the part right before it. Yay us.
E – Exogamy in a sci fi context is, let’s say, romantic connection between terrestrials and extraterrestrials, for instance when earth girl Amanda hooks up with the alien Sarek to produce an offspring they name Spock. It’s the wave of the future.
F – Fermi Paradox – Short version: Where is everyone? Long version: Considering how vast the universe is, it’s likely that life has developed many places other than Earth, BUT considering how long the universe has existed, all those civilizations should be mixing and mingling right now. In other words, when you’re standing in line down at Taco Zone, you should be rubbing elbows with an assortment of folks from other planets (at least the ones who like tacos), but you’re not. Why not? WHERE ARE ALL THE DAMN ALIENS?!
G – Grey Goo – This is what the world would be covered in if tiny nano-robots (nanites) went wackadoodle and ate everything organic. All of it. [Note: we are organic.]
H – Hacker – Whether hackers are pirates or freedom fighters will depend on their intentions and your point of view. While we may fear the development of AI or the singularity or renegade robots (replicants?), we shouldn’t forget that we can move thru cyberspace ourselves, for better or for worse. If we ever get to the Tron/William Gibson level of entering cyberspace, we will literally become the ghost in the machine.
I – IDIC – Infinite Diversity/Infinite Combinations – This is perhaps the green heart of Vulcan philosophy, and it is highly applicable as an approach to both the mysterious universe and the mysteries of human interaction. It is basically an appreciation for the beauty and truth that can be found in the endless variety of difference and the endless ways those differences interact. The symbol of IDIC is an overlapping circle and triangle, with a diamond representing what they create together. [Not pictured. Google it.]
J – Jonbar Point – This is the fork in the road of time travel. To use a chaos theory idea as an example: step on the butterfly and dinosaurs evolve instead of us, do not step on the butterfly, and the Cubs win the pennant in 2016. You’ve seen this in a million stories, and now you have a name for it. The term comes from Jack Williamson’s The Legion of Time.
K – Kalpabigyan – The word used for science fiction in Bengal is kalpabigyan. When ruled by the British, Bengali writers began telling stories that were not only entertaining but helped bridge gaps between religion, philosophy, mythology and science. They simultaneously carved out space for their own non-colonial identity. Thus, because of all the work the genre was doing, the word kalpabigyan covers a lot more than the English term “science fiction”. You could look at anything from Begum Rokeya’s 1905 Sultana’s Dream, one of the earliest feminist sci fi novels, to the more recent The Alien, a short story from Satyajit Ray – which some consider the uncredited source material for E.T.. If such a tiny area on the globe as the Bengal region could produce 100 years’ worth of cutting edge material, think of all you’re missing out on if you never read non-English SF. You don’t understand the whole idea of sci fi, if you aren’t willing to leave the comfort of your own language-culture.
L – Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future is the 1930 book from Olaf Stapledon that set the bar for aeon-spanning future histories. It charts the up and down progression of humanity – and its 18 different species(!) – for the next few billion years. Some versions of humanity evolve and some are designed and built. Forget where we’ve been: where the hell are we going?
M – Megalopolises – In the future, large cities grow until they connect with other large cities (and completely absorb all the tiny ones), turning into giant megalopolises — kinda like LA/OC or the Twin Cities in MN but much, much bigger. Look at this cool map from iO9 that collects a few megalopolises from various sci fi worlds. It’s also just a great word: one more time – megalopolises.
“Doc, this is the XO. We have reached the first marker. N – Z is on approach — aaaaand docking — aaaand docked. Okay, suit up – meet ya in the… uh… what’s it called… I wanna say foyer, but that can’t be right– The room where we wait to get on the tube connector thingy -”
A, D, F, H, J – Paul Razo – Good lord, he’s fast. “Hey Paul, could I get-“*boom*”How’s this?” “Whoa- how did-? Yeah, that’ll work.”
C, I, L – Eric Larkin – This would be me. I am not an artist, but drawing stuff is fun. You should try it.
E, K – Chris Grun – You know the woolly mammoth in the store? He did that. He did Cthulhu in The Last Spookstore. He’s worked on (at minimum) ten movies you’ve seen, guaranteed. He’s a genius. He’s my cousin, poor guy.
M – Heather Basile – My fave. Heather does all the designs for Dwarf+Giant and many for Last Bookstore events. She can read my mind, which is a pretty handy talent in a designer.