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An Articulation Of The Idiocy of "SyFy"

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | August 24, 2009 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | August 24, 2009 |

There’s an old argument amongst particular geeks about the difference between “Sci-Fi” and “Science Fiction.” The sides of the argument can be summarized as such:

  1. “Sci-Fi” is not the same as “Science Fiction,” the former is idiotic and unintelligent, the latter intelligent and thoughtful.
  2. “Sci-Fi” is not the same as “Science Fiction,” the former is mindless entertainment, the latter more literary, but there’s nothing wrong with either.
  3. [shrug] … what’s the difference, ya’ll should lighten up.

The point that the first side is trying to make is not (in their eyes) pedantic. They genuinely see even referring to great works of science fiction as “sci-fi” as insulting, that the shortening of the phrase is just more PR, ad agency simplification. It’s not just an abbreviation in the context of their argument. Eliminate “science” and “fiction” and you get unintelligible space fantasy with no grounding in the logic of science, and junk like “Ghost Hunters” peddled under the same generic label as true works of art. Science fiction is about exploring the human condition in situations outside of our current world, sci-fi is about explosions, aliens and robots. Yes, it’s arguing over a couple of words, but words are all literature is. To a degree, a couple of words are exactly the sort of thing writers should be fighting over.

So to celebrate the further disintegration of the intelligence of popular culture marked by the introduction of the “SyFy Channel,” we’ve got a panel from 1997 in which Harlan Ellison goes to town on the difference between “Sci-Fi” and “Science Fiction.” If you’re unfamiliar with Harlan Ellison, well, rectify that, he’s one of the greats. He’s also an atomic asshole, mercilessly and viciously wielding words like a laser guided chain saw. If he wrote movie reviews for us, there would probably be mass suicides of directors. His wikipedia entry has a section on “Controversies” as long as his section on “Bibliography,” and he’s been publishing for fifty years.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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