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I am writing a science fiction story (actually a screenplay for a film, but I imagine that for the purposes of this question the same rules apply) and I have been told that it isn't really science fiction. It's a series of vignettes with an overarching plot about the snowball effect, and is designed to not really have any single antagonist; the primary "vessel" for this is social media and its abuse. All of the social media used does currently exist (it's a film for a school project, so I get fair use). Does this... count as science fiction? If not, why?

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    Hi user124 and welcome to Writing.SE. Amadeus gave you a great answer but we ask here that you wait a full day or two before choosing a best answer. That will encourage others to answer, which is of course what you want. You can choose that accepted answer at any time, there's no time limit. Also, it's not required but if you like, you can choose a name for yourself. You can be anonymous or not, your choice, but you don't have to have user### anymore. Thanks for asking a question! – Cyn says make Monica whole Apr 7 at 23:10
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    it's a film for a school project, so I get fair use – I can only guess that this is about you thinking mentioning existing social media is relevant to copyright or similar. I do not see how this would be the case. If anything, writing about real social media may make you guilty of libel or product placement, but then fair use won’t protect you. – Wrzlprmft Apr 8 at 13:56
  • How have you seen other media work with Social Media? I was impressed with how Crazy Ex Girlfriend used it throughout, and that's a contemporary romance. – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Apr 8 at 14:00
  • This question, actually, highlights a more generic question: "What differentiates sci-fi and literary fiction?" I have yet to see a comprehensive answer to it anywhere (@Amadeus' answer is getting there, imho). Many other subgenres are traditionally classified as Sci-Fi, like Disaster, Apocalyptic, Alternative History and even Thriller, even though the stories may not feature any non-existing science, finished engineering or supernatural events. – Alexander Apr 8 at 17:14
  • @Alexander - To me, "science fiction" refers to plot elements. "Literary fiction" is a value judgment that readers make (This work deals with important themes") or that authors do ("I'm writing about important themes.") The two can easily overlap. – Obie 2.0 Apr 9 at 12:28
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It isn't science fiction, it is just Contemporary fiction, aka Realistic fiction.

A Science Fiction story must rely heavily on some non-existing tech or some reasonably plausible guess at a futuristic development; like being visited by aliens, or discovering them.

In some scenarios (about the future, or space operas, etc) there is a lot of this; in others it can be just one thing; e.g. a time-travel story may have only one piece of non-existing tech (the time machine).

The NEW tech (or discovery) must be central to the story line and what happens, e.g. in Star Wars, FTL space travel, light sabers, sentient robots and sentient aliens are all central to the plot. In Men In Black, only a little new tech is important, but aliens are central to the plot.

It isn't "science fiction" if it is about science but the science employed is not fictional; it is what we already know, you offer no surprises or eye-opening innovations on the tech front, or about the future.

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    Note though that "near future" science fiction does exist. The concepts may already be here, and even the basic technologies - the novel simply takes it to one plausible conclusion. "Interface" by Neal Stephenson is a good example. – Graham Apr 8 at 0:38
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    @Graham Sure. But "taking it to one plausible conclusion" is the key. I think, if I set a novel ten years from now, but the story wasn't about some new tech and instead was just a love story with faster iPhones and self-driving taxis, I shouldn't call it SciFi; because it would be panned as boring by somebody looking for "fiction about new scientific developments". – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Apr 8 at 10:45
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    @Graham Even "near future" science fiction is expected to discuss some future development which might be conceivably just around the corner but which is not reality yet. Social media hate mobs destroying people's lifes for no good reason is nothing new. We already have that for several years. It would only be SF if some technological or social development would make this problem a lot worse than it already is. – Philipp Apr 8 at 13:07
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    A good example I can think of for Sci-fi that does use near future aspects (and significantly social media in many of the stories) would be Black Mirror. Many of the episodes take place in what is essentially our time and our technology, with a few differences that usually set the theme for the episode. – JMac Apr 8 at 14:39
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    @Amadeus Don't forget that Star Wars is not sci-fi, by the definitions of sci-fi. It's space opera, which is to say it's straight-up fantasy with futuristic decorations. Not only could it have been done as straight fantasy - it has been, many times over. And not only that, Lucas is perfectly upfront about which fantasy sources he took all his various elements from. R2D2 and C3PO, for instance, are direct copies of characters from The Hidden Fortress. – Graham Apr 8 at 21:39
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Social media is no longer sci-fi

In years gone past concepts like the internet would be considered sci-fi. Many book exist which use digital communication on a global scale as part of a sci-fi setting. Oxford Living Dictionary defines science fiction as:

fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.

20, 10 or, to some degree, even 5 years ago it would have been difficult to imagine a single network or service having as much control over our lives as facebook does today. A setting that used such a network would have been considered sci-fi or at least dystopian as little as 5 years ago, but wouldn't be today.

For example consider the novels Feed (2002) and The Circle (2013) both books deal with an overarching network connection with control over our daily life, set in the not too distant future. Feed is a distinctly sci-fi novel, written when the internet was still relatively new and the idea of a network like that is a major technological advance and social change. The Circle is slightly less sci-fi and more dystopian or alternate reality as the technology and social structure are less distant from reality at the time of writing.

Move forward another 6 years to today. The concept of a social network is not longer futuristic and required no technological advances or social change. They already exist and writing on them would be more closely considered social commentary than alternate reality.

In conclusion; it would have been sci-fi if you wrote it 10 years ago. Today it is just fiction.

  • Not even just fiction, such a story today would almost certainly stand as social commentary — a genre rife with potential of its own, in the right author's hands. Though, of course, any such story is practically destined to be very much "of the moment". Whereas one of the best things about really great sci-fi is the timelessness it can achieve, remaining relevant and interesting even long after "real world" technology has surpassed its fiction! – FeRD Apr 8 at 15:17
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    @FeRD Agreed, i mention that in my second last paragraph. It just didn't make as snappy a closing. – linksassin Apr 9 at 2:12
  • So you did! My apologies, I get a D- in reading comprehension. – FeRD Apr 9 at 2:22
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I wouldn't really consider a story science fiction if the science and technology in the story exists entirely within the confines of reality today. For it to count, some aspect of the technology in the story would need to be more advanced or significantly different compared to what currently exists today.

Tom Scott actually has a lot of videos outlining sci-fi-themed hypothetical scenarios relating to social media and the internet, so here are some examples, along with my view on whether they seem like science fiction:

Doesn't feel like science fiction (rather, just fiction):

Feels like science fiction:

  • I would also include the Earworm video in this list – Dmitry Kudriavtsev Apr 8 at 23:43
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    @Dmitry Kudriavtsev oh right, that one was good. – ahiijny Apr 9 at 3:25

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