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In his 1980 introduction to Battlefield Earth, L. Ron Hubbard claims that the novel is a work of "pure science fiction" and then sets out to define that term. However...

Hubbard spends more time defining fantasy than he does science fiction, as if somehow the shade cast by the one will illuminate the other. And each time he starts to postulate a quality of science fiction, he then says it's insufficient and embarks on another reminisce. Once he gets into the concept of purity of genre by way of a roundabout rant on mistaking fantasy for sci-fi but never gets down to cases. After nine rambling pages of name-dropping and shade-throwing I'm left without any clear sense of what he thinks "pure science fiction" is, aside from Battlefield Earth.

What, in concise terms, is Hubbard's conception of "pure science fiction"?

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    Can you quote that definition? – muru Apr 13 '17 at 7:20
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    @muru The whole point of my question is that Hubbard doesn't provide a clear definition, but rather a collection of rambling musings and semi-concepts. I don't know what you want me to quote that would be useful without just copying most of the introduction. – BESW Apr 13 '17 at 9:53
  • Since you said he spent more time defining F than SF, I thought he did provide some definition of it. Looks like I was wrong. Anyway, for the interested user, this introduction is available online as a free chapter: battlefieldearth.com/introduction – muru Apr 13 '17 at 9:57
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    Ah, yeah. With Hubbard, time spent on a subject is not proportional to clarity. Thanks for the link! – BESW Apr 13 '17 at 10:01
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Let me start with this paragraph where Hubbard speaks of "imaginative fiction":

When you mix science fiction with fantasy you do not have a pure genre. The two are, to a professional, separate genres. I notice today there is a tendency to mingle them and then excuse the result by calling it “imaginative fiction.” Actually they don’t mix well: science fiction, to be credible, has to be based on some degree of plausibility; fantasy gives you no limits at all. [...] They are simply very different genres from a professional viewpoint.

And a little before that:

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.

That is why Hubbard spends so much time talking about fantasy. He's trying to distinguish science fiction from fantasy (hereafter SF and F) because he thinks there's a trend towards mixing genres and considering them SF. In his view, "pure" SF is any SF that doesn't have F elements in it. Towards the end, he says as much:

And as an old pro I assure you that it is pure science fiction. No fantasy. [...] Science is for people. And so is science fiction.

Other than that, best that I can tell, he seems satisfied by the dictionary definitions:

  1. Of SF:

    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.

    Note that, while he does say SF "has to be based on some degree of plausibility", that's a very subjective judgement, and since this definition doesn't use it, I think we can leave plausibility out of the equation.

  2. And for F:

    So fantasy could be called any fiction that takes up elements such as spiritualism, mythology, magic, divination, the supernatural, and so on.


Hubbard also stresses on science and SF being about people, but this isn't about defining SF. Instead it's about the point of science and SF:

[It] was no use to just send machines out for the sake of machines, [and] that there was no point in going into space unless the mission had something to do with people [...]

The point here is not that SF that's not about people isn't SF, but that such fiction has no point (just as science that doesn't have anything to do with people isn't not-science).


To summarise, as far as I can tell, Hubbard thinks that "pure" SF is fiction that has to do with material universe and sciences see 1 above and does not have elements of spiritualism, magic and other non-"material" phenomena see 2.

  • @BESW looks like my writing isn't any better than Hubbard's. What I understand from this is that, for him, pure SF is fiction that has to do with material universe and sciences (the definition quoted) and does not have elements of spiritualism, magic and other non-"material" phenomena. – muru Apr 13 '17 at 11:41
  • You quoted his line about "plausibility" but didn't include it in your conclusion; any particular reason? Also, do you think his closing remark that science fiction "is for people" is relevant? – BESW Apr 13 '17 at 11:57
  • @BESW about plausibility, since because he left it up in the air by saying "some degree of", making it rather more subjective than the rest. About the people bit, I considered it, but coming back to the passage on Campbell (which I didn't quote), I think his main complaint is that SF that's not about people is pointless, not that it isn't SF. – muru Apr 13 '17 at 12:01
  • Interesting... I think that'd be good to add as well; solid analysis doesn't just include the elements which contribute positively to an answer, but also explains why it's rejected other similar elements or which elements shape the negative space around the answer. – BESW Apr 13 '17 at 12:04

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