Listen up, cadets. Today, you’re going to receive the biggest shock of your time here at the Richthofen Zero-Gee Flight Academy.

Star Wars is not science fiction – as decreed by the finest of our aces, Viper Pilot.

So say we all.

I love Star Wars (IV, V & VI) just as much as the next guy. But it’s nothing more than an action movie in space. It’s commonly described as a western by those who consider themselves connoisseurs of sci-fi and cinema. Why is that, though? Simple: proper science fiction should tell us stories about technology and how it affects us. How can you have science fiction without the science? The laser beams and hyperdrives of George Lucas’ masterpiece are merely props. They neither influence nor shape the story at all. Lightsabers aren’t even physically possible!

Golden age science fiction often told us stories about how space travel would open up a new pioneering age for mankind – tales of taming the jungles of Venus or detailing the hazards of life in space. As the genre matured, the stories grew from simply being tales about how man would get into space (and survive the trip), to exploring the politics and logistics of keeping star-spanning empires intact. Classics like Robert Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold the Moon falls into the former of those camps, while Isaac Asimov’s Foundation set the benchmark for tales of galactic empire.

Much early science fiction gave us hope for a brighter future where technology would free us from the mother planet, but the stories of science fiction can be warnings as well. Gene Roddenberry envisioned a future where the benefits of technology removed barriers of class and race (Kirk and Uhura kiss – ZOMG!), while Cyberpunk novels warn us about the world we might end up with if we don’t reign in those who abuse technology.

If we stick to the definition that science fiction is about science and its interaction with humanity, science fiction need not take place in the future. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling‘s astoundingly good novel The Difference Engine speculates what the British Empire of the Victorian Era might have been had Charles Babbage been able to successfully build his difference engine. As much as it pains me, I guess that kind of means Wild Wild West is science fiction too.

Stay tuned for some ranting and raving about what is and isn’t – according to Viper Pilot – science fiction.