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On "scifi" versus "science fiction"

One of the things I learned pretty quickly when I was starting out as a writer is that around people who edit and write science fiction, you didn't call it "scifi" or "sci-fi" lest you mark yourself as unclueful (and probably unpublishable). It was fine to abbreviate science fiction as "SF" or "SpecFic", but not the dreaded skiffy (the snarky pronunciation of sci-fi by some curmudgeons).

Calling SF "sci-fi" was somewhere on the annoying faux pas spectrum between calling San Francisco "Frisco" around the city's natives and making dramatic spooky ghost noises after a horror writer told you what he/she wrote.

The decision of a certain network to call itself The SciFi Channel (and now, just SciFi) didn't seem to change things much.

However, in recent years I've been seeing increasing numbers of not just casual SF readers but writers referring to science fiction as "sci-fi".

Have times changed? Or have the old guard just given up trying to explain that sci-fi is seen as a bit of a condescending term amongst many people who write the stuff?

Edit: Yes, plenty of people who enjoy science fiction books, movies, and TV shows have always called the genre sci-fi. What I'm checking on is to see if it's become/becoming a socially acceptable term in the science fiction publishing community, because back in the day sci-fi was a loaded term that carried with it connotations of bug-eyed monsters, flying saucers, square-jawed spacemen and other oft-seen-as-juvenile tropes.


( 56 comments — Leave a comment )
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Apr. 11th, 2007 03:21 pm (UTC)
Skiffy? I've never heard that before. That sounds ... strained, like you're going out of your way to abbreviate, but the abbreviation is longer than the actual thing.
Apr. 11th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
Wikipedia's take on this is that skiffy is used humorously; when I've heard it used, it has been with deeply condescending snark. YMMV.

I'm just trying to get a feel for the ongoing social mores of the speculative fiction community 'cause I've sort of been head-down in writing.
Apr. 11th, 2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
making dramatic spooky ghost noises after a horror writer told you what he/she wrote

I never thought of that before as a behavior in which anyone would ever engage. Forewarned is forearmed and you have probably just saved me from assault charges if someone ever does this to me.

Thank you.
Apr. 11th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
Sooner or later, you'll be at a hotel where the horror convention has been paired up with an insurance salesman's convention, and something very similar to this will happen.

At Necon one year high school kids housed at the uni. for summer camp kept wandering up to us saying "You guys write that horror stuff? Tell us a spooooky story!"
(no subject) - kniedzw - Apr. 11th, 2007 03:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - las - Apr. 11th, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
I can see it now... - cucumberseed - Apr. 11th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: I can see it now... - las - Apr. 11th, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)
It depends. I'm on a message board for roleplayers, and about 75% of them call it "scifi" or "SF." But when I'm on Making Light, no one dares, unless they're referencing a science fiction lite something-or-other.

I think those who publish and write the stuff know better, but those who consume it, don't. Personally, I've taken to calling it "speculative fiction" in conversation, which can also refer to fantasy, but it sounds snooty enough that people think I mean something else entirely if they don't know what I'm talking about. I'm waiting for someone to ask me for a definition.
Apr. 11th, 2007 03:57 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've never been surprised when gamers, and people who watch Trek/BSG/SG1/etc. on TV refer to it as sci-fi, but I've run into more and more published writers who use the term to describe their work.

And therein lay my surprise, and query to the world :-)
(no subject) - alicetheowl - Apr. 11th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - las - Apr. 11th, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alicetheowl - Apr. 11th, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - las - Apr. 11th, 2007 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alicetheowl - Apr. 11th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
I think "sci-fi" is about as normalized and mainstream as it is ever going to get.
I can understand the snark, but it seems to be a bit over the top in this case. Is calling it "science fiction" really *that* much of an improvement?

The abbreviation actually still keeps a semblance of the actual word, unlike many abbreviations. Look at SF in your original post. If I saw SF on an email, I would assume it was talking about San Francisco, Sinn Fein, or the like.
Then there is speculative fiction...that obfuscates the genre, and would seem mean any writing that is a work of fiction. Sci-fi, at least to me, is distinct from fantasy, etc. It involves some aspect of technology, say the difference bewteen Xanth novels, and the Foundation series.

I do agree that the abbreviations are pretty bad in many cases though. We were watching a HGTV show, and they kept talking about "demo'ing" a house. No, not a demonstration of something, demolition. Very odd to hear.
Apr. 11th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
It's a given that reader/gamers/media fans call it sci-fi, because they always have, but at least in the past, people who are science fiction publishing professionals (and those who seek to become them) have avoided using sci-fi because it (at least in the past) carried with it a lot of connotations of cheesy rocketships and bug-eyed monsters.
(no subject) - elenuial - Apr. 11th, 2007 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - algedonic - Apr. 11th, 2007 05:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elenuial - Apr. 11th, 2007 05:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - algedonic - Apr. 11th, 2007 07:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stephen_dedman - Apr. 12th, 2007 02:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - algedonic - Apr. 11th, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
Which is exactly what I did, eventually, only I did it with this *smile* on my face. Ask anyone who's seen that particular smile. It ain't a precursor to prettiness;)

If I may add a serious response, though, to the question: I think it may be an indicator that a lot of writers who emerged in the field post-90s have given up the fight begun by the likes of Ellison, Gibson, and others who were (justifiably) determined to remove any juvenile associations that the everyday reader might have about the genre; in their opinions (which I'v always tended to agree with) calling it something like "sci-fi" summoned up old-trope images of spaceships, robots, laserguns, and all the space-opera trappings that are generally (mis)considered to be the whole of science/speculative fiction.

I think it's possible that the post-90s writers have given up fighting the label in order to, A) Continue to make a living so they can feed and house themselves and their families, and, B) Make sure that their work will at the very least continue to reach its target audience (though finding a wider audience is always good).

Then, of course, there's the argument that, as long as the work sells and is being read, why piss and moan about labels? My own novels are now no longer stamped with the word HORROR on their spines, but, rather, FICTION, and I'm good with that; those readers who know my work will seek it out regardless of where it sets on the B&N tree inside the store, and, perhaps (fingers crossed), people who otherwise would *not* have picked up my work because it was HORROR, might very well do so because it's no longer stamped with a label that, unfortunately, summons up mostly bad associations with the genre (thanks mostly to a lot of readers equating horror fiction with horror *movies* -- which generally suck the big red one).

Apr. 11th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)
I was a little late with my previous post; *I* was the guy who started off a story at Necon by saying, "Well, there once was this horror writer who was asked by a group of high-school kids to tell them something scary, and as he began telling his story, none of them noticed the way his hand slid slowly, almost imperceptibly, behind his back, where the sharpened machete waited for its blade to be baptized in the blood of virgins, or the stupid."

That may not be word for word, but it's fairly accurate.
(no subject) - kniedzw - Apr. 11th, 2007 05:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - las - Apr. 11th, 2007 04:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lastmoondance - Apr. 11th, 2007 05:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC)
Shades of nerd-dom! Since I was first captivated by NBC's STTOS reruns, I've always called it sci-fi.
Apr. 11th, 2007 04:37 pm (UTC)
I gotta say at SHU it never came up. Everyone was proud of whatever genre they wrote in and Sci-Fi was one of those happy monikers. Personally, I always called it Sci-Fi and was never embarrassed to call it that. I know it's getting taught at schools as Sci-Fi. I read the Lathe of Heaven and my professor never let us forget that it was a science fiction piece. I'm told there's even a science fiction class up here in U Maine.

BTW will you and Gary be at SHU this June?
Apr. 11th, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)
Gary certainly will be, but my being there depends on whether or not I can get off work.
Apr. 11th, 2007 05:33 pm (UTC)
I pretty much always call it Sci-Fi (pronounced Si Fi, rather than skiffy, which I hadn't heard before either) and have never been pulled up on it.

Then again not many people talk to me these days so there might be something in that too...

*puts two and two together*
Apr. 11th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
I was in a workshop with Ann Crispin a few years ago, and she made it clear it was not to be called "sci-fi."
Apr. 11th, 2007 06:44 pm (UTC)
Good to know. My initial thought was that it's probably best to never call your stuff sci-fi when submitting unless you know for sure the editor in question will react positively to the term.
Apr. 11th, 2007 05:56 pm (UTC)
In the UK, it still rarely is called Sci-Fi (and skiffy only with irony) in sercon and trufannish circles, at least. Certainly, when I came into fandom, in 1979, it wasn't used except by mediafans (which I also was, and am.) What you might call 'wider' fandom (people who, say, read the media-based pro mag SFX as the only real contact they have with fandom as such) will call it Sci-Fi. Media pros call it Sci-Fi. I haven't heard a pro writer, publisher or well known critic do this, though.
Apr. 11th, 2007 06:14 pm (UTC)
I use "science fiction" or "SF" (unless it's in a context where the reader might not undertand) in writing ... "speculative fiction" I use rarely since "sf" covers that just fine for me. If I am specifically referring to something retro or cheesy I might use "sci-fi", as in "the Phenomenauts are an excellent sci-fi themed band" ... I don't mean it as a derogative but rather as the subset of science fiction that involves rayguns, rocket-ships and BEMs, which I freakin' love :)

I'm probably a bit looser in conversation, depending on who I'm talking to and I've definitely used it at conventions, but I wouldn't use it when speaking to an author about their own work for example. "Skiffy" I've only used very occasionaly and never in conversation but agree it's mostly a jokey term.
Apr. 11th, 2007 07:14 pm (UTC)
The trouble is, though, that "SF" is an ambiguous term-- I learned it as an abbreviation of spec fic, not science fiction. Perhaps what I learned was only a marginal usage, though, and it's generally synonymous to science fiction?

In any case, I use sci-fi most generally because it is a)convenient and short, and b) widely understood and not pretentious.

This is the first I've heard of it being a faux-pas. Of course, I'm not in-group, but I've never been particularly fond of cliques anyway!
Apr. 11th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
Hmm... although come to think, if I'm writing a letter or query that is in any way formal or to someone I don't know, I'll write out "science fiction"; in the way a violinist might call his axe a "fiddle", but isn't going to put that on a resume. But this is a more general formal practice against nicknames.
(no subject) - cmdrsuzdal - Apr. 11th, 2007 07:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - las - Apr. 11th, 2007 07:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2007 10:05 pm (UTC)
Many of us don't have a clue that "sci-fi" is condescending at all. It's just a genre definition for me, albeit a rather porous one.
Apr. 14th, 2007 05:35 am (UTC)
(Found my way here via http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/004971.html)

While I am aware that it is considered a faux pas in some circles, nobody has ever given me a good explanation of why. Consequently, I don't really care. I'll call it science fiction, sf, sci-fi, skiffy, or whatever else fits the context. I don't really like "speculative fiction", though. Seems vague and somewhat deceptive to me.
Apr. 14th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
Interesting (and thanks for the heads-up on the link).

Do you find "speculative fiction" to be vague and somewhat deceptive when it's being used to describe cross-genre fiction that contains elements of horror and fantasy as well as science fiction? Because that's how I use the term; if I'm writing something that's squarely science fiction I'll call it that, but a lot of it is a genre mashup.
(no subject) - ghostwes - Apr. 14th, 2007 03:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - las - Apr. 14th, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ghostwes - Apr. 16th, 2007 06:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellymccullough - Apr. 14th, 2007 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - las - Apr. 14th, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellymccullough - Apr. 14th, 2007 08:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 14th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC)
So, I stumbled on this iteration of the sci-fi/skiify/SF/Science Fiction discussion, via Frank Wu. Thanks for the discussion. I posted the following response over at the Wyrdsmiths Blog:

This one fascinates me. I personally use sci-fi, SF, science fiction, and speculative fiction pretty interchangeably, and I've never understood the conniptions some folks have about the term sci-fi. This is despite the facts that I'm a third generation fan, that I've been going to conventions for 25 years, and that I write and publish in the field.

I really don't get it. Yes, some people use the term to denigrate the field. However, for those who think science fiction is a waste of time, it's not about terminology it's about content. They're going to dump on science fiction no matter what you call it. In my experience they also use the term science fiction to denigrate the field. If you talk to them about SF, they assume you mean San Francisco until you explain it to them, then they dump on SF. Likewise speculative fiction.

This whole debate seems to me to be a sterling way to let the people who hate the field define the way you should talk about it, and to turn the term sci-fi into something that people who are on the pro science fiction side of the fence use to bash each other over the head with. In short: getting worked up over sci-fi seems terribly counterproductive.
Apr. 14th, 2007 05:19 pm (UTC)
The funny (read: frustrating) thing about people who dump on science fiction - or horror, for that matter - is that they often haven't actually taken the step of familiarizing themselves with the actual content before they start with the dumping; they look at derivatives like movies or TV shows and say, "Well, that was dumb, so the books are bound to be dumb, too!"

I think that's where the stepping-away-from-scifi came from: an attempt to say to the world "this isn't like the B movies you hated."

(no subject) - ghostwes - Apr. 16th, 2007 06:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - las - Apr. 16th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
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