Science Fiction or Not?

Popular Scholarly Definitions of Science Fiction:

Science Fiction is the branch of literature that deals with the effects of change on people in the real world as it can be projected into the past, future, or to distant places. It often concerns itself with scientific or technological change, and it usually involves matters whose importance is greater than the individual or the community; often civilization or the race itself is in danger” (2). Gunn, James.

“Science Fiction is that class of prose narrative treating of a situation that could not arise in the world we know, but which is hypothesised on the basis of some innovation in science or technology, or pseudo-science or pseudo-technology, whether human or extra-terrestrial in origin” (18). Amis, Kingsley.

“SF is distinguished by the narrative dominance or hegemony of a fictional ‘novum’ (novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic” (67). Suvin, Darko. 

Contemporary Ideas About SF:

-new and unfamiliar environment: SF novels are set in space, in an alternative universe, in the far future

-postulates about the existence of extraterrestrial life or alternative universes; frequently drops the reader into such worlds in medias res, allowing the reader to discover the inner workings of the novel without the benefit of an explanation or a guide

-discusses the effect of technology upon man in the future: will technology lead to an increase in the quality of life, will it become a tool for the powerful to use against the weak, will it develop a consciousness of its own?

-considers the possible after-effects of modern issues: the impact of man on Earth’s environment (global warming), the impact of nuclear war or nuclear winter, the impact of runaway capitalism and subsequent revolution of the marginalized

 Flatland‘s SF Attributes

-the otherworldly journey or adventure: A Square travels through the dimensions to a variety of different universes of which he was previously unaware, including Pointland, Lineland, and Spaceland

-the existence of a novum, as defined by Suvin: the innovation of non-Euclidean geometry and its impact on Victorian ability to grasp the possibility of other dimensions was a crucial part of Flatland’s conception

-an extraterrestrial or God-like character, who understands the world and sees beyond it: the Sphere claims his identity as an Other who’s origin is outside of A Square’s universe, and has knowledge beyond what A Square is at first capable of understanding

-the overall “strangeness” of the text: its lack of humanoid characters and its discussion of alternate dimensions and universes

Flatland‘s Non-SF Attributes

-some introductions to the text that emphasize the novel’s instructional purpose: Banesh Hoffman’s 1952 Dover edition intro states “this is no trifling tale of science fiction”

-how does the author’s intent affect genre categorization?: Abbott’s potential goals in writing Flatland as postulated by various scholars were to teach math, to critique Victorian Catholicism and Christianity, to support Natural Christianity and Science working as one, to condemn the use of imagination in science, or to applaud the use of imagination, none of which fit the definitions given or contemporary opinions on SF requirements


Overall, we consider Flatland to be SF. However, we agree that were there a “mathematical fiction” genre, we feel that would be a better fit for the novel, as there would be less clash over Flatland‘s intructional capabilities.

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