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Entry updated 25 September 2023. Tagged: Theme.

Newcomers to sf are occasionally dismayed by its jargon. Certain concepts have become so useful in sf (and also in talking about it) that they tend to be referred to – especially by Genre-SF writers – in a kind of shorthand and without explanation. Many receive entries in this volume, sometimes brief (see Credits; FTL), sometimes detailed (see Androids; Clones; Robots). Traditionally this encyclopedia has regarded the briefer entries, mainly devoted to definition, as "terminology" entries and the fuller entries as "theme" entries. This edition of the SF Encyclopedia contains very many entries of both kinds [see links below]. The old distinction between terms and themes is frequently blurred – as stated in the introduction to the second edition, "A terminology entry is effectively a short theme entry." – and often less than useful; we no longer attempt to maintain any clear dividing line between the categories.

Many but not all sf jargon words and phrases are now recognized by dictionaries. The ones to which we have chosen to give entries may be summarized as follows. First is a cluster of terms used by sf readers and critics to describe different aspects of the genre, including Cyberpunk, Dystopias, Edisonade, Game-Worlds, Genre SF, Hard SF, Heroic Fantasy, Lost Worlds, Monster Movies, New Wave, Planetary Romance, Science Fantasy, SF, Sci Fi, Scientific Romance, Scientifiction, Sharecrop, Shared Worlds, Slipstream SF, Soft SF, Space Opera, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Sword and Sorcery, Utopia. There are many more.

Second is a cluster of terms borrowed from outside sf, usually from science, but much used within sf though sometimes with modified meanings: Aliens, Androids, Antimatter, AI, Bionics, Black Holes, Clones, Cryogenics, Cryonics, Cultural Engineering, Cybernetics, Dimensions, Dyson Sphere, Entropy, ESP ... and so on through the alphabet. The occasional retro science buzzword is preserved in sf like a fly in amber, such as Homeostatic System (once a favourite of Philip K Dick's) from the pre-digital Computer era of Cybernetics.

The third cluster is of terms which either originate within sf or would be almost unknown were it not for sf: Alternate History, Ansible, Antigravity, Astrogation, Big Dumb Objects, BEM, Blaster, Corpsicle, Credits, Cyberspace, Cyborgs, Daleks, Death Rays, Dirac Communicator, Disintegrator ... and so on through the alphabet. Some once popular terms now read as the sf jargon of yesterday, like Conapt; or the day before yesterday, like Vidphone.

Finally come several useful-seeming coinages which are new in this edition, such as Alternate Cosmos and Science and Sorcery; or newly adopted, such as the not widely recognized (though dating from 1955) term Time Opera. Additionally, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant coined or adopted (sometimes controversially) a number of specialist terms of which some are relevant to sf and its borderlands. The entry The Encyclopedia of Fantasy contains a selected glossary of these terms, with links.

Sf fans also developed a specialist terminology in (especially) the earlier periods of Fandom, but this is quite distinct, generally, from the terminology of sf itself. It is discussed, though not exhaustively, under Fan Language.

All aspects of sf terminology were featured in the Oxford English Dictionary Science Fiction Citations project and the notable reference book which resulted: Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction (2007) by Jeff Prucher. The citations project has since been superseded by the no longer OED-affiliated Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction [see links below], launched in January 2021. [PN/DRL]


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