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Kate kate_nepveu
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A Theorem of Genre

I propose the following theorem (with corollary) regarding discussion of science fiction as a genre.

(ETA: Now revised for clarity! Plus a tentative title, and a suggested additional theorem.)

Theorem of Science Fiction Denial:

If an artist makes a point of asserting that a creative work is not science fiction, then (1) the odds that the work is science fiction increase to a near-certainty, while (2) the odds that the work's science fiction elements (e.g., world-building, science) are good decrease dramatically. Nb.: the work as a whole may still have artistic merit.


If an artist makes a point of asserting that a creative work is not science fiction because "science fiction is X", then the statement "science fiction is X" is almost certainly wrong.

Proposed Theorem of Genre Denial:

Take the above theorem (and corollary), replace "science fiction" with "genre," and remove the parenthetical.

* * *

prior comments, edits (kept because otherwise comments wouldn't make sense):

Comments, discussion, thoughts on snappy names? (While I believe it's traditional to name theorems after their originators, I rather doubt that I am the originator; moreover, "Nepveu Theorem" is awfully hard to properly spell or say.)

[Edit post-morning-dog-walk: I strongly suspect that this is generalizable to just "genre", but don't have the background to demonstrate it. For fantasy, the only example that's coming to mind is Phillip Pullman, and while the corollary definitely holds for him, I don't remember enough about the ways the His Dark Materials trilogy failed to say if the theorem does.]

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Hear, hear.

I would get snotty and call it Atwood's Law, but I'm not suggesting you should get snotty that way.

I'd prefer not to specify a particular person, because it's _so_ common.

This was provoked by _Firefly_ DVD extras, for instance.

But it's a thought.

(Deleted comment)
Theorem of Science Fiction (or Genre) Denial might work. Thanks!

(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - adrian_turtle, 2005-05-23 01:33 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-23 01:51 pm (UTC)(Expand)
"Nepveu" theorem seems entirely reasonable as a name, and you may well be the first to state it in this form.

(You could always include a pronunciation note somewhere, if you're worried.)

Well, we'll see. While I've enough ego to like the idea of putting my name on it, I also vaguely and inexplicably like having "knows how to pronounce my name" be a reasonable filter for "met in person." Weird, I know.

Obrasfwr-j: - jsbowden, 2005-05-23 12:27 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I think we need to start a law/theorem/axiom registry. Just the other day, the internet invoked Godwin's Law over something on the Senate floor, but none of the senators knew to invoke that law themselves.

(I happen to know Snacky, the originator of Snacky's Law, quite well. It is like hanging out with Socrates! Except for the poison part.)

Snorfle. I don't know if political debate would be *better* if done by Usenet-style conventions, but it would certainly be more interesting.

I'd never heard of Snacky's Law before, but it's the kind of thing you can't understand how you lived without once you've heard it.

(no subject) - veejane, 2005-05-23 05:36 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cofax7, 2005-05-23 06:44 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Pullman doesn't think he writes fantasy?!?! Is this the same person who writes about children travelling between alternate earths and panzered bears?

He doesn't like fantasy, doesn't think it says useful or true things.

Oh, but he really really likes Terry Brooks.

(no subject) - cofax7, 2005-05-23 06:45 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-23 06:52 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cofax7, 2005-05-24 12:02 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-24 12:07 am (UTC)(Expand)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-23 03:14 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Hmm, I argue that Terms of Service isn't science fiction: there's a unicorn in it, though only on an inn sign, and there's no sign of a spaceship. I'll admit that it's fantasy, though, but only barely.

What's the context for the statement? I had in mind defensive interview or promotional type statements, which is usually when you hear denials.

I may need to tweak the wording, or put in a provision that if you're simultaneously admitting to being in another genre, then you're exempt; or perhaps this is why it should be generalized to all genres. Hmm.

(no subject) - pariyal, 2005-05-23 05:17 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-23 05:21 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - pariyal, 2005-05-23 07:12 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-23 07:24 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - pariyal, 2005-05-23 07:27 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-23 07:51 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(Deleted comment)
Hah, I thought you'd like that.

(Deleted comment)
Yeah, I've decided for modesty on the name. I think Genre Denial and Science Fiction Denial are different things, though, so I'd changed it to two.

I think the new edit, "If an artist makes a point of asserting that a creative work is not science fiction," might address what you're saying. I mean, there's a difference between answering a question like that with a more specific statement than a genre label, and blurting out, "But it's not science fiction! Really! It's something completely different and better that just happens to be set in the future and have spaceships!"

Does that make sense?

(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-23 08:17 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-23 08:33 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Here's a thought: doesn't this apply to criticism as well? Because I've seen multiple reviews that either miss entirely the genre-ness of a work, or state flatly that the work in question isn't genre because it's XYZ, subtext being that it's good -- or that it "transcends the genre".

Transcending genre carries with it the standing implication that something that satisfies all the genre elements cannot be a work of literary merit; to be a work of merit, it must Transcend.

::hisses, feebly::

Oooh, good point. Though we might have to limit it to mainstream reviewers--I've been known to assert that J.D. Robb's books, for instance, are more usefully thought of as mysteries with a futuristic background that permits neat gadgets (to be fair, there are fans that disagree with me).

(no subject) - kgbooklog, 2005-05-24 02:10 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-05-24 02:18 pm (UTC)(Expand)
OhgodsDorisLessingthankyouforrelieffromthepainthankyouthankyou *inhales* Um. Yeah. Thanks.

Heh. That's one I've managed to avoid.