On Science Fiction

Isaac Asimov

Stop and Think

Question 1: What is the parallel drawn between myths and legends of the past and science fiction?

Answer: Both mythology and science fiction cater to the same human fancy, i.e. controlling the universe. In case of myths and legends, some super human or a combination of human and animal is portrayed as too powerful, beyond the scope of human imagination. In science fiction, some tool or technology is portrayed as having supreme power which can be capable of chaning the universe.

The goals of both the genres were same, i.e. decpiction of life as we don’t know it. Both fulfilled the same need, i.e. satisfaction of longing for wonder.

Question 2: What gives science fiction its validity?

Answer: Science fiction gets validity due to the fact that most of the people now understand that certain basic laws govern the universe rather than some gods or demons, as was earlier believed.

Question 3: Which literary work does the author have in mind when he refers to ‘Open Sesame’ or the conecpt of winged horses or flying carpets?

Answer: Arabian Night

Understanding the Text

Question 1: What makes for the distinction between the various genres of fiction – ‘a sports story’, ‘a Western story’, ‘a jungle story’ and science fiction?

Answer: A sports story must have some competitve activity, generally athletic in nature. A Western story must be based on the land of the America, with cowboys in hats, on some sort of adventure. A jungle story must be full of exotic uncetainties of a tropical jungle. A science fiction must have environmnet and gizmos of futuristic world, roughly based on some scientific concept. If a sports story is played in the background of some expolanet then it becomes a sports story wrapped in science fiction.

Question 2: How does Asmiov establish that John Campbell was wrong in his opinion that is it not possible for a science fiction mystery to be fair to a reader in the same way as a classical mystery is?

Answer: John Cambell was of the opinion that it was impossible to write a science fiction mystery. Asimov thinks otherwise and shares examples in which scientific concepts have been used to advance a story or to impart some mystical power to the protagonist. He gives an example for some novel of Sherlock Holmes. In this example, the protagonist talks about Q-ray which enables him to see certain things beyond the scope of vision of a normal human. We know that Q-ray does not exist in scientific realm, yet readers can find it fascinating in the setup of a typical Sherlock Holmes novel.

Question 3:What are the pitfalls that the writer of science ficiton mystery must guard agains?

Answer: There are dangers of using science in a mystery because some mystery writers do not know the concepts of science. For example, John Dickinson Carr revealed in a book that he did not know the difference between the element antimony and its compound antimony potassium tartarate. In another book he tells that he did not know the difference between carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. These instances show that a mystery writer, without a knowledge of science, can come with bloopers while using science in a story.

Talking About the Text

Question 1: Imagination and fantasy help human beings to speculate upon the possible explanations for the complexity and unpredictability of the phenomena in the universe.

Answer: We know a lot about the universe now but our knowledge is still minuscule compared to the vastness of the universe. Man has always been wondering about the complexity and unpredictability of the universe. It was human imagination and fantasy which must have helped humans to discover more about the universe. Mythologies are replete with copious mentions of extra-terrestrial life, airborne vehicles, ultimate weapons, etc. In due course of time, these fantasies must have kindled the urge to explore more about the universe and its various phenomena.

Question 2: The difference that science and technology have made to everyday life today was visualised in science fiction fifty years ago.

Answer: According to author, science fiction made its appearance around 1800. This was the time when majority of people were able to understand some basic concepts of science. We can find many stories from the nineteenth century in which space travel and wireless telecommunication have been talked about. Some of the scientists may have got inspiration from those stories. So, it can be said that the difference that science and technology have made to everyday life today was visualised in science fiction not 50 years ago but about 200 years ago.


Question 1: Discuss the author’s attitude towards the pre-scientific imagination and the tone he aodpts while talking about it.

Answer: The author is appreciative of pre-scientific imagination. He draws parallels between pre-scientific imagination and science fiction in terms of catering to the human need of a desire for wonder. So, we can say that the author’s tone is that of affirmation and praise for pre-scientific imagination.

Question 2: Observe how the paragraph, as a form, has been used in the essay. Some paragraphs consist of just one sentence. What purpose do you think the author had in putting them in this manner?

Answer: Following is examples of two paragraphs composed of one sentence each.

That, however, only means that writing a science fiction mystery is difficult; it does not mean that it is conceptually impossible as John Campbell thought.

After all, it is as perfectly possible to cling to the rules of the game in science fiction mysteries as in ordinary ones.

In the first paragraph, the author comes to a conclusion to nullify Campbell’s belief. In the second paragraph, the author further elaborates on his findings about possibility of writing science fiction mystery.

The author has used this kind of structure to emphasise a particular point.

Question 3: Mark the linkers used by the author to conncet the point he makes in one paragraph with that in the next. For example, Let me explain the differnece that makes in the last line of para 1 of Seciton II. These are called discourse markers or discourse signalers.

Answer: By using this setence (Let me explain the difference that makes..), the author is linking the examples in the next paragraph with his premise in the first paragraph.

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