The Perfect Science Fiction Formula Forgotten?

I recently came across Hugo Gernsback’s formula for a perfect science fiction story: “75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science.

Stop for a moment. Think about that. And consider we’re talking about the founder of Amazing Stories a century ago with a reading public that had considerably less educational opportunities than today. During that era, relativity was new. Quantum mechanics was new. The expansion of the universe was new, as was the notion of galaxies outside our own. DNA was unknown and courts were rejecting evolution. Airplanes were new.

Of modern science fiction stories, I can think of almost none with as much as “25% science.” And I know most venues would reject a story I sent them if it had that much.

Much award winning “science fiction” I see these days has no science at all to speak of in it, let alone a whopping 25%.

The Science Channel shows Firefly episodes a lot, along with various UFO and alien shows like Discovery. The SyFy channel is all about Sharknado now (thankfully wrestling seems to have vanished from their lineup). There are still a few shows about science out there, but they seem pushed out and increasingly rare.

I’m on a few email lists with other “science fiction” writers, who share stories of selling their latest tales of vampires and historical warriors. Nothing wrong with that — I love a good fantasy story — but the percentage of science in the science fiction has seemed to drop to me everywhere.

I wonder how much of this is a reflection of our society and its interests today, as well as the artists it produces. I see dystopias are popular, generally taking place in oppressive futures where science has not helped make a better world. Have we had too much future shock? Have nuclear weapons, a less ambitious space program, and the reality that science is not the easiest thing to learn soured audiences on science-heavy science fiction?

Do we lump science fiction and fantasy together so often because they’re both full of magic and equally implausible?

I hope not.

I want to get back to reading and writing stories where science is a major player. Stories impossible without the science element. Stories about science.

Science is totally awesome, in my biased opinion. I want to read some of Hugo Gernsback’s “perfect” science fiction stories. The closest I’ve seen recently was The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s being produced as a big budget Hollywood movie. Maybe that’s all we need, a real sciencey science fiction winner, to set off a chain reaction.

I hope so.

What are the most perfect science fiction stories you’ve read or seen lately? I’d love to hear about them.

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  1. YES! I too yearn for real down to earth Sci Fi. I would love to see some brain storming and some creative stories! Many of the stories found in the SciFi mags are boring because often they are just preachy PC stuff masked as Sci Fi, or they are so high science tech. based that the average person cannot understand them. I would like to read a good story that I can talk with my friends about it.
    Thanks….Love your magazine by the way!


    1. “Preachy PC stuff”. I think, if you examine every SF story, with the possible exception of pulp adventure SF, you’ll find a “message”, PC or otherwise. I think you’re reading a bit too much into things.

      As for the science: it was John W. Campbell who suggested on several occasions, that SF reading required a certain kind of individual, that the literature was not accessible to the “masses”.

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