Sci-fi terminology — or, the community is not the readership

K Tempest Bradford has an interesting post on reclaiming the term sci-fi.

For those who don’t know–and there’s no real reason you should–within some circles, the term sci-fi has long been considered derogatory. I was told–as were many others–when I first started going to cons and hanging out online, that real readers of the stuff called it SF, and that sci-fi was a sort of insult, for reasons that are less clear to me now than they were then.

For a time I embraced SF as the One True Terminology, because I respected and wanted to belong to the community that used that terminology. And SF still comes more instinctively to me, but I have to agree that it’s time to chill out and let readers call these books we all read whatever they want to. The important thing is not the terminology, but that the books are getting read.

Several folks have made the reasonable point, though, that other communities claim their own terminology, so why shouldn’t science fiction readers do so too?

Thinking about that has led to me thinking about another question in turn: who are science fiction readers?

Once, science fiction readers were–or believed we were, I’m not sure which–a relatively small group of outsiders reading books that more mainstream people considered a bit weird and wanted little to do with.

It’s been a long time, though, since this was true. Science fiction has gone mainstream, and I now believe that the so-called science fiction community is actually a small subset of a much larger group of science fiction readers. The community may have the right to coin its own terminology–but the community is no longer synonymous with the readership–if it ever was. Not only is fandom far broader than those who go to cons or hang out in explicitly science fiction related places online–but the group of people who read science fiction is far broader than fandom in turn.

So within our small community, sure, we have the right to coin whatever terms we want. But we don’t, I think, have the right to tell the far larger group of readers outside our borders that they have to use our terminology, just because, well, we really want them to.

And insisting on that terminology, I think — well, it probably won’t stop people from reading science fiction if that’s what they love. But it might play a small role in helping to assure that our small community continues to grow smaller still, even as the readership of the science fiction — the sci-fi — books that community was built on continues to grow.

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