IGN's top 50 sci-fi TV shows that aren't actually sci-fi

by Paul William Tenny


I can't help it. The term science fiction has been so distorted over the decades that I actually heard someone call Lord of the Rings sci-fi before, and I can't stand it. Call it a pet peeve. You wouldn't call a bicycle an SUV, why would you call things that aren't sci-fi, sci-fi?

I won't go through IGN's entire list, because I don't have to. I can make this point with just a few examples.

Space: Above and Beyond
Great show, but not science fiction. Let's begin with the dictionary definition. The definition will vary from one dictionary to another, but they should all be close enough.

"Literary fantasy involving the imagined impact of science on society."

SAAB had it all if the popular, lazy definition is the one we're all going to accept. It had aliens, space ships, advanced technology, and was set in the future.

But that's hardly exploring "the imagined impact of science on society", is it? I've seen the entire series and there's no nuance here. Premise is not the same thing as 40 episodes of specific story telling, but trust me, it ain't there.

But that's a common theme with the abuse of this genre label. Aliens, space ships, and future-play -- if it has two out of three, people are going to call it sci-fi. SAAB was a great show, but it was nothing more than an action/drama series.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe
"Voltron featured a team of five young pilots commanding five robot lions which could be combined to form Voltron."

Do I even have to argue the point?

One of the best shows in the history of television, as far as I'm concerned. Falls prey to the "space ships/future" crap. There's not one ounce of science in the TV series. Nobody knows or seems to care how anything works, so it goes without saying that nobody explores "the imagined impact of science on humanity".

I'd give this one a pass of it were the film based on the series, Serenity.

But it's not. Good action, good drama. Pretty damn funny. But no science anywhere to be found.

Fringe promo image from Fox.

"Fringe" science isn't science, it's fantasy. Accessing the memories of the recently dead. Vibrating a bank vault wall at just the right frequency to walk through it (without vibrating yourself). Psychics. Pyrokinesis. Shape-shifting half human creatures with mercury for blood.

Does any of that sound like science to you? Not so much.

Stargate SG-1
Stargate definitely explored the impact of technology on mankind, but not really science. And they got a lot of things wrong. Wormholes wouldn't be one-way, it wouldn't take several seconds to travel through them (they are holes, not tunnels), it wouldn't take any more energy to create on that spans five feet than one that spans the known universe, etc. There's no such thing as "hyperspace". The advanced race of "ancients" could heal with a touch, move objects with their minds, etc. None of that will ever be possible regardless of what advancements in science may come.

For what it's worth, IGN did get it right with the new Outer Limits, but that's about it.

in Television


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