What Puts the "nauchnaja" in "nauchnaja fantastika"?

Heidi LeRette-Kauffman, University of Chicago

Since the times when science fiction started to appear regularly in Russian journals and book shops, roughly since 1890, the terms "fantastika" (fantasy, fantastic fiction) and "nauchnaja fantastika" (the Russian term for science fiction) have been applied to works of science fiction interchangeably. Nevertheless, there remains between nauchnaja fantastika and "nenauchnaja" or "chistaja" fantastika a distinction acknowledged yet not fully explained by existing scholarship on Russian science fiction. To clarify this distinction in Russian science fiction, I will examine the formative stage of Russian science fiction, from the 1890s to the 1917 revolution, when use of the term "nauchnaja fantastika" began. Using one representative story each from the science fiction and supernatural fantasy of this era (L. Afanas'ev's "Puteshestvie na Mars" and A. Ivanov's "Stereoskop"), I will approach this problem using Sam Delany's idea that science fiction has a uniquely subjunctive narrative, i.e., science fiction is read as events that might well happen in the world outside of the novel (the world inhabited by the author and the assumed reader) (Delany, 1971). To this definition I will add, from Darko Suvin's poetics of science fiction, that there must also exist a "novum," Suvin's term for a dominant element in the story that does not coincide with the mutual knowledge of the physical world inhabited by the author and the assumed reader (Suvin, 1979). This addition separates science fiction from naturalistic fiction. I will argue that although fantastic fiction also possesses a novum, it does not have the same kind of subjunctive sense as science fiction does. My paper will illustrate this difference by how the "nova" in the example tales, e.g. transportation devices from each story (a spaceship and a stereoscope), contribute to or detract from each tale's sense of real possibility (Delany's subjunctivity).


Delany, Sam. "About Five Thousand, One Hundred Seventy-Five Words," in SF: The Other Side of Realism. Ed. T. Clareson, pp. 130-146. Bowling Green: Bowling Green U Popular Press, 1971.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. New Haven: Yale U Press, 1979.