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Although the conventions of this volume obscure the fact, this entry will discuss the use of the letters "s" and "f" both as a popular abbreviation for "science fiction" and as a proposed critical term in its own right.  Today, it is normally written either "sf" or "SF," although variant forms like "S.F." or "s-f" have been common in the past; it is pronounced "ess-eff."

As an abbreviation, "sf" has a long history, initially appearing in the same first issue of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES (June, 1929) where the term "science fiction" made its modern debut: a reader's letter there suggested "The S.F. Magazine" as one possible title for the magazine.  For most commentators, "sf" is simply a convenience, employed either as a space-saving convention (as in this volume) or used alternately with "science fiction" for no apparent reason other than variety.

In the 1960s, however, Judith MERRIL's SF: The Best of the Best (1967) essentially proposed "sf" as a new, more general term to replace "science fiction": "Science fiction as a descriptive label has long since lost whatever validity it might once have had . . . . SF (or generically, s-f) allows you to think science fiction if you like, while I think science fable or scientific fantasy or speculative fiction, or (once in a rare while. . .) science fiction."  "Sf" was soon adopted by several academic critics, most notably Darko SUVIN, who in Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction (1988) called "sf" an "indispensable acronym."  By labeling "sf" an "acronym" (a word formed from the initial letters of other words), Suvin indicates that he regards "sf" not as an abbreviation but as a new word (though Suvin is wrong, since acronyms are spelled so they can be pronounced, using added vowels if needed; therefore, a true acronym derived from "science fiction" would be spelled, perhaps, "esef").  Employed with such a belief, "sf" represents an attempt to escape from the established meaning and implications of the term "science fiction," and the exclusive use of "sf" in publications like SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES (co-founded by Suvin) thus has ideological overtones.  It is safe to say, though, that most writers and readers are unaware of these implications and simply use "sf" to mean "science fiction"; that is the position of this volume's editors, who have in all editions included "sf—science fiction" in their "Checklist of Abbreviations." (GW)

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