Definitions

Sturgeon's Law

Sturgeon's Law

Sturgeon’s Law is the name given to two different adages derived from quotes by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon. The first (which was first stated in the story “The Claustrophile” in a 1956 issue of Galaxy) is “Nothing is always absolutely so”, while the second, and more famous, of these adages is: “Ninety percent of everything is crap”. Sturgeon himself commented that Sturgeon’s Law was originally “Nothing is always absolutely so”; the second adage was originally known as Sturgeon’s Revelation, formulated as such in his book review column for Venture. However, almost all modern uses of the term Sturgeon’s Law actually refer to the second adage, including the definition currently listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Origins

Both adages of Sturgeon’s Law are referenced in Theodore Sturgeon’s 1972 interview with David G. Hartwell (published in The New York Review of Science Fiction #7 and #8, March and April 1989).

The first reference to what was then called Sturgeon’s Revelation appears in the March 1958 issue of Venture Science Fiction Magazine, where Sturgeon wrote: “I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud”.

According to William Tenn, Sturgeon made this remark in about 1951, at a talk at NYU at which Tenn was present.

Interpretations

The meaning of Sturgeon’s Law was explicitly detailed by Sturgeon himself. He made his original remarks in direct response to attacks against science fiction that used “the worst examples of the field for ammunition”. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crud is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms do.

Sturgeon’s Law may be regarded as an instance of the Pareto principle.

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