Can you please explain and summarize the following excerpt from Darko Suvin's "Estrangement and Cognition," published in Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction?

"2.2. SF is, then, a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author's empirical environment.

"Estrangement differentiates SF from the 'realistic' literary mainstream extending from the eighteenth century into the twentieth. Cognition differentiates it not only from myth, but also from the folk (fairy) tale and the fantasy. The folktale also doubts the laws of the author's empirical world, but it escapes out of its horizons and into a closed collateral world indifferent to cognitive possibilities. It does not use imagination as a means of understanding the tendencies latent in reality, but as an end sufficient unto itself and cut off from the real contingencies. The stock folktale accessory, such as the flying carpet, evades the empirical law of physical gravity—as the hero evades social gravity—by imagining its opposite. This wish-fulfilling element is its strength and its weakness, for it never pretends that a carpet could be expected to fly—that a humble third son could be expected to become king—while there is gravity. It simply posits another world beside yours where some carpets do, magically, fly, and some paupers do, magically, become princes, and into which you cross purely by an act of faith and fancy. Anything is possible in a folktale, because a folktale is manifestly impossible. Furthermore, the lower-class genre of folktale was from the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries on transformed into the more compensatory, and often simplistic, individualist fairytale. Therefore, SF retrogressing into fairytale (for example, 'space opera' with a hero-princess-monster triangle in astronautic costume) is committing creative suicide.

"Even less congenial to SF is the fantasy (ghost, horror, Gothic, weird) tale, a genre committed to the interposition of anti-cognitive laws into the empirical environment. Where the folktale is indifferent, the fantasy is inimical to the empirical world and its laws. The thesis could be defended that the fantasy is significant insofar as it is impure and fails to establish a superordinated maleficent world of its own, causing a grotesque tension between arbitrary supernatural phenomena and the empirical norms they infiltrate. Gogol's Nose is significant because it is walking down the Nevski Prospect, with a certain rank in the civil service, and so on; if the Nose were in a completely fantastic world—say H. P. Lovecraft's—it would be just another ghoulish thrill. When fantasy does not make for such a tension between the supernatural and the author's empirical environment, its monotonous reduction of all possible horizons to Death makes of it just a subliterature of mystification. Commercial lumping of it into the same category as SF is thus a grave disservice and rampantly sociopathological phenomenon."

Expert Answers

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In this passage, Suvin attempts to further differentiate science fiction from all other genres. "Necessary and sufficient conditions" means that science fiction has rules that make it the genre that it is. These rules are specific and exclusive to science fiction, making science fiction its own special genre. Several of these rules are as follows.

First, science fiction is different from realism because it incorporates estrangement, the literary device of timelessness.

Second, science fiction is different from myth because it handles timelessness in a different way: with changes that coincide with the story's setting.

Third, it is different from the folk (or fairy) tale because science fiction uses the literary device of imagination differently. Whereas the world of the folk tale is impossible, the science fiction world is most likely a possible, imagined future.

And finally, it is different from fantasy because science fiction is based on science and possibility, whereas fantasy is rooted in the supernatural. Fantasy goes even further into the realm of impossibility than the folk tale does. Some things in a folk tale don't adhere to how our reality works, but fantasy turns reality upside down completely. Fantasy rejects reality. The folk tale doesn't care about it. Science fiction, though, works with reality in a new, imagined way.

Fantasy, like these aforementioned genres, deals with the past or present, whereas science fiction deals with the present and future. A work of fantasy is a world of the impossible, whereas science fiction is the world of the improbable. This is a huge difference. Suvin is against the conflation of all these categories, which he believes are their own separate entities.

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