Okay, I may have cheated with that title a bit. So sue me.
There are about as many science-fiction SUBGENRES as there are sci-fi novels out there. Maybe more. Maybe I’m wrong. Whatever. There’s plenty of them, and they’re only increasing in numbers every time an author comes up with something weird and fantastic and people can’t categorize it (apparently this makes hardcore fans twitchy), and then a bunch of fan fiction happens and a few spin-offs and ta-da! New subgenre.
Basically, you can write absolutely anything you can think of, and as long as it has ONE science-fictional element in it (can be setting, a piece of tech, the time, or a character), it’s considered science-fiction.
So. Sci-fi subgenres — maaaaany of them. Huzzah!
Without having the insane ambition to list them all, here’s a grand compilation of science-fiction subgenres. It’s only for quick reference purposes. I may have been high on diaper-fumes and sleep deprivation when I compiled this, so be advised.
Stories where people are plucked out of their comfortable lives by little
green gray men in flying saucers, and probed with strange tools.
The government is actually working with lizard people from outer space to make your life miserable. But you knew that already.
What’s that up there? Is it a bird? Is it superman drying his red panties?
No, it’s a fleet of gigantic alien tripods! It’s alien ships the size of Texas, with force-fields and giant lasers and hundreds of drones, but without decent firewalls!
Napoleon was an alien, King Henry VIII was in fact Jabba The Hut, and the Nazis were really x-ray-eyed androids from the future. I swear. It says so right here. *points at glowing artifact*
Stories where the protagonist, antagonist, or a main character (preferably many characters) is an artificial intelligence. It usually either thinks it’s human, wants to become a human, or wants to EAT humans.
Genetic mutations, freakish experiments, crazy scientists running amok in labs with thousands of phials labeled CAUTION — LETHAL PATHOGEN (May bring about the downfall of humanity).
Wherein humanity ventures into the dead of space to stick its flagpole into fresh new ground, and call it funny names like Alpha Prime.
Science-fiction focused on “high-tech and low life”, meaning it’s about computer hacking, virtual realities and cyber viruses that transmute your brain into metaphysical pulp. Preferably featuring criminal geniuses and social outcasts with a hacking prowess that would make any geek heart skip a beat.
*intense throaty voice*
In a world —
where oppression reigns supreme —
and children are forced to fight to the death for wi-fi rights after curfew —
stories are written about mankind’s failures, often hinting at contemporary political or social shortcomings.
Because nothing’s hotter than doing the kinky with a Space Commander in zero G, in the middle of a battle.
I lament the fact that it’s necessary for this to be a subgenre all of its own. At least it’s pretty decent and hosts stories that deal with the role of women in society — all kinds of societies — human or alien, past or future.
It’s all about meeting with our fellow sentients, weather here in our own yard, or out there in the big wide universe. It might go well, and we establish an interesting new relationship after perilous negotiations and overcoming of cultural (and biological?) barriers. Or it might go not-so-well, and we end up decimated, assimilated, or annihilated.
Everything happens aboard a generation ship, a space craft of enormous proportions that’s a fully working habitat for humanity, en route to a new world for whatever reason.
Frankenstein. Vampires. Demons. All scientifically explained, of course.
The highest form of science-fiction, if only because its most ardent proponents feel that it is the only “true” science-fiction out there. Regardless, you snobbish swellheads, hard science-fiction is just another subgenre, albeit being the ‘fiction of ideas’.
Hard science-fiction deserves its name because it usually involves a lot of actual science, extrapolated science, speculative science, derivative science, scientific jargon, and just a whole lot of science talk. Might be hard to stomach. Might be mind-blowingly ingenious. Proceed with care.
The discovery of worlds that are cut off from the normal flow of time (either philosophically, or physically), with an own ecosystem of rules, values and dangers.
Very popular, because it usually means banging action, explosions and battles, weapons and muscular men pumped with testosterone. Or mighty female warriors, or alien commandos. Space wars! Lasers! KAPOW!
Stories that happen in today’s world (or the near future), with today’s technology and today’s understanding of science, except what’s happening can’t really be happening in real life. Can it? OMG! A secret underground organization is secretly inoculating people with secret microchips and feeding all the data into a computer network that’s about to become self-aware and take over the world!
Biopunk’s freaky sister, in which organic matter is rare and precious, and nanotechnology is widespread. If you look really close, everything is made of tiny robots. EVEN YOU.
New Wave science-fiction
The glorious results of the 60’s and 70’s desire to achieve more literary merit, and focus less on scientific accuracy. Basically a pert response to hard science-fiction and pulp. Eat my literary dust, bitches!
I always hated those episodes in Star Trek where a handful of characters stumbled into a parallel dimension and met their evil twins. But apparently enough people love this kind of stories that they devoted an entire subgenre to them. Cheers.
Although, I admit, Fringe put a pretty awesome spin on this.
Earth has pretty much gone to shit, either by natural disaster (asteroid! volcanoes! ice age!) or by our own little hands (nuclear warfare, pollution, idiocy). Now our heroes and heroines must fight to survive, fix it, find a new home, battle a hoard of angry robots, repopulate the Earth, whatever.
Whaa? In short: stories with cyberpunk elements such as cybernetic enhancements, genius hackers and crazy-awesome dataspheres, but without the dystopian flavor of cyberpunk.
Think of the good old sci-fi magazines (from the 1920’s through the 1950’s) with gaudy cover art and stories about Martians, evil scientists and robot armies.
Science-fiction about science-fiction. Stories with tons of references to other science-fiction works, often with a sarcastic undertone, usually parodies. Sometimes worldbuilding encyclopedias.
Science-fiction romance is racing up a growth-curve that makes all other subgenres green with envy. It’s not quite as formulaic as mainstream romance, but it pretty much follows the same recipe — girl meets boy, a lotta shit happens to them, they barely make it away with a happy ending. Except science-fiction is thrown into the pot as well, so you have space stations, alien worlds and awesome gadgetry ON TOP of humming heartstrings and fluttering eyelashes.
An unexpectedly original and enjoyable subgenre. It’s so prolific, you can be fairly certain if you loved a sci-fi novel (or movie, series, comic book, etc.) that gained any traction on the bestseller lists, there’ll be fan-fiction set in that world for you to gorge on. And if the author is really generous, he might even encourage fan-fiction and help make it a blast by offering worldbuilding material galore.
The bastard child of science-fiction and fantasy, equally dismayed by both its parents. Don’t ask me why. I think it’s pretty neat. What’s not to love about a fantasy novel with mighty kings and dragons, sword and sorcery, and fair maidens on white mares, wearing hypodermic implants that allow them to scan their suitors and chat with AIs in orbit around other worlds?
Nothing like a good satire mocking science-fiction conventions or tropes, like alien invasion or interstellar travel. So many good novels and movies to find in this category!
Fascination meets goose bumps in an explosion of awesomeness. Combine an uncanny setting — like a cut-off colony or quarantined camp, a stranded space ship with failing life-support, or a reconnaisance party an alien world — with the heart-stopping thrills of horror fiction, and you won’t be able to put the book down.
The moment in which technological development reaches critical mass and crosses over into artificial life mustn’t necessarily be a single moment. And it mustn’t necessarily be a good thing. *raises an eyebrow*
A cross between literary and speculative fiction. Its main distinguishing aspect is mood — it leaves you feeling strange and out of place. It often extrapolates on an aspect of current life, combined with speculative elements. Basically Kafka in a sci-fi world.
Soft / sociological science-fiction
Often considered the opposite of hard science-fiction, although only if you don’t look beyond the wordplay of hard vs. soft. While ‘hard’ refers to the hard sciences such as physics, chemistry, and mathematics, ‘soft’ refers to psychology, sociology, and anthropology. It’s all as silly as who’s got the biggest, in my opinion. But, in the end, it’s not the size of the ship, it’s the motion of the ocean.
Soft science-fiction is the most character-driven of all sci-fi subgenres. It focuses mostly on, well, characters and their cultures. Even if the stories are about X and Y facing hardship, ultimately, they teach us something about how society X and culture Y deal with the challenges of their time or circumstances.
Pure milieu-stories (i.e. the main focus is on the setting), space exploration stories take us on wild rides between the stars, through nebulas and wormhole networks, close to the event horizon of a black hole or beyond the fringes of our galaxy. Usually with a crew of mismatched time-bombs that offer additional complications to every single difficult situation encountered. It’s in their job requirements: be a pain in the ass whenever your team mates need you most. For bonus points: go rogue at the worst possible moment.
Ah… my precious. *pupils widen*
The genre of romantic adventure, elaborate worldbuilding, hoards of characters with plenty of subplots, long lasting wars and unfathomable stakes. *quivering Anime eyes*
NOT science-fiction Westerns, set in the actual Wild West (like Cowboys & Aliens), but space operas with Western elements. Outer space ‘gold’ rushes, good vs. evil one-on-ones, damsel rescuing, trigger-happy tough guys with rugged chins and meaningful gazes… You know. The usual.
Because superspies with state of the art gadgets, kickass weapons and sensible information that could ruin entire worlds, are just freakin’ awesome!
Stories running on steam and honorable deeds, with retro-futuristic technology and airships, mechanical computers and amazing gadgetry. It also spawned one of the most awesome subcultures ever.
NA-NA NA-NA NA-NA NA-NA BATMAAAN!!
The realm of stories attempting to explain or justify religious ideas through fictional science, or explain scientific phenomena through divine intervention.
YOU MEAN THIS IS NOT 3014?! I’m gonna fire that nitwit AI pilot. YESTERDAY.
Uplift sci-fi is about a superior species (usually us) uplifting an inferior species (like dogs, dolphins, sabertoothed sloths) to a level of equal intelligence. Also, space faring aliens giving us the means to build our own FTL ships. Or ascended beings giving certain ‘special’ people (cough—our protagonist—cough) extraordinary abilities. Of scientific nature of course.
Perfect worlds, with perfect people doing perfect things. Sadly, not-so-perfect shit happens and all hell breaks loose. *high-five*
It can be a story element, the object of the plot, or even the entire setting. But more often than not, it’s stories about a genuine homo sapiens getting stuck in a VR, or a VR character becoming self-aware and interfering with reality, or, you know, all kinds of nasty combinations that screw with your mind. Did this chapter I just read really happen? Or did it virtually happen? MINDMELT.
Jules Verne. That guy had really big, really hairy, history-making balls.
The zombie explosion in 2012 brought about so many zombie stories, it’s become an own genre. And for good reason. Zombies are freaking awesome! Right? RIGHT? Everybody say hhaaargghhhh...
Stories featuring [only] societies extremely different from our own. Either so futuristic, they have little in common with anything we know today, or literally and utterly alien. Novels like Iain M. Banks’ Excession or China Mieville’s Embassytown come to mind. Chewy bits of fiction, them.
Damn, this was the largest motherfucker I’ve ever posted. 2,118 words!!
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This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2014.
In 2012, my G post was — Grit And Guts, Or Going Nuts