Sci Fi Definition and subgenres!
What is science fiction? According to Wikipedia, “Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science of technology, often set in a futuristic setting. Exploring the consequences of such innovations is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a ‘literature of ideas’.”
That’s all very well and good, but what does it mean?
Basically, science fiction is just what its name says it to be. It is fiction based on some sort of science, whether it takes the results of an established science down a lightly-trodden path or works with a theory. In writing scifi, you are dealing with possibilities that are a result of science. Take Artificial Intelligence, otherwise known as AI, for example. The writer looks at our world today and all our technological achievements and wonders what would happen if we got so advanced, we created thinking machines? The science is our current technological wonders and our rate of developing them, the scifi part is the AI, as it has yet to happen.
Because scifi deals with things that haven’t happened (at least, not knowingly), it is generally set sometime in the future, although there are other places to write it in, such as an alternate timeline or a beyond-top-secret underground lab. However, to write science fiction, there must be some realm of possibility, meaning when you read well-written science-fiction, you should think, this is really scary/cool cause [the writer made you believe it really] *could* happen! It is based on technology just beyond imagination.
According to this explanation then, there are many, many types of scifi. When I first thought of scifi (and the predominant thought in my head today when I hear the word) I thought of space ships and living on other worlds. That isn’t the only route you can take in scifi, however, as I shall show you below with all the different subgenres of science fiction. [these are all the ones I know of]
First, we have what is known as “hard scifi”. Hard scifi is basically where the writer predicts the future of technological advances. With all his details and sticking to physics and chemistry, he is saying that there is a VERY STRONG possibility of this happening if things continue the way they are. There have been many true AND false predictions in this genre. (I have put together a note of the ‘true’ predictions.)
Next we have “soft scifi”. Soft scifi is basically people science fiction as opposed to machine science, for example: psychology, economics, political science, sociology and anthropology. It would focus on character and emotions and the way we think. Generally not what you think of when you think of scifi.
Now we come to “Cyberpunk”. This one tends to be set in the near future, and settings are frequently bleak while themes are generally rebellious. The science here is in information. For example, internet advances, AI, hackers, computer/human hybrids, and virtual reality. [The Matrix is an example of cyberpunk]
“Dystopia/Utopia” focus on civilization and what it may come to in the future. Dystopia is the degrading of mankind and civilization whereas Utopia is what it sounds like, peace; perfection; happiness. This almost always has an agenda that is being pushed. I would consider this a type of soft scifi.
Here’s a fun one. “Time Travel” has a vehicle that can transport people through time. [note, it doesn’t always have to be a machine. I have heard of it being a mind thing.] Time travel is a very opinionated matter, and rather common in scifi. Some think it possible, some think it impossible. It almost always deals with the paradoxes of time travel. This would be more of a hypothesis/theory scifi.
“Alternative History” can be quite similar to Time Travel as it can use it. Alternative history generally has two different ways of doing what the author wants. One is to use time travel. The other is to set it in an alternate universe. Same ‘science’ as the previous subgenre. It can also be entirely speculative fiction and have nothing to do with scifi.
“Military SciFi”. This one and the one is one of my personal two favorites. ;) The contexts are either military conflict between nations, planets, solar systems, and even galaxies. The MCs are generally soldiers, and can focus on advances in military technology, have details about procedures and rituals, and can parallel other historical conflicts. [I would consider Kathy Tyer’s Firebird trilogy to be mostly in this subgenre]
I had thought of “Superhuman” as speculative fiction rather than scifi, but when I read about the subgenre it kind of made sense. The person who is superhuman can be that way cause of messing with the DNA, which would be a scifi theme. It could be natural, or it could be as a result of technological advancements. Either way could be considered soft scifi. Or it could be totally speculative fiction. I guess it depends on the book. [note, this is called “superhuman”, NOT “superhero”.] Superhuman generally has an outcast type theme. (for example, a telepath on a world where it is looked down upon and even unheard of)
“Apocalyptic” is considered a scifi subgenre too. It focuses on the end of civilization and can use any of the following or more as a route for that: war, deadly meteors or alien invasion, mankind’s self-destruction, ecological, or a different world-wide disaster. It could also focus on the world after such a disaster. [A Christian example of the latter, although I would consider a lot of it fantasy, is Gilbert Morris’ YA Seven Sleepers series. I highly recommend that series. Come to think of it, he moves around in subgenres of scifi and fantasy a lot in that series and likes to combine them too.]
“Space Opera” is my other fav and the most popular of the subgenres. When you think of scifi, this is generally what comes to mind. It focuses on adventure in outer space and distant planets as opposed to science or characterization. It is the real life hero genre in space-age settings with large conflicts. One form can be used for absurdity and improbability, but it can also be used to try to recapture the “sense of wonder of the golden age of science fiction”. [Star Wars is listed as an example of this.]
“Space Western” is pretty fun. It is kind of under Space Opera, and seems to be an attempt to keep the Old Western genre alive in my opinion. It takes the American Western themes and puts them into space frontiers instead of America. [I had kind of thought I’d created this subgenre. Lol.] It is generally set in new worlds where lawlessness abides and expansion is readily available.
“Steampunk” is also considered a subgenre, although it can lean either to fantasy or scifi. It focuses on technological development normally in the 19th century. It is actually growing to become its own genre, especially since it can mix both scifi and fantasy easily. [we talked about this genre two months ago. Jules Verne is a popular example of Steampunk before there even was steampunk.]
“Science Fantasy” is a combination of scifi and fantasy. However, it leans more to scifi as it almost always has spaceships and has technological advances. [I would consider Star Wars as an example of this because of the Force.]
“Biopunk” opposes an authority, generally a tyrannical government/society that uses bioengineering. Here the science is the dangers of genetic engineering.
“SpyFi” is also a subgenre of spy fiction. It mixes hard scifi with spy fiction so that the dangers can be upped with technology not yet invented. (at least, not that we know of)
“Mundane Science Fiction” is set on Earth in the very near future with technology extremely possible. As such, there are no starships, galactic travel, etc. It is a form of hard scifi.
All this being said about subgenres, it seems that many scifi subgenres overlap each other and/or can overlap each other. However, when submitting to a publisher, try to keep track of what subgenres you could list it as, as the term scifi has come to be VERY broad. :)
There seems to be a lot of debate as to the subgenres of scifi, and many tend to merge two subgenres that others don’t. I used Wikipedia heavily for the subgenres list, although I also used two other sites.
Thanks to Kaleb Kramer for the help. :)