Friday, August 8, 2014

A Guide to Scifi: Subgenres

Science Fiction is a complex, multifaceted genre that can be broken into numerous subgenres, each complete with its own specific rules and themes. Most Science Fiction stories span across multiple subgenres. A few authors, like Jules Vernes, can even write works that define an entirely new subgenre. While it would be convenient to have a "subgenre map" similar to Music-Map that broke down all of the Scifi subgenres and showed you how each related to the others, such a tool does not yet exist. In lieu of a Subgenre Map, here is a list of Scifi subgenres adapted from this Scifi Ideas article.

Hard Science Fiction is "concept heavy," which means the author takes the time to explain scientific concepts in accurate detail. Science and technology are the focal point of this subgenre, and authors often prefer sticking close to the realities of science rather than the development of complex plots or characters.

In opposition to Hard Scifi, Soft Science Fiction prioritizes character and plot development over elaborate details of science and technology.

The social mores of futuristic or alternative reality societies are critically analyzed in Social Science Fiction. Often used as a mode for social satire, Social Scifi is thematically focused on the social sciences, with science and technology playing a central role in the society but a cursory role in the story. Sometimes, in an attempt to avoid criticism for their stories' lack of scientific detail and focus, authors chose to label their work as "Speculative Fiction" instead of "Social Scifi."

Fiction that has a predominantly scientific theme but a humorous plot.

Like voyages extraordinaires, "Scientific Romance" was the term used by authors to label their work in a time before the term "science fiction" had evolved. Scientific Romance typically refers to H.G. Wells and other early British scifi authors.

The term means "extraordinary voyages" and, because the term "Science Fiction" hadn't evolved yet, was used by Jules Vernes to label his fiction. Focusing on fantastic adventures and journeys into the unknown, modern authors who are inspired by Verne or whose work invokes a similar sense of exploration use the term for their stories.

The limit of contemporary scientific knowledge is the limit of fictional technology in this subgenre. Works under the label Mundane Science Fiction seek to create "real," explorable worlds, often in our own solar system. Writers of Mundane Science Fiction want to foster in their readers an appreciation for the realities of science and the wonder of natural resources that are present in on Earth and on similar, nearby planets.

Apocalyptic Science Fiction stories focus on a disastrous event, typically global, that results in the end of the human species, the collapse of modern society, or annihilation of the Earth and most of its inhabitants.

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction stories focus on life after the destruction of the known world. In such stories, civilization has been drastically altered, and survivors have to inhabit and struggle against the many dangers posed by a ruined world. The dangers often include illness, starvation, violence from other survivors, extreme natural elements, and predators that survived the fallout, often in an altered state (think mutant grizzly bears).

The label is given to those stories that overlap the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, i.e. stories that contain Fantasy elements like magic that intermingle with science concepts like robots.

Often considered a subgenre of Horror or Fantasy, many critics believe the essence of Zombie Fiction is rooted in Science Fiction. While zombie stories can be labeled as any either fantasy, horror, or science fiction, they most often go under the category of "Post-Apocalyptic" fiction. For this reason, one can justifiably label Zombie fiction as Scifi/Scifi-Horror.

Fiction that overlaps the Science Fiction and Horror genres.

Magic, mythology, and other Gothic concepts are explained scientifically in this subgenre.

Revolving around police states and political repression, Dystopian Fiction focuses on the depiction of societies in which the limitation of human freedoms and the perversion of conventional morality abounds. Many critics believe the representative work of this subgenre to be 1984 by George Orwell.

Much as its name suggests, Military Science Fiction has an obvious military theme complete with war/military-based central conflict and characters who are part of a military organization.

Like other forms of fan fiction, Scifi Fanfiction is the label given to stories by authors who emulate established scenes, worlds, concepts, or characters from a Science Fiction franchise.

Any work that falls under the Science Fiction, Supernatural Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, Alternate History, and Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction genres can be considered "Speculative Fiction." Writers often chose to label their work as "Speculative Fiction" in an effort to avoid the criticisms associated with the above genres.

Though more appropriately fitting under the "Speculative Fiction" heading than the "Science Fiction" one, Alternate History stories focus on "how the world would have been if..." For example, think of what happened to the world when Jake Epping saved Kennedy in Stephen King's 11/22/63.

Stories under this label also frequently merge with the 'Time Travel,' 'Parallel Worlds,' and 'Social Science Fiction' subgenres.

Stories in which characters travel into the future or past are cast into the Time Travel subgenre. Typically, these stories also lapse into the 'Parallel Worlds,' 'Lost Worlds,' and 'Alternate History' subgenres as well.

Like this list?
Think I missed something about one of these subgenres?
Comment below.

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