Genre Basics - Science Fiction - article

Science fiction, or sci-fi, is a popular genre. It’s one of the broadest genres in terms of theme, and is characterized by numerous sub-genres. Sci-fi also connects with a wide audience, from stories for the youngest readers to women and men of all ages. Sci-fi authors build broad fan bases with rabid fans lining up at science fiction conventions across the country. Current standout science fiction authors include Orson Scott Card and his Ender’s saga, and William Gibson, who originated the cyberpunk subgenre with his novel Neuromancer.

In sci-fi, science and technology are central to the story. The cohesiveness of the genre is not plot driven. Sci-fi authors explore the effect of science and technology on civilization. This is often through the lens of an individual and illustrated by his struggles with scientific and technological advancement. Sci-fi stories can be set in any timeframe, but most commonly appear in the future. The science and technology featured in a sci-fi novel must have a real world feel and be an extrapolation from modern day science. The bending of scientific laws is allowed, but if bent too much as to dip into the realm of the unbelievable, the story becomes fantasy and not science fiction.

Sci-fi differs from many genres in terms of scope. Works can be short or long. Science fiction anthologies are prevalent. Most commonly, short stories are under 7.5K words, and novels generally range in length between 80K and 120K words. Sci-fi works fall into two loose groups. The first group is called hard science fiction. These books include technological advancement and invention with careful attention paid to laws of science for realism’s sake. In soft science fiction little time is given to scientific detail. Plots tend to be philosophical or social in nature and revolve around ethical questions.

To get a sense of the variety in the sci-fi genre, here’s a quick overview of six popular subgenres:

• Apocalyptic of post-Apocalyptic – Stories revolve around the end of the world from man-made or natural disasters.

• Military Sci-fi – Combat and military tactics are central to these stories. Futuristic weaponry is emphasized.

• First Contact – Stories investigate the first meeting between aliens and humans.

• Cyberpunk – Plots revolve around computer hackers, mega-corporations and cybernetics. These stories have a post-modernist perspective.

• Time Travel –Travelers are outside their timeframe. Paradoxes are often explored, like… what would happen if you killed your own father?

• Space Opera – Grand stories have larger than life characters. The good guys shoot up the bad guys. Think Star Wars.

For more in depth research, check out author Orson Scott Card’s Hatrack River for expert sci-fi writing advice. Also investigate Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a networking and advocacy organization for sci-fi and fantasy writers.

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  • 70+ years in the future and we are reaping the consequences. Clones, useless government... yadda yadda. Would readers consider this Sci Fi?  

  • My story is told mostly from the aliens view points who are forced to live on our Earth at the present time. They see our world as mad, as it is!

  • as of today, am up to page 210 and am finding it a little easier now I have a flow going, there are so many paths a sci-fi story can take, hope I am on the right one .
  • thank you I found this information very helpful as I am a first time author.
  • Hi, my current book is working between the norms it combines several on different levels as I read your classes. Though still holds fast to science fiction gender. I am a new Author but not to story telling though most have been verbal creations. I was asked to write a book by several fans. This is my first attempt in that direction. As I currently am working on the manuscript for Hedecame.