Science Tales are intended for children. They depict common futuristic activities such as space travel, but without so much scientific rigor. A famous literary example is the book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Some of the "TinTin" graphic novels, by Herge, fit this category.

The sixties animated series and feature film The Jetsons would be a great example for this subgenre with it's futuristic family, high tech and often comical gadgets, and a variety of mishaps suited for children.


An archaic name for what is now known as the science fiction genre, mostly associated with the early science fiction of the United Kingdom. It has seen occasional revivals, making it a subgenre.


Shapeshifting tales are a staple of speculative fiction. As an SF subgenre, this ability is explained in scientific terms. It varies from gradual cellular alteration to a near-instantaneous ability to change size and form.

John Campbell's 1938 short story "Who Goes There," filmed in 1951 and 1982 as The Thing, is a stellar example.


This subgenre is self-descriptive, and has a long tradition, merging back into mythology. In the short story "He Who Shrank," by Henry Hesse, the protagonist keeps right on shrinking, visiting a succession of 'atom-as-galaxy' worlds. Lewis Carroll's novel Alice in Wonderland depicts Alice growing and shrinking in a mysterious fashion.

Cinema has had it's share of going small with The Incredible Shrinking Man, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and others. Giantess stories are epitomized by the film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, from Nathan Juran. (They often feature a sexual element, though in that film the woman's clothes grew along with her.)


In futures studies, a technological singularity is a predicted future event believed to precede immense technological progress in an unprecedentedly brief time. Futurists give varying predictions as to the extent of this progress, the speed at which it occurs, and the exact cause and nature of the event itself.

Deals with "mainstream" themes but contains a speculative element

Slipstream is the term applied to stories with strong speculative elements which are marketed as mainstream or literary. A prime example is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which is set in the future but is considered more literary/mainstream than SF.

Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife is another recent example which was later adapted to film.


A subgenre of science fiction that transposes themes of American Western books and film to a backdrop of futuristic space frontiers.

Josh Whedon's 2005 feature film Serenity (titled Firefly in the earlier television series) makes a good example featuring a crew of outlaw-like space cowboys lead by Mal, who commandeer the ship Serenity. The crew tries to evade an assassin sent to recapture one of their number who is telepathic.


SpyFi is a descriptive category that brings espionage into the future, with clever high-tech duels. Often the technological gadgets are "way over the top," in a spoofish fashion. The Daniel Mann film Our Man Flint is a fine example. (By some definitions the 'fi' means general fiction, and this category is defined more broadly.)


These stories comprise a broad and nebulous subgenre, defined by some distinctive or oddball style. Dickian tales are imbued with the surreal aspect of P.K. Dick's novels. Gonzo SF stories consciously embrace the literary style of Hunter S. Thompson.

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Concerned less with technology and space opera and more with sociological speculation about human society

Soft/sociological science fiction is character-driven, with emphasis on social change, personal psychology and interactions, while de-emphasizing the details of technological hardware and physical laws. Stories founded on or based upon fuzzy subjective fields such as Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Social Structures, Religious, Biological, and Cultural. While technology may play a role, the emphasis is not so much on how that technology works, but how it affects individuals or social groups.

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is a good early example of soft SF and adapted numerous times in film and television including the recent comedy version with Jack Black, but the sub-genre is typified by Ursula K. LeGuin, whose novels have explored everything from sexual identity and racism to overpopulation. Robert Silverberg's short story "To See the Invisible Man," for example, focuses on how a futuristic form of punishment affects the individual and the surrounding society. Ursula K. LeGuin is a noted author of sociological science fiction.

Other literature examples include Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, Isaac Asimov's short story Nightfall and Foundation series, and Ursula LeGuin's Hainish novels.


GAY SCI-FI: Gay sci-fi stories include male homosexuals. If not the protagonist, then a major character or two. This theme has become more common since the 1970s, but remains unusual. Lois McMaster Bujold's novel Ethan of Athos depicts a planet that's entirely male, and reproduces its population via artificial wombs. Another popular example is Lt. Cmdr. Ro Nevin, in the fan-produced series Star Trek: Odyssey.

LESBIAN SCI-FI: Lesbian sci-fi tales feature women with that orientation as main characters. These stories became popular in the 1970s, and are more common than gay male themes. Sherri S. Tepper's novel The Gate to Women's Country depicts a planet divided by gender. Nicola Griffith's novel Ammonite takes this two steps further, with a colony planet that's entirely female, and which doesn't refer to males even once.

Space exploration is the physical exploration of outer space

The politics, science, and engineering behind space flight all fall under the auspices of space exploration. There are many rationales behind space exploration; among the most common are ones focusing on scientific research or the future survival of humanity. This endeavour has been to some degree a dream and goal of humanity for the past several centuries, but it was not until the development of large liquid-fueled rocket engines during the early 20th century that it really began to be seriously developed.

Space exploration is the very heart of the entire Star Trek franchise both in literature and film. Numerous feature films and episodes from the various versions of television series would have a wide range of plots, but for the most part they centered around the prime directive of space exploration.

A mixture of opera and science fiction involving empathic themes

Also labeled as Adventure Sci-Fi, this is a huge descriptive category. The subgenre features swashbuckling action, set in a vast panorama. Space opera often involves good guys shooting it up with bad guys in the depths of space or on a distant planet. There is little or no attention given to scientific plausibilities and technical explanations tend to be vague. Most space operas conveniently violate the known laws of physics by positing some form of faster-than-light travel. This is generally accepted for this subgenre as long as there's some form of human element and good overcoming evil morality.

Many space operas diverge even more from known physical reality, and commonly invoke paranormal forces, or vast powers capable of destroying whole planets, stars, or galaxies. Stories emphasize over-sized, often somewhat tongue-in-cheek adventures in space featuring swashbuckling heroes, beautiful women, and exotic aliens. Some stories are filled with vast intergalactic fleets battling bravely against a backdrop of stars.

In most cases, to keep the story fast moving, a spaceship can fly almost unlimited distances in a short time, and can turn on a dime, without the boring necessity of decelerating. The planets usually have earthlike atmospheres (Earth's moon is an exception) and exotic life forms including aliens that usually speak English, sometimes with an accent.

There are countless examples including the Flash Gordon serials, Ron Goulart's SF novels, and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series. But all of the descriptions above could read as a synopsis for George Lucas' Star Wars franchise, who was influenced by the previously mentioned Flash Gordon.


GALACTIC EMPIRES SCI-FI: Galactic empires are a fairly common theme in science fiction. Many authors have either used a galaxy-spanning empire as background, or written about the growth or decline of such an empire. The capital of a galactic empire is frequently a core world. Some of these empires are clearly based on the Roman Empire; the Galactic Empire of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series (which inspired empires of later writers and film-makers) being an obvious example. Once again, the best known to the general public today is the empire from Star Wars, which was formed in turn from the Galactic Republic.


Spunky Heroine tales feature one as their protagonist, to the point they're usually refered to "by" her, more than by their plot or premise. David Palmer's novel Emergence, featuring young Candy Smith-Foster, is a great example, as is its long-awaited sequel Tracking.

Another is Alexei Panshin's novel Rite of Passage, with the adventures of young Mia Havero; plus Reefsong by Carol Severance, with its transformed Angie Dinsman.

There are a number of examples in film and television, but few fit better than Angelina Jolie in the 2001 feature film Laura Croft: Tomb Raider and the sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life released in 2003.

Refers to an advanced technological level achieved through 19th century means

Denotes works set in an era when steam power was still widely used. Usually set in the 19th century, and often set in Victorian England — though with otherwise high technology or other science fiction elements.

These elements may be fictional advances, like those devised by H.G. Wells, or they may be real advances taken out of their own time. In film, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (adapted from graphic novels by Alan Moore) is an example of steampunk.

In literature, an example would be William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, wherein Charles Babbage’s proposed steam-driven mechanical computer was successfully built, thus bringing about the information age 100 years ahead of time.

Such tales are usually set in the Victorian era, and presume that its characters have developed a form of high-tech at that time. They are careful to avoid backdating any current attitudes or theories. The novel Anti-Ice, by Stephen Baxter, is a quirky example.

Gaslight stories are defined a little more narrowly. Ron Miller's anthology Astronauts By Gaslight has five stories which actually date from that time. Weird West tales are set in the frontier USA, and many feature real-life pioneers and inventors. Michael Piller's short-lived TV show Legend starred John de Lancie as Nikola Tesla.

People with super-powers, super-human strengths or abilities, perhaps even bio-engineered to be superior

This is probably the best known science-fiction subgenre. These stories range from the heroes with superpowers like Superman and Spider-Man to those with super-toys like Batman and Iron Man. This subgenre can cover a broad base of films where there is some type of augmentation of a human's physical or mental capabilities, even life span such as the sub-sets below.


IMMORTALITY SCI-FI: Immortality (or eternal life) is the concept of existing for a potentially infinite, or indeterminate, length of time. Throughout history, many humans have had the desire to live forever.

It might be humans with a rare mutation that's allowed them to survive since ancient times, or a future scientific development. Often these long-lived characters allow for vivid depictions of history. A fine example is Poul Anderson's novel The Boat of a Million Years.

INVISIBILITY SCI-FI: The ability to become invisible is the central attribute of these stories' main characters. Plato launched the subgenre with his allegorical tale of The Ring of Gyges. H.G. Wells made this scientific with his classic novel The Invisible Man. 'Cloaking devices' have now become very common in science fiction.

MUTANT SCI-FI SCI-FI: The idea of a mutant is a common trope in comic books and science fiction. The new phenotypes that appear in fictional mutations (who often have superpowers) generally go far beyond what is typically seen in biological mutants, and often result in the mutated life form exhibiting superhuman abilities.

The X-Men comic book and feature film franchise is a notable example of the Mutant Sci-Fi sub-set. Not only are the character's physical and mental abilities augmented by mutation, their powers evolve to higher levels in later stages of their lives.

However, this mutant evolutionary stage plays out in the comic books only, whereas the films reflect the characters who have already achieved that stage. In the upcoming X-Men First Class feature film, the original characters are shown with their early or first stage of mutation.


Sports SF is a tiny subgenre, represented mostly (if not exclusively) in short stories. In a few stories, an alien visitor shows a love for baseball.

Most of the others depict the impact of modern science, and genetic engineering in particular, on professional sports. (Analog magazine has run several of these stories in recent years.)

Perhaps the best example of this subgenre in cinema is the 1975 feature film Rollerball starring James Caan.

In a corporate controlled future, an ultra-violent sport known as Rollerball represents the world, and one of it's powerful athletes is out to defy those who want him out of the game.


Sword and Planet SF brings a medieval aspect to interstellar space. Poul Anderson's "English Empire" novels literally transport English knights into rulership of alien worlds.

The 2008 feature film Outlander seems to be tailor made for this subgenre. During the reign of the Vikings, Kainan, a man from a far-off world, crash lands on Earth, bringing with him an alien predator known as the Moorwen.

Kainan leads an alliance to kill the Moorwen by fusing his advanced technology with the Viking's Iron Age weaponry.






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