SCI-FI SUBGENRES - A to D

SCI-FI SUBGENRES - E to L

SCI-FI SUBGENRES - M to R

SCI-FI SUBGENRES - S to Z




SCI-FI SUBGENRES - S to Z



SCIENCE TALES SCI-FI

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.


SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE SCI-FI

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 SCI-FI

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.



SHRINKING / ENLARGING SCI-FI

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.)


SINGULARITY SCI-FI

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.



SLIPSTREAM SCI-FI
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.



SOFT / SOCIAL SCI-FI
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.

SUB-SET: 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.

SUB-SET: 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 SCI-FI
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.



SPACE OPERA SCI-FI
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.

SUB-SET: 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.



SPACE WESTERN SCI-FI

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.



SPORTS SCI-FI

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.



SPUNKY HEROINE SCI-FI

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.


SPY-FI SCI-FI

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.)



STEAMPUNK SCI-FI
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.


STYLISTIC SCI-FI

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.



SUPER HUMANS / HEROES SCI-FI
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.

SUB-SET: 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.

SUB-SET: 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.



SUB-SET: 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.



SWORD & PLANET SCI-FI

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.



TERRAFORMING SCI-FI

Terraforming SF centers around vast projects, with the characters busy altering whole planets (such as Mars) to make them more earthlike and habitable. Kim Stanley Robinson's epic "Mars" series is a good example. It is a type of planetary engineering and the term is sometimes used broadly as a synonym for planetary engineering in general.

The concepts of terraforming are rooted both in science fiction and actual science. The term was probably coined by Jack Williamson in a science-fiction story published in 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction, but the actual concept pre-dates this work. Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930) provides an example in fiction in which Venus is modified after a long and destructive war with the original inhabitants, who naturally object to the process.

In cinema, Paul Verhoeven's 1990 feature film Total Recall adapted from the Philip K. Dick story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, is based on the terraforming of Mars though it is limited to a man-made habitat. The actual terraforming doesn't take place until late in the film, which is generated by an ancient alien device.



TIME TRAVEL SCI-FI
Characters travel to the past or future, or are visited by travelers from either end of the spectrum

This is a vast subgenre, whether or not its protagonist travels in space as well and like many other subgenres, it too has picked up the popular punk icon known as Timepunk. Time travel is the concept of moving backward or forward to different points in time, in a manner analogous to moving through space. Additionally, some interpretations of time travel suggest the possibility of travel between parallel realities or universes. In these stories, this capability is put to use by the characters -- in secret or in public, and rarely or often.

The effects of such temporal ventures vary in each portrayal. In cinema, one of the first films that comes to mind is The Time Machine produced in 1960 and 2002. More recent, the Terminator movies created by James Cameron launched five films and a television series. We experience the time travel process usually at the beginning of the films, from there the plot settles into that period's dramatization.

While the premise of time travel is prominent in the Terminater series, the sci-fi comedy trilogy Back to the Future perhaps more so, keeps the concept of time travel at the forefront throughout all three stories. Time travel was popularized by H.G. Wells with The Time Machine (1888), though Edward Page Mitchell wrote "The Clock that Went Backwards" seven years before that.

Topics range from "Let's go see what the Pleistocene looked like," to issues of paradox (what if you traveled to the past and killed your own grandfather?) and "tampering" (could stepping on a butterfly in the Paleolithic profoundly alter the entire future?). A variant of this subgenre is the "alternate universes" theme, in which each change in the timestream spins off a new universe. Time travel stories are generally more about the consequences of actions or inactions than about the time travel itself.

Early examples include Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. More recent forays into the genre include Michael Crichton’s Timeline and Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time (which also falls into the comic SF category). Poul Anderson's novel The Time Patrol is a prestigeous example. Neal Asher's Cowl and Paul Levinson's The Plot to Save Socrates are novels that depict the extreme complexities implicit in time travel.


TRANSHUMAN SCI-FI

Transhumanism is the philosophy which embues this subgenre. It depicts the possible transformations that humans beings may experience in the future, from helpful improvements to total alterations. Bruce Sterlings's "Mechanist and Shaper" novels are a pioneering example.



SUB-SET: MIND TRANSFER / UPLOAD-DOWNLOAD SCI-FI

Mind Transfer is what takes place in this subgenre. A conscious mind is downloaded into a computer system, or shifted (or swapped) into another human brain. (Robert Heinlein's novel Time Enough for Love ends up with three separate minds within one female body.) Such a transfer might be permanent or temporary, and the process may allow for one or more copies to exist at once.

The early Star Trek episode "Turnabout Intruder" is a famous example, and Paul Flaherty's film 18 Again! a lighthearted one. In David Brin's novel Kiln People, humans send out temporary/disposable 'golem' copies of themselves, to have specific experiences then return with those memories.

SUB-SET: POST-HUMANISM SCI-FI

Posthumanism is a subgenre tied to a philosophical type movement. (Going beyond the percieved limits of traditional Humanism, as expressed in fiction.) In practice it's very close to Transhumanism, and is controversial even to define. Charles Stross's novel Accelerando is one example.



UNDER SEA SCI-FI
Undersea cities, Underwater living

Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" pioneered this sub-genre. Other examples include the feature films Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) and Disney's Atlantis. TV shows that had an underwater sci-fi theme include Sea Quest and Sting Ray. Several of Arthur C. Clarke's early novels fit this category.



UTOPIAN & WORLD GOVERNMENT SCI-FI

I combined the Utopian and World Government subgenres only because the Star Trek franchise example fits both categories. Utopian fiction is the creation of an ideal world as the setting for a novel. This thought-provoking subgenre got its name from Thomas More's 1516 novel Utopia, though by modern standards that eponymous country has plenty of drawbacks, such as penal slavery. Edward Bellamy's 1888 novel Looking Backward is imaginative--and eerily prescient.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1915 novel Herland is a feminist classic, and depicts a remote, ideal society comprised entirely of women. In Ernest Callenbach's novel Ecotopia, the west coast has become in independant 'Green' paradise. World Government SF features a world (usually Earth) ruled by a unified government.

In many stories it's a monarchy, and often a corrupt one; however there is plenty of variety. Robert A. Heinlein's novel Starship Troopers depicts a federation governed by military veterans (It bears little resemblance to the movie version!). In the "Star Trek" franchise, contact with aliens prompts humanity to unite at long last, creating a Utopian Earth and a unified world government.



VIRTUAL REALITY SCI-FI

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology which allows a user to interact with a computer-simulated environment. Most virtual reality environments are primarily visual experiences, displayed either on a computer screen or through special stereoscopic displays, but some simulations include additional sensory information, such as sound through speakers or headphones. Some advanced and experimental systems have included limited tactile information, known as force feedback.

Users can interact with a virtual environment either through the use of standard input devices such as a keyboard and mouse, or through multimodal devices such as a wired glove, the Polhemus boom arm, and/or omnidirectional treadmill. The simulated environment can be similar to the real world, for example, simulations for pilot or combat training, or it can differ significantly from reality, as in VR games. The feature film that fits these descriptions rather well is The Lawnmower Man. Another excellent example would be Tron 1982 and Tron Legacy 2010.



WESTERN SCI-FI
Fiction which has elements of both the science fiction and Western genres

No film or television show fits this subgenre better than The Wild Wild West, a popular television series of the sixties and an oft sneered at feature film starring Will Smith. The Wild Wild West could also fit in the Steampunk subgenre, but more confined to the American West.


WORLD-BUILDING SCI-FI

World-building {unusual solar systems} stories are exhaustively researched, and feature unusual planets as a setting. Usually exotic aliens have evolved there, and humans can visit only with difficulty, if at all. Hal Clement's novel Mission of Gravity, Robert Forward's novels Rocheworld and Dragon's Egg, and Karl Schroeder's novel Virga are prominent examples.



XENOFICTION SCI-FI

Xenofiction is a subgenre that features cultures extremely different from our familiar ones. For example, Iain M. Bank's novel Excession features huge sentient spaceships. Ian McDonald's novel The Broken Land has disembodied human heads (supported by an advanced if undescribed technology) acting as willful characters. The Star Trek canon's Borg are another popular example.



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References and Excerpts: cuebon.com, editorialdepartment.com, fictionfactor.com
techrepublic.com, wikipedia.org, worldswithoutend.com, writing-world.com



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