A while back I did a post on the different types of fantasy, so I thought I would expand on that and look at my other favorite genre: science fiction. I may or may not be partial to fantasy, given it seems that most science fiction is so bleak (2001, anybody?), but as you might know, I enjoy working with math fiction, one of the subgenres. There’s a ton of these subgenres, but they sometimes blend together and do their own thing. Usually the entire umbrella of subgenres is just called speculative fiction. Here are several different science fiction subgenres.
Hard Science Fiction and Soft Science Fiction
I’m putting both of these two together because I’ve talked about both of them before. These two are probably the most recognizable subgenres in science fiction, given they encompass a lot of media in the genre. The difference between these is that hard science fiction incorporates science and technology that, while not necessarily real, makes sense in a scientific context, while soft science fiction either focuses on social, or “soft” sciences and also tech that is not likely possible to be replicated in real life.
This genre was huge in the early days of science fiction. Fun fact, this term comes from the phrase “soap opera,” though with the melodramatic tones it makes sense. Unlike hard or soft sci-fi, this subgenre focuses on character and space rather than technology. One of my college friends, an avid Star Wars fan, also pointed out that, while science fiction usually takes place in the future or an alternative universe, space opera may exist in the past. After all, history repeats itself.
Some examples: Star Wars (George Lucas), and it’s inspiration Flash Gordon (originally drawn by Alex Raymond)
I feel like this is one of the reasons science fiction feels so bleak to me. Besides focusing on humanity’s complex, occasionally messy relationship with technology and its dangers and sometimes veering into horror territory, dystopian science fiction dares to ask what would happen if everything went wrong in society. Dystopia usually takes science fiction elements, including a focus on society and therefore soft sciences, such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, or technology and how it can be misused, like George Orwell’s 1984.
Some examples: Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), 1984 (George Orwell), The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
Unlike dystopia, society has all but completely collapsed in this genre, and instead of battling corrupt societies or people or technology, characters battle the elements and the environment they’re forced to live in, usually called man vs nature. This is probably one of the bleakest subgenres, as it deals with survival, and hope always seems distant.
Some examples: The Road (Cormac McCarthy), The Stand (Steven King)
Unlike other subgenres that have advanced technology, steampunk focuses on the earlier days of technology. This subgenre focuses on steam-powered tech, hence the name. It also takes place in past, historical settings, such as the Industrial Revolution and Victorian times. The technology and science fiction elements often serve as the backdrop for the historical aspects of the works, as the technology exists in a world that’s usually alternative to ours.
Some examples: The Time Machine (H. G. Wells), 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (Jules Verne), Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)
I’ve written a post about this genre before but here’s a basic definition: mathematical fiction uses mathematics as the major “science” in its stories instead of any of the sciences. In my opinion, it can resemble hard science fiction in that the science is usually accurate and the rules for how it works can’t be changed. But it doesn’t completely fit the hard science fiction mold. It can also be used in “soft” ways, such as magic. I might write a post on that later!
Some examples: Flatland (Edwin A. Abbott), Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
And there’s tons more, including Afrofuturism, tech noir, space western, and more. You can find these and other subgenres here.
What to know the different types of fantasy? Start here.
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