A Guide to Science Fiction Subgenres

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction consisting of imagined elements that don’t exist in the real world just yet. This genre explores a range of themes, often about alien invasion, robotics, time travel, space opera, and futuristic endeavors, sometimes highlighting the consequences of technological and scientific advances. This genre is often dubbed as the literature of ideas since it includes various futuristic concepts that are so imaginative, anything is possible. Regardless of the setting and characters, all science fiction works are complex and detailed to further traverse themes and commentary about society beneath the surface. 

While science fiction is primarily about sciences, it has evolved into a far-reaching field that consists of an array of subgenres. When pitching your novel to a specific market, it’s crucial to know where it fits in the field of science fiction. And this guide will help you. Below is the most common science fiction subgenre you can check out. 

Hard Science Fiction

Hard sci-fi is stories based on scientific fact, accuracy, and logic. They are often inspired by “hard” natural sciences like physics, engineering, computer, and chemistry. It concentrates on relating stories from a correct scientific perspective and an attention to technological detail. Future science or technology is central to the tale that if both are taken out, the story will collapse. The rule of thumb is that writers are free to use anything imagination can invent and depict so long as it does not contradict the laws of science. 

An example of this subgenre is Rick Badman’s The Madhouse Projects. This follows automotive engineer Dick Thurman who works with an underground research and development installation working on Flying Cars on Madhouse Projects

Soft Science Fiction

Soft sci-fi is the complementary term of hard science fiction. The boundaries between “hard” and “soft” are neither definite nor universally agreed upon, so there’s a fine line regarding these two. It contains scientific and futuristic elements but focuses more on psychology, politics, sociology, and other social implications. There is less emphasis on math, biology, and sciences. Soft science fiction novels diagnose and explore the critical social issues of our time. Some authors take this genre to the extreme that the science becomes so soft it appears magical. 

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is fiction relating to the science of cybernetics. This views nature as a series of interconnected mechanical systems, linking biology and computer technology. Novels under this subgenre explore humanity’s changing relationship with computers wherein virtual reality, prosthetics, and cyborgs go hand-in-hand with social decline. Anti-authoritarian, brand-averse, tech-literate with attitude and distinct style are some of the qualities found in cyberpunk. Basically, cyberpunk meshes advanced technologies with more down-to-earth concerns like drugs, crimes, politics, dive bars, and desperation. 

Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Apocalyptic science fiction is concerned with cataclysmic events or after a world-changing event, typically a sequence where a decline of the human race, societal upheaval, and total destruction of Earth itself. However, the cause of world-ending will be science-related, such as an asteroid, nuclear warfare, pandemic, or virus. These are popular sub-genres of science fiction that explore the adverse effects of science and technology. 

Biopunk 

Biopunk is quite similar to cyberpunk, except it centers on the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering. The essence of biopunk is about genetic manipulation, body modifications, and eugenics. Moreover, this represents the concern over the shortcomings of urban society, warning against government corruption. These genetic and biological enhancements became tools necessary for criminals and rebels of the future. It is not logical to append “punk” in biopunk if not for characters who work against what is considered the norm of society. After all, a punk is a troublemaker. 

Steampunk

Steampunk uses technology and the aesthetics of 19th century Victorian-era England. They usually often take place in the alternative history of the world where technology is powered by steam, the defining feature of this subgenre. Typically, the technologies and aesthetics shown are as advanced as the modern world but only with a distinctly retro look and feel. Steampunk is a subgenre guided by certain rules of scientific possibility yet incorporates fantasy elements of mythical creatures and time travel. 

Science Fantasy

Science fantasy is a subgenre where it incorporates science and fantasy elements. It can mix aliens and magic or time travel and mythical creatures. Science fantasy is often mistaken with hard and soft science fiction because of their slight difference. To identify this subgenre from the two is it uses science fiction elements that are not necessarily realistic. 

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