Science fiction is huge – there’s a story for everyone.
Amazon’s Kindle offers twenty categories of scifi. Here they are:
- Alien Invasion
- Alternative History
- Anthologies & Short Stories
- First Contact
- Galactic Empire
- Genetic Engineering
- Hard Science Fiction
- Metaphysical & Visionary
- Space Exploration
- Space Opera
- Time Travel
And that doesn’t include the separate “fantasy” categories.
Here are two books I read recently that seemed to only marginally be science fiction.
Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) is the story of orphans growing up in a boarding school and facing their miserable future with resignation. Amazon lists it as a scifi dystopian (though to be fair it’s also listed under Literary Fiction which seems a better fit to me.) Here’s the scifi part: the orphans are clones raised so their organs can be harvested. The book is so acclaimed that I had to finish it, but it left me feeling puzzled.
The Water Knife (Paolo Bacigalupi) is a tale of mean streets – gangs, prostitutes, drugs, corruption and intrigue, and a crusading journalist. Between murders and violence the characters do a lot of ruminating on their situation. It’s a scifi dystopian (and also Literary Fiction/Thriller). The scifi part is that all this misery is caused by climate change droughts that leave vast swathes of America uninhabitable. Not being big into murderous gang wars, I didn’t finish it.
After reading these books, I looked the term up on Google.
noun: fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.
Since science and technology permeate our real world, the key for me is “future-advances-changes.”
Richard Treitel found this added element I like, attributed to Ben Bova:
A work shouldn’t count as SciFi unless the science is necessary to it.
Not just adventures (or romances, or …) with high-tech props, resembling science fiction the way Hamlet resembles a history of Denmark. Not just present-day fiction in an exotic setting.
Richard Treitel offers other quotes, too.
Hard science fiction is where science and technology seem real and are ‘characters’ in the story. [Brad Templeton]
Fantasy deals with the impossible, while SF deals with the possible. [Doug Tricarico]
Stories that show us a way of life that has been shaped by the science or technology in the story. [Anon]
Wikipedia says scifi is speculative, futuristic, and explores the consequences of scientific advances – while avoiding the supernatural. They note the original need to tie the story to science-based facts and theories has become “tenuous” over time. It seems hard to find a scifi story today without supernatural characters – and most authors give up altogether on the current physics that puts other star systems vastly out of our reach. We want “new worlds, new life, and new civilizations.”
Are Dragons Always Fantasy? Can They Be Scifi?
Specifically, the dragons in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. Humans journey to another planet, lose touch with Earth, and build a sort of medieval feudal society. They find creatures like small dragons with traits that say “fantasy” to me – they’re telepathic, and can travel instantly between places and times. They breed these little guys bigger until they can ride them to purge the skies of alien parasites that travel through space from a neighboring planet.
Hmm. Sounds like fantasy despite arriving in a space ship and fighting alien parasites. But on Amazon the books are called space opera, time travel, and colonization under science fiction – but never fantasy! BTW, the stories are still wildly popular after fifty years! I pass on most of the books I read, but recently I picked up a used copy of The Dragonriders of Pern because I missed seeing it on my shelf.
I’m not so interested in gang warfare or boarding-school
romance in my scifi. My own writing takes me to space, most recently to the first colony on Mars – all in a believable-future. There are now three books in the series – stories of people who could be real, using both current technologies and some we may possess soon, doing things you might do yourself in their place – fighting to survive hostile worlds and human conflicts. Take a look. 🙂
But science fiction is a very big place. You’ll find a home here.