Hitchhiker’s Guide to Sci-Fi Subgenres–Part 1
Posted on May 6, 2021
Few genres get such strong reactions as science fiction. Some folks are die-hard fans and others couldn’t care less about lasers, cyborgs, and spaceships. But I believe there’s a sci-fi story for everyone—yes, even the folks who hate Star Wars!
Since the genre is so broad, you’ve probably already read or seen science fiction that you liked. Zombies, superheroes, time travel—these all fall under the category of “sci-fi” along with stories about robots, aliens, and space travel. Sci-fi is broken down into many subgenres, different types of stories that vary in tone, setting, and style. You want romance? We have romance! You want military battles? We have those too! I’m here to introduce you to the basics, and maybe convince you to give sci-fi a chance in this six-part blog series.
The following are a few of the major subgenres. I’ll try to give a ‘classic’ and ‘popular’ example of each. Enjoy!
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Hard Science Fiction
If you want facts and science to rule, hard science fiction is for you. This subgenre focuses on the ‘how’ of the story as much as the ‘who’. How would a robot mind understand and process rules? How could humans terraform an inhospitable planet? Hard science fiction aims to explore the scientifically plausible, while delivering a good story.
By Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov is one of the big names in classic science fiction, writing such pieces as the Hugo-Award-winning Foundation Series; I, Robot (the basis for the film of the same name starring Will Smith), and more. Foundation is about a mathematician who predicts the end of the Galactic Empire and creates the Foundation, a group of scientists and scholars, who live at the edge of the Galaxy providing hope for future generations.
By Andy Weir
A computer programmer since the age of nine and the son of a particle physicist, Andy Weir researched for The Martian meticulously. In 2015, Matt Damon starred in a film adaptation that was the eighth highest grossing movie that year. The book follows astronaut Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars and must improvise to survive for four years until the next expedition can rescue him. Ever wondered how to grow potatoes on Mars? Here’s your how-to-guide! The accessible and witty writing made me laugh out loud, proving that hard science fiction isn’t always dry.
Soft Science Fiction
Soft science fiction asks the moral questions that new technology brings, rather than how it works. Most sci-fi stories are considered ‘soft,’ focusing on characters and plot with the science being a means to an end. Do you want intergalactic, faster-than-light travel? Do you like robots with feelings? If so, soft science fiction is the subgenre to explore.
The Martian Chronicles
By Ray Bradbury
By the beloved author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, this collection delves into planet colonization. Different short stories explore themes of native and colonizer violence, atomic warfare, the loss of history and culture. Though not strictly scientifically accurate (oxygen and pressure don’t seem to be issues) the morals and images are strong, and the short story format makes for quick reading.
The Electric State
By Simon Stålenhag
The story is set in an alternate history of the United States, where giant battle drones wage war and humans are obsessed with a virtual-reality system with fatal consequences. Filled with atmospheric and mesmerizing digital paintings by Simon Stålenhag, this picture book for adults is beautiful and haunting. The technological advances are never fully explained, but the emotional impact on the reader is much more important.
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