Science fiction has been around for quite a while. People love reading fantasy stories, and it is an interesting topic to discuss. Here, we will go through some of the common elements, sub-genres, as well as tips on how to successfully write your own sci-fi stories.
The History of Science Fiction Literature
There are two theories when it comes to the origin of sci-fi literature. The first one claims that the first sci-fi work is the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” written more than 4,000 years ago. The second theory is that sci-fi couldn’t exist without the scientific revolution, which arrived between the 17th and 19th centuries.
In reality, poems like “Beowulf” or “Nibelungenlied” are more in line with high fantasy, and they don’t have a lot of sci-fi elements. At the same time, “Ramayana” had flying machines and mechanical birds, which just shows how elements of science fiction have been around for centuries.
If we take a look at the modern sci-fi works, Jules Verne made a significant impact with his novels, especially “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”
8 Sub-Genres and Related Genres of Science Fiction
As with any other genre, there are multiple different sub-genres in science fiction. These are based on the type of settings, technology, or situation that may or may not happen.
- Fantasy fiction — Fantasy fiction is focused on stories that are heavily inspired by the mythology or folklore of a specific region. It is not rare for these types of books to include magic as well.
- Supernatural fiction — These are stories focusing on secret knowledge or abilities that aren’t normal in real life. Common themes are witchcraft, psychic abilities, spiritualism, and others.
- Utopian fiction — Utopia is an imaginary country or society where everything is perfect (or close to perfect). These stories often take place in the future, where humanity managed to solve the majority of problems.
- Dystopian fiction — Dystopia is the direct opposite of Utopia. Here, we have a focus on major problems in society, and it is often grim and dark. Typical examples are “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick.
- Space opera — Space opera is similar to soap operas, but the setting is in space or other similar sci-fi themes. It is usually lighthearted, focusing on romance and adventure.
- Space western — Space western stories try to combine the Wild West theme with science fiction. This genre is a rather popular theme for TV shows like “Firefly” and “The Mandalorian.”
- Cyberpunk — Cyberpunk stories are set in Dystopian worlds. We have advanced technology, but society is broken down.
- Steampunk — Steampunk draws the main inspiration from steam engines, and it often imagines the present or future in scenarios where steam-powered machines replaced electricity.
What Are the Common Characteristics of Science Fiction?
Science fiction often has roots in reality, and it is based on actual science. However, it is still possible to encounter some unusual ideas and odd items in the literature. These elements are commonly based on the technology of the future or are genetic traits future species might have.
The Most Common Elements of Science Fiction
- Time travel — Traveling through time has been a huge part of science fiction ever since H. G. Wells wrote “The Time Machine.”
- Teleportation — Going from one place to another in a blink of an eye has always been a subject of imagination.
- Mind control, telepathy, and telekinesis — The idea question here is whether it is possible to evolve in a way that will allow us to use our brains for moving objects with our minds.
- Aliens, extraterrestrial lifeforms, and mutants — Are we alone in the universe? This age-long question has been an important part of sci-fi literature.
- Space travel and exploration — Sailors used stars to navigate across endless seas, and people often desired to explore other galaxies.
- Interplanetary warfare — With the discovery of other life forms and habited planets, many believe that it would end in a war between the worlds.
- Parallel universes — This theory is a common topic not only in sci-fi circles but in physics as well. Many believe that there are other universes similar to ours.
- Fictional worlds — Modern science fiction often includes fictional worlds, where anything could happen.
- Alternative histories — Playing with possible futures is just one of the writing techniques, but you can also explore the past and wonder about what-ifs and things that could have happened.
- Speculative technology — Speculative fiction is about technology and ideas that don’t exist. Writers play with the idea of inventing something new that people could use in possible future scenarios or on different planets.
- Superintelligent computers and robots — Isaac Asimov loved playing with the idea of sentient robots and supercomputers, and it is always a fun thing to think about. Will androids serve us? Or will we become their servants instead?
Tips for Science Fiction Writers
If you are hoping to become a sci-fi writer, there are a couple of things that may help you along the way.
- Draw inspiration for your story from real life — The best course of action is to draw inspiration from real life. This way, your story will be more believable, and it will feel as if it is something that might happen. It will also be a lot easier to add sci-fi elements to otherwise realistic stories.
- Do some research — You need to do your research. If you want to play with ideas that are based on science, try to make them as believable as possible. Fake physics and science can often be immersion-breaking, and people don’t like being pulled out of the story due to bad interpretation of science.
- Create a set of rules for the world of your novel and stick to them — Your characters can fly or have superhuman strength, agility, or anything else. They might be blue, green, or whatever else you imagine. There are no problems with fictional elements as long as you stick to the rules you created. Otherwise, it will look inconsistent.
- Keep it grounded in reality — The fewer fictional elements you have, the more realistic story will be. Just take a look at Arthur C Clarke or George Orwell. Their stories are almost always grounded in reality, adding only a few elements to spice things up.