Continuing our deep dive into genre, this week is Sci-Fi. Prepare the laser cannons!
So what is Sci-Fi? According to the internet, it’s: “a genre of speculative fiction dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life.” And, according to Sci-Fi, the internet is what supersedes our humanity in the future. So, kind of fitting that all my research is coming from our future electronic overlords.
But, essentially, Sci-Fi takes something familiar and already fantastic—the internet, space exploration, medical research, technological advancements, etc.—and takes it to the (albeit, frequently dark) extreme. In a way, Sci-Fi is like fortune telling—pessimistic, occasionally eerily accurate fortune telling.
And, like last week’s dive in Fantasy, Sci-Fi is equally saturated with books and had to be split up into subgenres, liiiiike:
- Cyberpunk—a.k.a. badasses with computers. Emerging in the 1980’s, it’s the blend of cybernetics and the emerging punk scene, two things that go together astonishingly well. Usually set in a near-future, dystopian universe, and featuring elements of nihilism, post-modernism, and film noir. (Notable examples: Snow Crash, Blade Runner, Ready Player One, Count Zero)
- Alternate History—a.k.a. What If? Essentially, it asks the question “what if life turned left, instead of right?” What is America lost the Revolutionary War? What if Hitler won WWII? Predictably, things get weird. (Notable examples: 11/22/63, Wolf by Wolf, The Guns of the South, The Eyre Affair)
- Military Sci-Fi—a.k.a. star wars. Future war expands beyond all borders and into space. Setting blasters to stun will not help in this situation. (Notable examples: Ancillary Justice, Old Man’s War, Starship Troopers, Ender’s Game)
- (Post-)Apocalyptic—a.k.a. the end is just the beginning. The world may end in Ice or Fire (or both), but some of humanity survives. Or at least tries to. (Notable examples: Station Eleven, The Road, World War Z, The Stand)
- Steampunk—a.k.a. Tesla is king! Victorian manners and Silicone Valley ingenuity. Petticoats and pistols. H.G. Wells and high society. Usually crosses over with Mystery, Thriller, or Romance genre. (Notable examples: Soulless, Leviathan, Boneshaker, Clockwork Angel)
- Space Opera—a.k.a. the final frontier. Military Sci-Fi, without the war. Guardians of the Galaxy, without the awesome soundtrack…and less talking raccoons. (Notable examples: Leviathan Wakes, Dune, Revelation Space, Foundation)
However, unlike Fantasy, the lines between subgenre tend to be a little more solid. And like taxonomy (yup, bringing back that reference), it’s easy to determine what species a book falls into.
That said, there are always common tropes that appear, regardless of type of Sci-Fi a novel may be. Here are a few:
- Evil robots—yes, they are always trying to kill you. Yes, it’s a parallel to Frankenstein. And yes, no robot will ever be more evil than HAL.
- Effortless interstellar travel—Space is unfathomably huge. So why is it that ships are able to zip around it in the blink of an eye? Shouldn’t space travel be more like The Oregon Trail, where at least one member of the crew will die of dysentery?
- Sci-fi slang—zetus lapetus, it can get cheesy!
- Time travel rules that contradict themselves—lookin at you, Doc Brown. Seriously, after Part III, did Marty spend the rest of his life in therapy? Because I know I would if Biff Tannon became my step-father in an alternate universe.
- The BIG TWIST—
- Babel fish—somehow, everyone speaks the same language, or can easily be translated. How? Excellent question.
- Let’s kill Hitler—we get it, you have a time machine. But when has this plan ever worked out?
But, common plot devices aside, what makes Sci-Fi so great? It’s a glimpse—granted, a frequently bleak glimpse—into what our future might be. Let’s be real, there’s no way of knowing what our future might hold—what technology will take off, how humanity will act, whether there’s life out there in the universe, or when we’ll finally get to start that colony on the moon—and most Sci-Fi is set so far in the future, none of us will live to see if any of our predictions come true.
Which is super bleak…
But true. Sci-Fi lets us imagine a future that we will never get to see. And, in the case of those bleaker scenarios, lets us try to correct our mistakes before it’s too late.
Sci-Fi predicts where our actions will lead us as a species, and reminds us that the future—as likely as it seems—is still unwritten.
Want to know more about Sci-Fi? Read it! Here’s a random list of some of my favorites:
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
- 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger
- The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
- The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
- Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
- Reboot by Amy Tintera
- Soulprint by Megan Miranda
- Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
- The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
- Of Beasy and Beauty by Stacey Jay
- The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- All Men of Genius by Lev A.C. Rosen