Subgenres

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"I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world." - Mindy Kaling

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We’re almost at the point where you start to construct your story, but before you start hacking away at the keyboard I thought we might take a little side trip into some of the subgenres of Science Fiction.

You may already have a very clear idea of which subgenre you want to write in. Conversely, you may have no idea what exactly it is you’re thinking about writing, or where it fits into the vast panoply of the ever-expanding universe of Science Fiction.

Here’s a quick run down of some of the major subgenres :

Hard and Soft Science Fiction

It could be argued that many of the subgenres of SciFi fit into one of two camps: Hard or Soft.

Hard Science Fiction is usually characterized by its scientific accuracy (relevant at the time of writing), the emphasis on the virtual science of the story, and/or its adherence to technical detail.

Soft Science Fiction stories are often based not on engineering or the ‘Hard’ sciences (for example, physics, astronomy, or chemistry) but on the ‘Soft’ sciences, and particularly the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and so on).

Knowledge, and inclusion, of such sciences as physics, astronomy and chemistry is considered important when writing Hard Science Fiction, and readers tend to be at least as knowledgeable as the writer.

This does not mean to say that the story doesn’t, or cannot, have elements of romance, mystery or genres in them, as with any story. However, the technical, scientific detail in the story is very much to the fore and an integral part of the story. Hard SciFi tends to be logical and uses scientific knowledge to enhance the story with the hope that later scientific discoveries do not invalidate the scientific basis of the story.

There are several example of great stories by notable writers that are still great reads, but technically incorrect due to scientific discoveries post-publishing. For example, Arthur C. Clarke's - A Fall of Moondust was rendered scientifically inaccurate after publication, as the premise of the story assumed pockets of "moondust" in lunar craters in which a vehicle was lost. This is now known to be incorrect, but it’s still a great story. Asimov too had a similar issue with a short story which prevented its publication, as the science used in between writing, and acceptance for publishing was proved to be incorrect.

For many writers and readers, Hard Science Fiction is considered the ‘true’ form of SciFi due to its technical content, but there is some flexibility, and I certainly consider that it is but a part of the greater world of Science Fiction.

With Soft SciFi (and indeed some Hard Science Fiction extremists often quail at the use of such terminology as SciFi), use of the term ‘Soft’ tends to indicate a story which is perhaps more concerned with themes or ideas that are not tied to empirical scientific or engineering principles.

Great examples of this are some of the well known SciFi television series or films like Star Wars or Star Trek, which have a veneer of Science Fiction to them but use ideas like Warp engines, which have their own wonderful pseudo-science terminology but are not considered valid in scientific circles.

Soft Science Fiction can be a great medium for exploration of the human condition, the social impact of science and technology, or even an ‘easy’ way into the genre as a whole. Despite its ‘Soft’ designation though, it can be tremendously complex, and a wonderful way explore the side of SciFi that isn’t delving into the scientifically accurate depths of the genre. Series like Star Trek for example, despite their pseudo science, covered race (first interracial kiss on TV), gender, politics, social standing, and many other subjects. As a genre, it may be Soft, but can still float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee.

Whatever style you choose to write, Science Fiction as we’ve noted before is a tremendously broad genre with considerable room for experimentation. There are also many other interesting, and perhaps less generic subgenres that also deserve exploration, and we’ll be looking at those in the next part.

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