List of Science Fiction Subgenres

Now for the second in my subgenres series. This time, it’s science fiction. Look out, enormous post ahead! Science fiction is such a broad category and dozens of subgenres are needed. Before you continue, a note on terminology: when I say “people” you can usually substitute “sentients.” When I say human I mean earthling.

[My post on fantasy subgenres.]
[My post on adventure subgenres.]

Alternate Reality
Science fiction that takes place in an altered or changed reality, but usually recognizable.
~Alternate Dimension
Science fiction about other dimensions or “planes of existence” unperceived by humans. Either about the inhabitants of these planes or people discovering a way to see or interact with a new dimension. Dimension is not to be confused with universe.
~Alternate/Parallel Earth/Universe
Science fiction detailing a journey to a complete other world existing with ours where something is altered, minor or major.
~Alternate Timeline
This subgenre asks, “What if a historic fact was altered?” and follows that alternate route. Common themes are, “What if the south had wont he Civil War?” and “What if the Nazis had won WWII?”
This subgenres presumes there are many other universes, and makes use of several of them in one story.

Science fiction about the extinction or near extinction of humankind either by forces of nature or by our own means.

Christian Science Fiction
Science fiction that carries Christian messages or the Christian faith, blatantly or allegorically.

A story of humans creating a colony on an ‘other world’ and their trial and triumphs.

Comic Science Fiction
Science fiction that is either humorous or a parody. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a classic example.

Science fiction depicting the downside to technology and a bleak world, typically containing a dark atmosphere.
Like cyberpunk, but this subgenre features protagonists attempting to halt or reverse the ill effects.

Science Fiction Mystery
Science fiction depicting a mystery in a futuristic setting.

Dying Earth
Similar to apocalypse, as in the Earth is doomed, but the process is much slower, creating drawn-out affects.

Often near-future science fiction portraying a bleak and harmful future. Sometimes used to warn people of a possibility.

ESP Science Fiction
Extra sensory perception is the ability to use the mind to perform impossible feats. The difference between psychic ability and magic is that psychic ability is supposedly scientifically explained. These include:
Apportation – the twin of teleportation is the mental ability to transport other objects
Bilocation – the ability to be in two places at once
Coercion – the mental ability to make someone else move, speak, and act against their will
Divination – the mental ability to find hidden objects or resources
Healing – the mental ability to heal another person physically or mentally
Levitation – the mental ability to make objects and people defy gravity
Precognition – the mental ability to foresee events before they occur
Psychocreativity – the mental ability to pull elements out of the atmosphere and surroundings and turn them into something else
Psychometry – the mental ability to hold an object or be in a room and and feel who has touched it or been there recently
Pyrokinesis – the mental ability to start fires in other locations
Telekinesis – the mental ability to move inanimate objects
Telempathy – the mental ability to read emotions
Telepathy – the mental ability to read minds
Teleportation – the mental ability to move the body instantaneously to another place

Science fiction about the exploration of space; the means, the effects it has on society, the explorers, what is found, etc.

Science fiction about extra-terrestrials, or aliens, usually sentient.
~Alien Invasion
A classic of the science fiction subgenres. Extra-terrestrials wage war again humankind in an attempt to take over the Earth either to gain resources or exterminate the humans.
~First Contact
Stories of the first contact made between aliens and humans.
~Galactic Empire
Science fiction taking place in a galactic wide setting with many different planets and solar systems politically and economically joined.

Hard Science Fiction
Science fiction focusing on the hard sciences and technology. No known rules of physics can be broken.

Military Science Fiction
Stories centered around a futuristic military.

Science fiction taking place within fifty years and exploring technology and social situations that are expected to develop in that time. A realistic portrayal of the future.

Other World Science Fiction
This subgenre takes place in an entirely fictitious world, but maintains the science fiction setting.

Political Science Fiction
Stories about the futuristic political state of the universe; or stories written with a political statement in mind.

Science fiction telling the tale of the survivors of an apocalypse. These feature a survivalist atmosphere, and often contain aftereffects of the apocalypse beyond the downfall of civilization (eg, mutated animals after a nuclear holocaust).

Soft Science Fiction
Science fiction that focuses on the soft sciences and story and characters.

Space Opera
Science fiction emphasizing adventure, interstellar travel, and battles in space. The plotline contains interstellar conflict and personal drama. There is usually a high good versus evil feeling.

Science fiction about futuristic spies and espionage, and the effects of technological advancement on their professions.

Stories taking place in an era where steam is still used, normally the 1800s and usually Victorian, but containing out-of-era technological abilities accomplished by technology present in that time period. This subgenre commonly ignores scientific plausibility.

Technological Science Fiction
Science fiction honing in on a specific theoretical technological advance. Just containing the technology is not enough for it to be technological science fiction; the story most focus and center around that technology and its effects.
AI stand for artificial intelligence. This subgenre deal with the possibility of robotic intelligence as great as or rivaling that of humans. Sometimes it is written from the AI’s POV.
Stories about reproducing exact genetic replicas of life forms and the consequences.
FTL stands for Faster Than Light. This subgenres is about breaking the speed of light, thought impossible by Einsteinian physics.
Stories about engineering on the microscopic and atomic level. Much technology is theoretically possible with nanotech.
~Time Travel
This subgenre starts with the premise time travel is somehow possible. A person or group of people travel either into the past or future. Any number of rules may be used regarding time travel.

Stories of a theoretical perfect society where all wrongs are absent or easily dealt with.
~Dystopia Utopia
A world that is thought to be perfect, but upon a closer look is revealed to have flaws.

Kudos for you if you read all that!  It is a huge list and it would be impossible to name all my sources.  Much is from my head (no wonder I can never remember anything – my memory is filled with science fiction subgenres!).

What science fiction subgenres do you write? What subgenres do you like to read? And is there anything I’m missing?


About Kathrine Roid

I'm an science fiction and fantasy author living in Texas with an undead parakeet and teleporting cat. Think about that for a moment.

Posted on January 21, 2011, in On Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Gah, I hit publish before I’d finished. Now edited. 🙂
    I’m sorry I failed to get this out yesterday. Can I blame my sister? No? Bummer. But I’ll make it up to you with a bonus post on Sunday. 😀

  2. I’m really enjoying your blog so far! (And learning a lot about scifi — apparently I’d been deprived before now. 😛 There’s so much I just don’t know and hadn’t even thought about.)

    I do think that Christian values can pervade all subgenres, just as atheistic values can pervade any or all of them. Therefore I don’t treat is as a subgenre itself, but a worldview. An author will, consciously or subconsciously, bring their set of values to whatever they write, even if they try not to. It will influence the very basis of the story; what actions are perceived as good, evil, and so on.

    Keep up the good work!
    Lady E

  3. Hmm, I am writing an Post-Apocalypse, an Alien Invasion, a Time Travel, a soft Other World Science Fiction, a forced Colonization (they crashed on the planet), a Steampunk, and and a Near-Future. I have ideas for Clones, Nanotechnology, and Alternate Timeline, that I can remember. Yep, and I just had the best dream last night, so now I have an idea that involves pods where you can live the life that you want to, which I think would be a soft near future, since she only remembers who/when she is/came from near the middle 🙂 Yep, my brain is weird!

  4. That is a meticulous list, and fun to read. The only other science fiction subgenre I could think of is science fantasy.

  5. ~
    Aw, thank you, Elizabeth! I’m so glad you’ve found my blog useful!
    I thought about that, but decided Christian Science Fiction, like Christian Fantasy, is defined well-enough to be called a subgenre. Also, I am relying heavily on what others call subgenres to make my list, as my intent is to create a complete reference.
    *shakes head* You and all your WIPs, Louisa.
    What you described about the story from your dream sounds like another subgenre I just remembered and can’t remember the name of. It involves an artificial world conjured in people’s mind. I’ll need to go on a google hunt.
    Thanks, Jonathan!
    I stuck science fantasy under fantasy, and I actually think it belongs under fantasy more than science fiction. No need to repeat, either.

  6. Yes, me and my WIP’s 🙂 And huh. Wonder what sub genre it is. And I have to do more planning on that book (IFTDS) 🙂

  7. Very exhaustive list! I only have one issue. I’ve have never heard of a Dystopia-Utopia genre. The description you gave for that is what I’ve always known as Dystopia. It means, literally, a dysfunctional Utopia.

    My WIP are such mashes of subgenres I’m not even sure I can catagorize them. Dystopia/Steampunk and Futuristic/AI come to mind, though I’m sure there’s more than two categories.

    Now to read your fantasy list…

  8. Hey all

    I’m after books that are classified as Christian Soft Science Fiction – contemporary writers – any ideas?

  1. Pingback: Curiosity: The Mother of Science Fiction | Holy Worlds Blog

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