Science Fiction: Core Info

Level One: The Basic Stuff

Science fiction can be described as a subcategory of fantastic literature, i.e. stories about anything out of the ordinary. Other examples of this genre are fantasy and horror literature. Also, science fiction tales usually include a certain level of technology and speculation, in order to set the storyline in a future timeframe and environment. Typical examples of these technological wonders or themes are starships, teleportation, faster-than-light and time travel, advanced genetic modifications, alien beings and interstellar exploration. However, this is not to imply that science fiction is limited to night-time visitations by little green men or shoot-outs between UFOs – far from it. In fact, many works in science fiction, both classical and contemporary, incorporate narrative modes and themes present in many other kinds of stories, such as law versus crime, political conflict, philosophy, gender issues, military clashes, mystery tales and so on. Nevertheless, the prominent feature of science fiction is indeed science, as well as the implications which can originate from the practice of new theories and inventions.

Hard and Soft: Nukes versus Nuances

Science fiction can roughly be categorized into two major genres; hard and soft. These two genres are both distinguished by distinctly different features. Historically, the genre of hard science fiction has been the largest. Often featuring plots revolving around male characters, hard science fiction generally included military themes, a high level of technology – usually based around popular or new scientific ideas – and right-wing political topics (not necessarily supported by the work). Also common was the use of physical data to sustain the storyline.
Meanwhile, soft science fiction was (or is) sometimes seen as a reaction to its harder counterpart. Occasionally, it’s even regarded as a directly opposed counterpoint to hard science fiction, because of its frequent inclusion of elements such as ethical issues, female lead characters and lack of violence.

Nowadays, however, these sub-genres are quite changed. In contemporary science fiction, it is not uncommon that works which employ heavy use of technological facts, physical phenomena and military action also have female main characters, extensive plots and are void of barefaced political agendas or angles. In fact, occasionally the earlier roles are reversed! For example, in the books by Richard Morgan, the main characters sometimes instead serve as a lens through which the readers are presented with the ugly side of realist politics.

God Save the Hive-Queen: The emergence of Cyberpunk

Another genre of science fiction, in this case emphasizing the gloomy atmosphere found in dystopian literature, is that of Cyberpunk. The term itself is a union of cybernetics and punk, and works which can be classified as belonging to this genre typically features stories and milieus featuring computers, AIs and huge (as well as greedy and powerful) corporations. The settings in cyberpunk stories are often near-future, on earth (or nearby), and also commonly dark and grim. This is starkly in difference to earlier science fiction, which often used locations in far space and/or in a distant future.

One particular author whose work often is categorized as cyberpunk is William Gibson, arguably one of the most famous science fiction-writes still operative and also well-known as the man who coined the term Virtual Reality. It is not entirely unfair to like the usual features of cyberpunk settings to those found in Film Noir, especially since many cyberpunk narratives are based on crime or detective plots. In the world of cinema, the film Bladerunner (notably based on a novel) stands out as a prominent example of this kind of fiction.

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