Favorite SciFi Sub-genres

Part of what I love about science fiction is that it covers so many different topics.  Sometimes when I mention to others that I love science fiction, I feel like I occasionally get a funny look or two.  And then I wonder how many awesome books the person sitting across from me has either read without really realizing it was science fiction, or missed out on because they turned their nose up at something with the label.

So I thought I’d share some of my favorite sub-genres with you today, along with a few suggestions to check out if you’re looking to try some of them.

Apocalyptic / Post-Apocalyptic

I love stories about the end of the world.  Granted- my favorites are those that usually explore the darker side of human nature, books like Wanderers and King’s The Stand, but I also like hopeful stories that explore the survival of humanity as earth is becoming uninhabitable (e.g. The Calculating Stars).

What intrigues me about them is the way the human need (instinct?) to survive effects each character.  Will they do whatever it takes?  Will they commit unspeakable acts in the interest of protecting themselves and their families? Or will they come together and unite for a common cause?

First Contact / Alien Invasion

I love all fiction with aliens for a few different reasons.  The easy answer is the almost limitless opportunity it gives an author to exercise the limits of their imagination.  What kinds of tech do they have?  What kind of rituals do they practice?  What sort of hierarchy does their society follow?

But the more complex answer is that alien civilization can act as a sort of mirror, reflecting back all the ugly and beautiful truths about our own civilization.  It gives the reader a chance to question why things are the way they are, how they came to be that way, and how we could set ourselves on a path to change (hopefully for the better).

Dystopian / Utopian

This is an easy one and probably the most accessible to those who aren’t necessarily fans of SciFi and Fantasy.  I like dystopian because I think it’s interesting to consider how the in-book society evolved into what it became.  Qualityland, for example, is very obviously derived from Amazon’s dominion over the retail space.  On the other hand, utopian books examine what it might mean to try and please everyone, or put them all on an even playing field.

Science Fiction Thrillers

And of course- probably my most favorite genre of all- the science fiction thriller.  Not because they have any higher purpose, but because they are damn entertaining.

There are a couple other genres of SciFi I’m hoping to explore this year.  Topics that interest me or genres in which I’ve only read one or two books, but have enjoyed, despite not having had the time yet to dive deeper.

Biopunk

Biopunk is described as “derived from cyberpunk [that] focuses on the implications of biotechnology rather than information technology” (Wikipedia).  I read, and once very much enjoyed, Borne, but I’d love to see what else exists in the genre and how it is deployed.  The big one I have slated for this is Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, but I’ve talked about that particular book quite a bit recently and wanted to spotlight something different.

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is described as a “combination of low-life and high tech” (Wikipedia, Sterling Bruce, Burning Chrome by William Gibson preface).  Infomocracy probably fails on the first count.  I don’t think either of the two main characters are necessarily “low life”, but the book has a very urban, gritty, feel that I think qualifies it.  Last year I listened to SerialBox’s Ninth Step Station that I’d say qualifies as cyberpunk also.  Another book most people are probably familiar with is Ready Player One.  I loved them all and I definitely want to read more.

What are your favorite science fiction sub-genres?

42 thoughts on “Favorite SciFi Sub-genres

  1. Apocalyptic / Post-Apocalyptic & First Contact / Alien Invasion are definite favorites of mine, but third on my list would be swashbuckling Space Opera / Science-Fantasy. Give me kickass heroes with cool spaceships hopping across the galaxy, fighting impossible odds, and throwing snarky comeback into the cold void of space!

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  2. This is awesome! I would second Bob, I love a good space opera and I’ve recently discovered science fantasy, a combo of the two genres. Hopepunk is a new one that I’ve been seeing around too. There are so many out there!

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    • I don’t think I’ve read any Hopepunk yet- but it’s something id like to check out eventually! I’m so cynical and it’s the opposite of all the dark stuff I read, but sometimes I like a good hopeful story too. If you have and rec’s for that particular genre I’d love to hear them!

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  3. Science fantasy is probably my favorite Sci-Fi subgenre, because then I don’t have to pick between SF & F. I’ve been trying to get into space opera more, because it’s often character-driven (which I enjoy) but I haven’t had much luck with that yet. I also enjoy the Alternate History / Time Travel subgenre as a whole, even if the individual books don’t always appeal to me. And Steampunk is often done as a fantasy, but I also enjoy it when it’s a straight Sci-Fi version of Steampunk.

    Lately, however, I’ve found that I’ve been reading mostly SF Thrillers. So I guess, really, I just like Sci-fi.

    But I agree about getting frustrated with people who act all superior when they actually enjoy SFF themselves. I mean, really… post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels are so popular, but people seem to forget where they fall in the genre chart.

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    • Ugh! Those people are the worst! They give me this funny look and I’m like- clearly you have no idea how vast the genre is and what falls under the umbrella of science fiction. Call it speculative if it makes you feel better- but you’ve probably read and enjoyed some of it. (1984 anyone? Fahrenheit 451?) it’s just silly to get hung up on genre.

      And I really enjoy Science Fantasy too Im discovering, but I’m only just getting into the genre I think. Probably should have added it in under Cyberpunk.

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      • Exactly! (Plus Hunger Games, kinda Handmaid’s Tale, Frankenstein, etc.)

        Oh. And mention of Frankenstein reminds me: another favorite SF sub-genre is the MAD SCIENCE one.

        I realized I liked Science Fantasy when I realized that the Pern books had a science element to them as well as the dragons. I’ve been on the lookout for it ever since. (Of course, now that I’m trying to think of other examples I can’t. LOL)

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      • The only real example i could come up with (and hence why I didn’t add the genre) was Ninefox Gambit. Definitely sciency, but also a lot of things that feel like magic at play.

        I heard A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is Science Fantasy, as well as Rory Thorne Destroys the Multiverse, and maybe The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind?!

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      • Yes definitely!! Star Wars is a great example. But if I’m being honest I’ve only seen the original three movies. I’ve tried to watch the later ones and I just don’t have the attention span they require.

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      • (The original trilogy is the best.)

        (I mean, I like some of the new ones, but they’re not the same. Partly, in my opinion, because they had the budget to do whatever they wanted, rather than trying to make it work with stuff they had on hand.)

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      • AGREED. I have tried to watch the new ones multiple times- even the one with the Solo Leia daughter (Kyren? Rey something?!) because I thought- now there’s a narrative I could get behind. And lost interest 30 minutes in. 🤷‍♀️

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      • I’ve seen the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and the conclusion trilogy, as well as Rogue One. And while the others are mostly good movies, they’re not the same. Sometimes they try to hard to be something they’re not. I am glad I finished watching the set of 9, but they aren’t all the same quality. (And granted, the new ones do some things better than the old ones. But they do other things much worse.)

        Rey is the main Jedi character from the new trilogy (movies 7 – 9). She’s not Han & Leia’s kid, though. They have a son, Ben (aka Sith Lord Kylo Ren).

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      • Ahh. Shows how out of touch I am then. Don’t know why I thought she was Leia and Solo’s daughter.

        I keep telling myself I’ll watch them all someday but then never can find the time.

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  4. My favorite subgenre of sci-fi is without a doubt space opera with a fantasy side to it just because I love everything high-stakes and explosive, but I love biopunk too. Biological weirdness! Gore! What more could I ask.
    I’m really fascinated by utopian narratives as well – there’s a lot to explore, even just what the author actually considers an utopia, and the implications of trying to achieve that (…Too Like the Lightning had so many things to say about that, I probably didn’t get half of it but it was such an interesting book to read).
    Great list!

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    • I love Too Like the Lightning so so so much. I’m just amazed at the world building and intricate narrative and I love the characters and how much Palmer gives the reader to digest. I wish I could recommend it more but I know it’s just not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

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  5. I think my least favorite sub-genre would be hard science fiction. While I found The Martian accessible, books like The Bobiverse series are pretty much too challenging for me. I don’t know enough STEM to follow along with an author who really knows his/her stuff.

    What would you categorize books like The Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs? First contact? That campy, adventurous science fiction is absolutely my favorite. PEW PEW! That sort of stuff.

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  6. First contact and post-apocalyptic are the two go-to genres I would choose without even giving it a second thought, and colonization stories also make my “favorite” list.
    There is also a… well, sub-sub-genre I’d like to add: generation ships. Whenever I see a story where a generation ship is involved, I can’t resist 🙂

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    • LOL. I like Space Opera too, and really anything science fiction, but my favorite genres are ones that let me draw parallels to our own world and experiences I guess? I’m always wondering if I’m a survivor type or not so I guess that’s why I like them.

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  7. I always thought I wasn’t a big fan of sci-fi (I’m definitely more of a fantasy reader) but I LOVE Apocalyptic / Post-Apocalyptic and also Dystopian! I never thought about being a fan of First Contact stories either but I guess I do enjoy those as well. Loved Lagoon. Of course I also like a good Planetary Romance and Space Opera now and then too. I don’t know why it took me until a few years ago to admit I liked sci-fi so much LOL.

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  8. Pingback: Month in Review: February 2020 | Hamlets & Hyperspace

  9. People who like scifi are just plain “more interesting” people. Because they are willing to engage to speculate and ask: Suppose that “X” happened. What might happen? What else might happen? How might we deal with kit? If “X” happened and wasn’t stopped, how might Life be different 10 or 15 years later?

    We may not know. We probably don’t. But it can be a lively conversational blast to offer theories and speculate. People like that are interesting.

    By contrast, there are the folks who would quickly say that what we are “supposing” hasn’t actually happened, so it stupid or pointless to even talk about it. People like that are boring as hell. They probably also know next-to-nothing about religion or philosophers, either. They may actually get openly irritated about “speculating” at times. They may simply brush it off as “pointless” since it hasnt happened. These folks have serious trouble with watching a movie and letting themselves “just go ahead and suspend belief, and have a good time with it.” Nope. Those sorts of things get called: “stupid”, “dumb” and “fake”. One wonders if the only things they consider “real” are crime shows with explosions and people being shot.

    You Post-Apocalyptic thing, above, WANDERERS, looks interesting.
    ON DVD, my favorite sci-fi TV show of all time is/was: (the 90s series, of episodes of): The OUTER LIMITS. at least 5 or more seasons of this. Some really creative plots, and creepy possibilities you would hope never happen.

    For fun, on Youtube, BEFORE the Twilight Zone, back in 1951-52 (this was before my time) there was the scifi “Tales of Tomorrow”. Some of these are actually quite good, to see on youtube. Usually UNDER 30 minutes. I recommend the episodes:
    “What You Need”….”The Miraculous Serum”….”the Duplicates”….and “All the Time in the World”. some creepy endings.

    One more thing: whatever happened to the Tuesday night scifi TV show “Emergence”? Is it still on? Was good while lasted……

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