"What if history had developed differently?" Most works in
this genre are set in real historical contexts (e.g. Civil War or
WW2), yet feature social, geopolitical or industrial
circumstances that developed differently or at a different
pace from our own. All works in this sub-genre are set in a
world in whish history has diverged from history as it is
generally known. The television series „Stargate‟ is a great
example of exploring both alternate history and parallel
Animals who speak, think or act human. Some of these are
created to show humans as bad by comparison to the lives of
the animals in the tale and others are designed to make a
political or social statement. Whatever the reason, most are
written to make the reader willingly suspend belief and begin
to view them as being human. Director Martin Rosen adapted
„Watership Down‟, which was written by Richard Adams, to an
animated feature film in 1978. Alternate Humanity could be
argued to have its own sub-genre called „Bestiary Sci-Fi‟,
which typically centres around worlds populated by unicorns,
cat-people or sentient frill-necked lizards. It is also sometimes
used to make the writer‟s “aliens” seem more normal.
Usually tales of humanity's struggle to survive
after devastation. It may be set immediately
after, focusing on survivors, or when precatastrophe civilization has been forgotten.
These stories focus on how we cope and
rebuild society. There are many links between
this form of sci-fi and sub-genres about false
utopias/ dystopian societies. A work of this
sub-genre might be called a ruined Earth story
or dying Earth. The "Mad Max" films fall into
Post-apocalyptic stories are set well after a catastrophe. Rather than showing the
immediate aftermath, they depict a new society that has risen from the ashes, usually on
Earth. Often the survivors are wary of technology, so the films take place in a nontechnological future world, or where only scattered elements of technology remain. This
sub-genre grew very popular in the 70's and 80's portraying a band of survivors enduring
tremendous hardships. Stephen King decided to wipe out humanity in a different,
introducing his fictional world to a deadly flu-virus in his post-apocalyptic tale "The Stand" a
television mini-series, and then proceeded to tell how the survivors survived.
These are rare, and feature a strange cosmic element. Disney's
animated feature film, Treasure Planet, launches the story with the
human race getting instantly wiped out by a hostile alien race. In Nevil
Shute's „On the Beach‟, humanity is destroyed by a nuclear holocaust.
A post-apocalyptic tale, usually set on Earth, in which an isolated group of
survivors sets about rebuilding a new civilization according to their own
particular ideas. As with the 'cozy mystery' subgenre, unjust death occurs, but
the characters don't get too upset about it. John Wyndham's novel „The Day of
the Triffids‟, later filmed by Steve Sekely, is a good example. The television
miniseries was produced in 2009.
These tales assume that one, or many, artificial minds
become fully sentient. They might be mainframe
computers, or mobile robots, or the Internet as a whole.
One famous example is D.F. Jones's novel Colossus,
later filmed by Joseph Sargent. Research into artificial
intelligence is concerned with producing machines to
automate tasks requiring intelligent behaviour, such as
planning and scheduling, the ability to answer diagnostic
and consumer questions, handwriting, speech, and facial
recognition. It is focused on providing solutions to real life
problems. Stephen Spielberg's sci-fi feature film „A.I.
Artificial Intelligence‟ centres around this very premise.
This loosely covers the fields of cybernetics, bionics and even genetic
engineering as a collective study. It is often used to refer to a real
subfield of robotics: studying how to make robots that emulate or
simulate living biological organisms mechanically or chemically. In one
sense, bio-robotics is referred to as a theoretical discipline in which
organisms are created and designed by artificial means. While it is
currently limited to sci-fi, the actual field is in its infancy and is known
as synthetic biology and Bio-nanotechnology. The term is also used in
a reverse definition: making biological organisms as controllable and
as functional as robots.
This is one of sci-fi's oldest and most common themes.
Mechanical servants fail, assert their rights, or go berserk,
usually with tragic consequences. „I, Robot‟, starring Will
Smith, features such robots that revolt against mankind.
Cyborg fiction involves a human/mechanical blend as
a protagonist. The classic example is the novel
„Cyborg‟, brought to television as „The Six Million
These tales are self-explanatory. The concept of
robots predates sci-fi, and the two visions have
developed in parallel.
Synthetic Biology stories feature artificial life forms. It's a small subgenre, and its
protagonists are often biologists who crack the secret of creating life. A good feature
film to represent this sub-genre would be the Nexus Unit Roy in Ridley Scott's „Blade
Runner‟. Roy leads a group of renegade Nexus units in search of their creator to seek
a longer life span since they were engineered to live for only four years.
This is a narrow subgenre, featuring 'wetware' (living biological) technology, as
opposed to 'hardware computer' devices. These stories depict the invention
and/or the actions of an artificial thinking brain.
Cross-genre stories defy easy
distinctions between sci-fi and other
genres, such as fantasy (psychic
power is sci-fi, magic is fantasy). The
Underworld trilogy could be
considered cross-genre, the warring
factions are Vampires and Likens
(Werewolves), but fictional high tech
weapons are used.
Cyberspace as a subgenre is very similar to 'cyberpunk,' though broader
in form and style. This subgenre involves characters interacting while fully
immersed within a vast worldwide 'virtual reality' medium. Other stories
involve hackers who use more ordinary means of networking.
These are typically set on Earth, and involve a hacker immersed in a cyber-world, interacting,
on line and physically, with similar people. They are often set in a high-tech, bleak,
mechanistic futuristic universe of computers, hackers, and computer/human hybrids.
Characters are sometimes modified to 'jack' their brain directly into cyberspace. It features
advanced technology such as information technology coupled with some degree of
breakdown in social order. Classic cyberpunk characters are alienated loners who live on the
edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by a rapid change
in technology, a data-sphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the
human body. Cyberpunk often encompasses nanotechnology, cyborgs, androids, virtual
reality, and/or a warning as to what could possibly go wrong if technology falls into the wrong
hands. Humans may have built-in computer jacks or software ("wetware"), and spend time
"living" in a virtual environment, as in The Matrix. Another good example is „Ghost in the
Post-cyberpunk describes a narrow and indistinct
subgenre. These stories break with the tropes (such
as cynical young hackers in garish night clubs) that
dominated the cyberpunk trend. Usually set on Earth,
these stories make a conscious effort to be more
positive. Disney's feature films „Tron‟ and „Tron
Legacy‟ could be considered a variant of both
cyberspace and post-cyberpunk categories since its
cyber universe is clearly digital as opposed to the lifelike world of The Matrix.
These tales show the death of the Earth as slower than
an apocalypse would, it can be due to any cause
including natural. More generally, this sub-genre
encompasses sci-fi works set in the far distant future in
a milieu of stasis or decline. Themes of world-weariness,
innocence, idealism, entropy and the hope of renewal
tend to pre-dominate. The feature film „WALL-E‟ portrays
a dying Earth from an ocean of refuse created by
humankind. The lone entity of life on Earth is a tiny plant
sprout (and a cute cockroach), which is the catalyst of
Dystopian is the opposite of Utopian and is the
creation of a nightmare world. These tales are
designed to make the audience ask the bleak
question "Is life worth living if this is where humanity
is going?" An example is the spaceship Axiom in
Disney/Pixar's movie „Wall-E‟. Often this subgenre
depicts inquisitive heroes breaking free of a bottled
utopia. „Brave New World‟ is a tale of classic
dystopia with an emphasis on brainwashing,
censorship and destruction of the family unit.
This subgenre was named retroactively, and dates back to the
nineteenth century. They centre upon the adventures of some
brilliant young inventor. „The Time Machine‟ fits this model to a T with
the main character, a genius young inventor, who is obsessed with
the discovery of invention and pitied or scorned by the people
Alien worlds offer tremendous possibilities, yet sci-fi populates them
with familiar humanoids. Box office king „Avatar‟ may have an
environment and creatures that somewhat resemble Earth, but it
probably fits the subgenre's title more accurately than any other film
with its neon jungles and floating mountains. Also the planet in the
1972 and 2002 versions of „Solaris‟ is certainly alien to our world with
a global covering ocean that has the ability of mental thought.
Extraterrestrial Life is a huge subgenre, almost a descriptive
category. In many of these tales, or even just its signals or ancient
artefacts, has a tremendous impact upon current society. The
movie „Contact‟ is an excellent example.
Creatures from outer space or other planets.
These stories are self-explanatory and the target is
usually Earth. It is a common theme in sci-fi films,
in which a technologically-superior extraterrestrial
society invades Earth. Either with the intent to
replace human life, or enslave it, like in „Battlefield
Earth‟, or in some cases, to use humans as
food. The classic of this subgenre is „War of the
Worlds‟, and the film „Independence Day‟ has
become a cultural milestone.
Astrobiology centres upon alien life, not necessarily
intelligent or technological beings, but the very
presence of life that has evolved beyond our Earth.
Many involve finding mysterious life forms on Mars
or floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter.
This is an interstitial subgenre that's both
narrow and broad. It focuses on the form and
function of non-human civilizations.
These explore the initial meeting between humans and
aliens usually, but it can be between other types of sentient
race. First contact ranges from horrific tales of invasions to
stories of benign visitors bearing the secrets of advanced
technologies and world peace. This could be an alien
arriving here, in space, or a human astronaut reaching
another planet or actually living on another planet. There
are hundreds of examples but a precise example is Star
Trek's eighth feature film „First Contact‟.
They feature tiny life-forms, whether Earthly
or alien, as a dominating force. They might
cause a disease, or act as a transforming
agent, deliberately or not. „The Andromeda
Strain‟ is about a group of scientists
investigating a deadly new alien virus before
it can spread.
A specific definition which can be applied to many subgenres. It refers to a mid-point between
'hard' and 'soft' sci-fi, and the inclusion of technology or phenomena that are not fantastic, but
may never be invented. Some characters are grounded in the real world, along with their
environment, but an element of enhanced physical capabilities or elevated powers of the mind
exist. „Inception‟ falls into this category, where the story's world mirrors the real world with the
exception that the main character has the ability to search other's dreams.
Usually told with a "Grass is
greener" aspect, only to learn
that the same problems face
them in the new colony. Crafty
independent spacemen ply
the asteroid belt in search of
resources to send back to
civilization. A good example is
„Outland‟. In many, they are
threatened by an aggressive
government or big corporation
from Earth. New or cut-off
colony planets, left to support
themselves, have a distinct
frontier aspect. The popular
„Serenity‟ franchise depicts
such rough colonies.
meant a journey to
the Moon, the only
„From the Earth to
the Moon‟, an
miniseries, is not
example, but it's the
best known. After
Apollo program, this
subgenre began to
depict a hoped-for
return to the moon.
These are set aboard that type of
spacecraft. Often they are so large, and the
voyage so long, that most or all of its
inhabitants consider other worlds to be the
stuff of legend. It may travel much slower
than light across great distances between
stars and must also have extraordinarily
reliable systems that would not fail even
over long periods of time, or that could be
repaired by the ship's inhabitants if they did.
The ship would be almost entirely selfsustaining, providing food, air, and water for
everyone on board. Such a ship might take
thousands of years to reach even nearby
stars, the original occupants would die
during the journey, leaving their
descendants to continue travelling. The
2009 film „Pandorum‟ showcased such a
ship, The Elysium. This massive craft
employed hyper-sleep pods for the
occupants to survive the journey.
A period of the 1940s during which the
sci- fi genre gained wide public attention
in literature, but was all but abandoned in
film. This could possibly have been due
to World War II and the box office flops
of the late thirties, including the British
feature film „Things to Come‟.
Mostly based on real science & engineering, it is driven more by ideas than characterization.
This subgenre depicts technology that conforms to actual scientific knowledge and physical
laws, or plausible extensions of them. Issues of technology may be greater concern than a
character's personal life. If the plot cannot maintain its integrity without the science or
technological factor, then the story is 'hard' sci-fi. They typically contain at least one of these;
Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, sciences ruled by mathematics and stringent rules. Certain
exceptions include things like antigravity. Some writers show an advanced, nearly utopian
society where mankind has attained victory over most human ills; others portray the impact of
technology on the human race with defects still in place, sometimes magnified. „2001: A Space
Odyssey‟, makes an extensive effort to keep the technology as realistic as possible, with the
exception of the mysterious Black Monolith.
Hyperspace stories include Horror and sci-fi seem to go
that extra-dimensional realm hand in hand. Horrific sci-fi
as a setting. That realm
is closely linked to the
might play a major role in 'horror' genre, and while it's
allowing the characters to
often bloody, science is
travel rapidly between star
crucial to each premise.
systems and/or time periods, Horrific sci-fi in cinema is
or there might be human
popular, some examples
dwellings or aliens within it. A are; „The Thing‟, „Resident
good example is „Star Trek: Evil‟, „The Blob‟, and „Event
Deep Space Nine‟, with its Horizon‟. „Alien‟ is the main
mysterious wormholefilm known in this category
dwelling “prophet” aliens.
These look at combat in future locations, e.g. space,
against a range of opponents. Stories in this sub-genre
may revel in warfare or suggest anti-war themes. In
some, interstellar or interplanetary conflict and war make
up the main or partial backdrop of the story. Such war is
usually shown from the point of view of a soldier. The
main characters are often part of the military chain of
command. A very popular film „Starship Troopers‟, is a
good example; the military system and its characters
were a large part of the dramatization.
This subgenre is a self-explanatory. Whether
originally a book, a video game, or a screenplay,
they are made into another form of media. These
stories must conform to strict rules, like not
allowing the main characters to change very much,
so that they'll continue to match the series' canon.
The „Resident Evil‟ films are a good example
because they were adapted from a video game
about a special military unit who fights an out-ofcontrol supercomputer and hundreds of scientists
who have mutated into flesh-eating creatures after
a laboratory accident.
These focus on stories set on or near
Earth. They also have a believable use of
technology and science as it exists at the
time the story is written. It features nearfuture stories, without any improbable
technologies, or interplanetary settings
beyond what known spacecraft can reach.
Works are, ultimately, inspired by the tropes, themes and
symbolism of myth, folklore, and fairy tales. Some depict aliens
and/or humans using high-tech means to recreate mythological
settings, and the "magical powers" of the ancient gods. These
could be pantheon-based characterisations, or retellings of
famous mythological journeys. Award winning TV
series „Battlestar Galactica‟ is steeped with Greek mythology.
Worshiping Greek Gods, colony names include; Caprica,
Picon, Sagittaron, Tauron, and Vigron. The survivors are on a
quest to find the mythical 13th colony - Earth. Other examples
are the „Star Trek‟ original-series episode "Who Mourns for
Adonais?", and the „Stargate‟ series where Asgard and Thor
are woven into the ongoing plot.
Nanotechnology is the design, characterization, production and
application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape
and size on the nanoscale. Nanotechnology has been put to
practical use for a wide range of applications, including enhanced
tire reinforcement and improved suntan lotion. Another description
of this subgenre is Nanopunk, which has been regarded as one of
cyberpunk's many offshoots. It explores the effects of advanced
nanotechnology on humanity. For example, „The Outer Limits‟
contained episodes that fall into this subgenre, one such episode
is „The New Breed‟. In the episode, Dr. Ledbetter makes a
technological and medical breakthrough when he creates a type of
tiny machine, known as nanobots, capable of curing any disease or
imperfections in the human body.
This subgenre encompasses a wide reach but remains
unusual. It features blue collar protagonists, in recognizable
circumstances, rather than pretentious scientists or
astronauts. The feature film „Repo Men‟ is set in the near
future and centres around two repo collectors. Rather than
repossessing cars, the blue collar hunters go after clients
who failed to pay for their organ replacements.
Parallel Universe stories deal with the quantum concept that every choice or decision
happens somewhere. This separate reality can range in size from a small geographic region
to an entire new universe, or several universes. The other universe can be very strange, with
differing physical laws, or spatial dimensions. „Fringe‟ and „Sliders‟ are model examples of this
subgenre. The real nature of „Sliders‟ has changed throughout the seasons. The first two
explored what would have happened, e.g., if America had been conquered by the Soviet
Union or if penicillin had not been invented. The third became far more action-oriented.
These feature multiple universes, often with differing versions of
Earth. This sub-set assumes that some variant of the Multiverse or
Landscape Cosmological Theory is true. There is always some way
to travel between the universes, or at least communicate. „The
One‟ is a good film example.
Planes of Existence
Other planes are often 'psychic' or
'spiritual' in nature, and are reachable by
altering one's state of awareness. An
example is „Altered States‟, which
explores the concept that other states of
consciousness are as real as our waking
states. The main character begins
experimenting with sensory-deprivation
using a flotation tank, and his mind
experiments cause him to experience
actual, physical biological devolution.
This is a small subgenre, which
features humans and/or aliens
who create sci-fi of their own. In
the „Star Trek: DS9‟ TV episode
"Far Beyond the Stars," Sisko is
shown as a sci-fi author who
struggles with civil rights and
inequality when he writes the
story of Captain Benjamin
Sisko, a black commander of a
futuristic space station.
Recursive sci-fi is
comprised of stories
that include direct
references to the sci-fi
Futuristic stories containing a distinct religious overtone or
These feature an explicitly
message which gives meaning and motivation to their
lives, though it isn't always explored in depth. In a certain
sense, most sci-fi grapples with questions of a spiritual or
These involve an organized
religious nature. Sci-fi rarely takes religion at face value, priesthood, such as a religious order,
by simply accepting or rejecting it. A few focus on other
of any human or alien religion. In
human faiths, whether current, in the future, or via time
„Dune‟, Bene Gesserit dominates
travel. „The Book of Eli‟ centres around the last known
human history, yet without profound
Bible and is set in a post-apocalyptic background.
expressions of individual faith.
that faith. India
has a growing
sci-fi market, but
very little has
These centre upon
entire societies, of
Theological works often present explanations or commentary on religion and religious ideas. These
vary from simple refutations of religion as primitive or unscientific, to creative explanations and new
insights into religious experiences and beliefs.
This subgenre is character-driven, with emphasis on social change, personal
psychology and interactions, while de-emphasizing the details of technology and
physical laws. Stories based on fields such as Psychology, Sociology,
Anthropology, Social Structures, Religious, Biological, and Cultural. While
technology may play a role, the emphasis is not on how that technology works,
but how it affects individuals or social groups. „Gulliver‟s Travels‟ is a good
example, which has been adapted numerous times in film and TV, including the
recent comedy version featuring Jack Black.
Gay sci-fi includes
If not the
protagonist, then a
major character or
two. This theme has
common since the
1970s, but remains
unusual. A popular
example is the
character Lt. Cmdr.
Ro Nevin in „Star
with that orientation
as main characters.
became popular in
the 1970s, and are
more common than
gay male themes.
The politics, science, and engineering behind
space flight all fall into this subgenre. There
are many rationales behind space
exploration, the most common ones focus on
scientific research or the future survival of
humanity. This endeavour had been a dream
and goal of humanity for the past several
centuries, but until the development of large
liquid-fuelled rocket engines, it could not be
seriously developed. Space exploration is the
very heart of the ‟Star Trek‟ franchise. They
have a wide range of plots, but they are
centred on space exploration.
This can also be called Adventure Sci-Fi, and
is a huge descriptive category. It features
swashbuckling action, set in a vast panorama.
Space opera often involves good guys
shooting it up with bad guys in the depths of
space or on a distant planet. No attention is
given to scientific plausibility and technical
explanations tend to be vague. Most space
operas violate the known laws of physics by
showing faster-than-light travel. This is
generally accepted as long as there's some
form of human element and good must beat
evil. Many space operas invoke paranormal
forces, or vast powers capable of destroying
whole planets, stars, or galaxies. Stories
emphasize over-sized, tongue-in-cheek
adventures in space featuring heroes, beautiful
women, and exotic aliens. Some are filled with
intergalactic fleets battling against a backdrop
of stars. To keep the story fast, spaceships can
fly almost unlimited distances in a short time,
and can turn really fast without decelerating.
The planets usually have earth-like
atmospheres and exotic life forms that speak
English. The 'Star Wars‟ franchise is a perfect
example, as well as the „Flash Gordon‟ series.
This is a fairly common
theme in sci-fi. The capital
of a galactic empire is
frequently a core world.
Some are based on the
Roman Empire. The best
known empire is from „Star
Wars‟, which was formed in
turn from the Galactic
These feature a spunky
heroine as their protagonist.
The heroine is such a big pat
that the film is usually referred
to using her, more than by
their plot or premise. There are
a number of examples in film
and TV, but few fit better than
„Lara Croft: Tomb Raider‟ and
The works are set in an era where steam
power is widely used, usually the 19th
century, and often Victorian England. But
there is usually advanced technology or
other sci-fi elements. These elements may
be fictional advances, or real advances
taken out of their own time. „The League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen‟ is a good
example of steampunk. They presume that
its characters have developed a form of
high-tech at that time but they are careful to
avoid backdating any current attitudes or
theories. Gaslight stories are defined a little
Immortality or eternal life is the concept of
This is probably the best known sci-fi subgenre.
existing for a potentially infinite length of
These stories range from heroes with
time. Throughout history, many humans
superpowers, like „Superman‟ and „Spider-Man‟,
have had the desire to live forever. It might
to those with super-toys like „Batman‟ and „Iron
be humans with a rare mutation that's
Man‟. This subgenre can cover a broad base of
allowed them to survive since ancient times,
or a future scientific development. Often
these long-lived characters allow for vivid The ability to become invisible is the
central attribute of the main
depictions of history.
characters. 'Cloaking devices' have
now become very common in sci-fi.
The idea of a mutant is a common trope scifi. The things that appear in fictional
mutations generally go far beyond what is
typically seen in biological mutants, and often
result in the mutated life form exhibiting
superhuman abilities. „X-Men‟ is a notable
example of Mutant Sci-Fi. Their powers
evolve to higher levels in later stages of their
lives. However, this only plays out in the
comic books, the films reflect the characters
who have already achieved that stage. In „XMen First Class‟, the original characters are
shown with their early or first stage of
This is a tiny subgenre. In a few stories, an alien visitor shows a love for
baseball. Most of the others depict the impact of modern science, and genetic
engineering in particular, on professional sports. Perhaps the best example of
this subgenre is „Rollerball‟. In a corporate controlled future, an ultra-violent sport
known as Rollerball represents the world, and one of its powerful athletes is out
to defy those who want him out of the game.
Sword & Planet
Sword and Planet sci-fi brings
a medieval aspect to
„Outlander‟ is tailor made for
this subgenre. During the reign
of the Vikings, Kainan, a man
from a far-off world, crash
lands on Earth,bringing with
him an alien predator known as
the Moorwen. Kainan leads an
alliance to kill the Moorwen by
fusing his advanced
technology with the Viking's
Iron Age weaponry.
These centre around vast projects, with the
characters busy altering whole planets to make
them more habitable. Terraforming is a type of
planetary engineering. The concepts of
terraforming are in sci-fi and actual science. The
film „Total Recall‟ is based on the terraforming of
Mars though it is limited to a man-made habitat.
The actual terraforming doesn't take place until
late in the film, which is generated by an ancient
This is a vast subgenre. Time travel is the concept of moving
backward or forward to different points in time, in a manner of moving
through space. Some interpretations of time travel suggest the
possibility of travel between parallel realities or universes. This
capability is put to use by the characters. The effects of such
temporal ventures vary in each portrayal. One example is „The Time
Machine, and more recently „Terminator‟. We experience the time
travel process usually at the beginning of the film, from there the plot
settles into that period's dramatization. While the premise of time
travel is prominent in the „Terminator‟ series, the „Back to the
Future‟ trilogy keeps the concept of time travel at the forefront
throughout all three stories. Topics range from "Let's go see what the
Romans were like", to issues of paradox and "tampering". A variant of
this subgenre is the "alternate universes" theme, in which each
change in the time stream spins off a new universe.
Utopian & World Government
The „Star Trek‟ franchise fits both categories as an example. Utopian fiction is the creation of
an ideal world. World Government sci-fi features a world ruled by a unified government and in
many, it's often a corrupt monarchy, but there is plenty of variety. In the „Star Trek‟ franchise,
contact with aliens prompts humanity to finally unite, creating a Utopian Earth and a unified
Virtual reality is a technology which allows
a user to interact with a computer-simulated
environment. Most virtual reality environments
are primarily visual experiences, but some
simulations include additional sensory
information, such as sound. Some advanced
and experimental systems have included
limited tactile information, known as force
feedback. Users can interact with a virtual
environment either through the use of standard
input devices such as a keyboard and mouse,
or through multimodal devices such as a wired
glove or omnidirectional treadmill. The
simulated environment can be similar to the
real world, for example, pilot or combat
training, or it can differ significantly from reality,
A subgenre that features cultures
as in games. The feature film that fits this well
extremely different from familiar
is „The Lawnmower Man‟. Another excellent
ones. The „Star Trek‟ canon's
example would be „Tron‟ and „Tron Legacy‟.
Borg is a popular example.
Old becomes young again. This might happen via some virus
or serum, or by means of an elaborate multi-step process.
Oscar winning „The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‟ is really
a fantasy, but it is a perfect example of this subgenre.
Biopunk is a spinoff 'cyberpunk', it involves hackers who
manipulate human DNA which may be their own or someone
else‟s. It uses elements from the hard-boiled detective, film noir,
Japanese anime, and post-modernist prose to describe the
nihilistic, underground side of the biotech society. One example is
„Gattaca‟. Though many stories about cybernetics and artificial
intelligence fall into this category, biopunk focuses on genetic and
biological manipulation. An early example is „Frankenstein‟, but
generally the term is applied to post-cyberpunk fiction.
The most popular rumour to arise from this subgenre is
that cloned people cannot have souls as they were not
created "in God's way". It gives writers plenty of room to
ponder the good vs. evil plotlines, featuring cloned
people as the bad guys. The entire plot of „The Sixth
Day‟ revolves around this theme.
Where life forms move into a
distant area where their kind is
sparse or not yet existing and
set up new settlements.
Colonisation applies to all life
forms, though it is most often
insects and humans. Insect
colonisation varies from
species to species though it
most often involves a queen
setting out from its parent
colony and establishing her
own colony. Human
colonisation is broader than
colonialism or imperialism, as
it encompasses all large-scale
immigrations of an established
population. This process may
or may not victimise an
Communalness is a
involving a human future
with relationships and
communities 'boosted' into
by cybernetic or other
means. The disciples of
V.M. Smith in Robert
Heinlein's Stranger in a
Strange Land achieve this,
along with impressive
powers, through learning to
These are often set in the
near future, technology aids
both criminals and law
enforcement. This was
popularized by the
cyborgs, character in
This subgenre focuses on the ecosystem, usually Earth's. Often there is a direct threat,
caused by humanity or some outside force. Though this subgenre is based on plausible real
world scenarios, Hollywood often busts out of the fence with exaggerated or ludicrous
circumstances. „The Day After Tomorrow‟ is a pretty good example.
This sub-genre is a merging of two main genres. Fantasy sometimes leans toward the sci-fi
side of the fence by adding advanced technology in the mix. With fairy tale like sub-plots and
characters, it would often ignore known laws or scientific theories for the sake of the story.
„Flash Gordon‟ stomped all over the laws of physics, with the stories containing giant lizard like
dragons, shark men, and other bizarre characters and creatures.
Explicit sex might be the
centre of the plot, or it plays
a vivid role in the
character's lives. In
„Barbarella‟, which is set in
the 41st century, the main
character ventures through
a series of sexual
escapades, including a
bizarre encounter with a
sex machine, and she
seduces an angel.
Hollow Earth tales are set within a
putatively hollow planet Earth. The
flagship of this subgenre is „Journey to
the Centre of the Earth‟. A popular
variant is the aquatic-cavern-filled planet
Naboo in the "Star Wars" franchise.
This is a Japanese subgenre,
popular throughout the world.
These epics always feature one
or more kaiju, meaning big
powerful quirky monsters. A
major example is the „Godzilla‟
franchise, and the American
counterpart „King Kong‟.
Gothic sci-fi slants toward the
macabre, and deeply
atmospheric settings, but not
outright horror. „Frankenstein‟ is
a good example, and so is „I
This type of sci-fi may occur within any
subgenre, or spoof a subgenre. The type
of humour varies from light entertainment
to satire. „Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Galaxy‟ is one of the best-known
examples of humorous sci-fi. Others
include „Spaceballs‟ and „Back to the
This is one of the oldest subgenres. „The Lost World‟ is a good example, as well as popular TV
series „Lost‟, which continues the tradition with its bizarre isolated island.
These stories are centred around actual mathematical concepts. „Pi‟ is an excellent example of
this subgenre. Its plot revolves around a mathematical genius who theorizes that everything in
nature can be understood through numbers. „Knowing‟ is another good example.
Elements of the near-future sci-fi setting should be familiar to the reader, and the technology
may be current or in development.
New Wave was a movement, beginning in England and spreading to the USA and beyond. This
subgenre rose and fell with western society's embrace of 1960s radicalism, and desire to 'shock
Totally fictional worlds/universes feature in these stories. „Dune‟ featured a really popular 'other
world' in sci-fi. Syfy's miniseries „Children of Dune‟ was a spinoff.
This is a descriptive category and
it has a distinct style and format.
Two examples would be „Sky
Captain and The World of
Tomorrow‟. The film is set in an
alternative 1939 and follows the
adventures of Polly Perkins and
Joe Sullivan, known as "Sky
Captain", as they track down the
mysterious Dr. Totenkopf who is
seeking to build the 'World of
Tomorrow'. Retro-futurism also
celebrates the 'pulp' sci-fi stories
of the past. Most of these
depictions are in comic books,
and revive the garish cover art
and 'fifties' style of the past.
Pastoral or Small Town sci-fi takes place in that sort of
setting. The television series „Jericho‟ fits this subgenre as
it is set in a small town. The series centres on the
residents of the fictional town of Jericho, Kansas in the
aftermath of nuclear attacks on 23 major cities.
These are set in the mid-to-far future here
on Earth. Most of humanity has gone on to
other worlds, and the Earth has healed into
a renewed paradise. „The Planet of the
Apes‟ franchise could fall within this
Planetary Romance is a subgenre that
shades into the Romance genre. In this
case, the love story is embedded in
futuristic or fantastical technology, and
the striving lovers can be separated by
more than Earthly distances.
Science Tales are intended for children. They depict common futuristic activities
such as space travel, but without scientific rigor. The animated series and feature
film „The Jetsons‟ is a great example for this subgenre with it's futuristic family, high
tech and comical gadgets, and a variety of mishaps suited for children.
An archaic name for what is now known as the sci-fi genre, mostly associated with
the early sci-fi of the UK. It has seen occasional revivals, making it a subgenre.
This subgenre is selfdescriptive, and has a long
tradition, merging back into
mythology. „Alice in
Wonderland‟ depicts Alice
growing and shrinking in a
mysterious fashion. „The
Incredible Shrinking Man‟
and „Honey, I Shrunk the
Kids‟ are good examples of
going small. Giantess
stories are epitomized by
the film „Attack of the 50
These are a staple of speculative
fiction. As a subgenre, this ability
is explained in scientific terms. It
varies from gradual cellular
alteration to a nearinstantaneous ability to change
size and form. „The Thing‟ is a
In futures studies, a technological singularity is a predicted future
event believed to precede immense technological progress in an
unprecedentedly brief time. Futurists give varying predictions as
to the extent of this progress, the speed at which it occurs, and
the exact cause and nature of the event itself.
Slipstream is applied to stories with
strong speculative elements which
are marketed as mainstream. „The
Time Traveller‟s Wife‟ is a recent
SPACE WESTERN SCI-FI
A subgenre of sci-fi that transposes themes of American Western film to a backdrop of
futuristic space frontiers. Feature film „Serenity‟ makes a good example, featuring a crew of
outlaw-like space cowboys lead by Mal, who commands the ship Serenity. The crew tries to
evade an assassin sent to recapture one of them who is telepathic.
Spy-fi is a descriptive category that brings espionage into the future, with clever
high-tech duels. Often the technological gadgets are over the top. The film „Our
Man Flint‟ is a fine example.
These comprise a broad and nebulous
subgenre, defined by some distinctive or
It depicts the possible transformations that
human beings may experience in the future,
from helpful improvements to total alterations.
„20,000 Leagues Under the Sea‟ pioneered
this sub-genre. Other examples include
„Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea‟ and
Disney's „Atlantis‟. A TV show example is
This subgenre is tied to a philosophical type
movement. In practice it's very close to Transhumanism, and is controversial even to define.
Mind Transfer is what takes place in this
subgenre. A conscious mind is downloaded into a
computer system, or shifted into another human
brain. Such a transfer might be permanent or
temporary, and the process may allow for one or
more copies to exist at once. „18 Again!‟
a light-hearted example.
Nothing fits this subgenre better than „The Wild Wild West‟, a popular television series and a
World-building stories are exhaustively researched, and feature unusual planets as a setting.
Usually exotic aliens have evolved there, and humans can visit only with difficulty, if at all.