One of the earliest and least-expected questions I faced as a self-published author was choosing which genre best describes my first novel in the Tracker series. I assumed answering the question would be simplicity itself.
Well, duh. Science fiction, Sherlock. It’s not like rocket science or something.
Except when some people hear “science fiction”, what pops to mind is the image at left. Uh, well—ahem . . . No, that’s not exactly what I meant.
Science fiction is a sub-category of what is known as “speculative fiction”. And within the larger genre of science fiction itself, there are a surprising number of sub-genres.
First off, there’s “hard” science fiction, which means the story is rigorously based on current scientific theory and technology. Even if the story is projected ten or twenty years into the future, it must be based in real science of today.
For example, the idea of faster-than-light travel (warp speed, hyperdrive, etc.) is currently held to be scientifically impossible, and therefore any story which mentions it fails the Scientific Sniff Test. Michael Crichton is a good example of hard science fiction, as is Ben Bova and Canada’s Robert Sawyer.
Some hard science fiction writers, like Bova, insist they alone represent “real” science fiction, and everything else is only fantasy (and therefore worthy of disdain).
Ironically, British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke postulated three “laws” for writing about the future, the third of which states: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Then there’s “soft” science fiction, which is free to explore a wider speculative range, and often includes elements which are sociological, psychological, political and anthropological in nature. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s 1984 are two examples.
And this is where the plethora of sub-genres kicks in. For example (definitions may be slightly more tongue-in-cheek than Amazon/Kindle would prefer):
Basically, technology has drop-kicked society hard in the nether regions and now we have to deal with the implications of a computer-generated cyber-regime. Think: The Matrix. (Yes, it’s a movie, not a book, but it’s easily recognizable, so for the purposes of this list . . .)
Just like it sounds. Machines or wormholes or whatever moved you from point A to point B in history—future or past. Don’t date that cute girl; you don’t want to risk becoming your own grandparent or creating a predestination paradox. (Surgeon General’s Warning: time travel also tends to spark a
life-and-death battle spirited debate about whether it qualifies as science fiction or fantasy.)
War in space. Things go boom-splat (usually aliens). If not based on actual X-Box games, it sure reminds you of one or three.
Heroic, large-scale stories of infinite epic-ness set in space. All of space, not just a few measly planets. Think: Star Wars or the Chronicles of Riddick.
Living in paranoid terror of the imminent Big Boom—whether the threat is nuclear war, a global pandemic, environmental melt-down, alien invasion or zombies. Unlikely allies agree to cooperate in order to prevent it. Oops, too late. Nice knowing you.
The Big Boom is yesterday’s news. Welcome to society’s “new normal” (watch us put the ‘fun’ back into dysfunctional).
And just when you think you’ve got a handle on where your book might fit, there’s always the dichotomy of utopian versus dystopian.
Huzzah, perfection—the Garden of Eden! Fig leaves are available at the salad bar. Don’t talk to the snake.
A world where even the cockroaches are aghast (cf. POTUS Donald Trump).
For the record, I eventually decided (as per Amazon/Kindle’s insistence) to file Tracker under “Science Fiction/Post-Apocalyptic,” and let the chips fall where they may.