The Ogmios Genre Guide

Part II - Semantics of Science Fiction

science fiction n.
fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals; broadly: literary fantasy including a scientific factor as an essential orienting factor

(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)



SOCIAL SCIENCE FICTION
Characteristics
This subgenre of science fiction centers round society and experimenting with it. The society presented in the book usually somehow takes a nowadays society and twists it by entering some huge technological advancement, an encounter with an alien race etc. etc. etc...

Typical Conventions
Only or Mostly Humans
This flavor of science fiction deals primarily with humans. If aliens exists, there is usually only a single race or a small and well defined group of alien races. Even if aliens exists, the story revolves around human society. The aliens exist either to serve as contrast to the humans, as an extraterrestrial antagonist or to serve as metaphors for another type of human society.
Society is Different
The Society described in the story is quite different than the one we know from nowadays Earth. It may have strange customs or laws. Authors tend to experiment quite wildly here.
But not Too Different
Even though society is quite different to our own, it can usually be clearly identified as a metaphor or exaggeration to a social concept present in our world.


The Universe
Varies. To each author his own.

Examples
Almost anything by Robert A. Heinlein. Joe Holdeman's The Forever War and The Forever Peace. Some works by Paul Anderson. Michael Marshall Smith's Spares. Doris Lessing's Shikasta. Dan Simons' Hyperion series, although it also has heavy subtones of Hard Core Science Fiction. Movies like Gataka.


HARD CORE SCIENCE FICTION
Characteristics
Technology has advanced in gigantic steps, and the world has changed, usually without recognition. Changes in technology have brought upon us changes in economy, politics and even the social and psychological structure of people. The story is always aware of technology and science and more often than not emphasizes them.

Typical Conventions
Technology Can Change the World
The story usually centers around a single or small group of related technological advancements, and the effect they have had on the world and it's inhabitants.
And it's interesting too
More often than not, the author explains the (pseudo-)scientific basis of the story in great details. Sometimes the understanding of this technology will even be the focus of the story.
And it Even All Makes Sense
Hard Core science fiction is a genre built on a sound scientific basis. Almost any idea presented there will be based on current day theories and knowledge, only taken one step further. And even if the ideas present there may sound implausible, in the very lest they will keep a consistent sense between themselves.
Little or Few Aliens
This subgenre too hosts a small number of alien races. If they do in fact exist, the story will go into detailed discussions about their physiology and the way they evolved.


The Universe
Neutral. The world is governed by technology and science. Almost always those with the better understanding of it will prevail in the end.

Examples
Most of Arthur C. Clark's works. Some works by Paul Anderson. Isaac Asimov's early Robots series. Faederik Poul's Man Plus. Robert L. Forawrd's The Flight of the Dragonfly. David Brin's Uplift series. Works by Ben Bova, John Christopher and of course the father of this genre H. G. Wells.


SPACE OPERA
Characteristics
Space is the final frontier. A small group of adventurers sets out to explore strange new worlds. To seek new life forms and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Typical Conventions
Lots of Aliens
The world is full of life and alien life forms, and alien civilizations. The huge verity of races and inhabited planets is too large for one man to know them all.
And Even So, Much of the Universe is Undiscovered
The world has a feeling of an old western. The world is simply so huge, that there are always new worlds and new life forms to discover.
Everything Goes
The world is such a huge place, that everything can exist - humanoid lifeforms, other kinds of lifeforms, weird technology, incredibly advanced civilizations, primitive ones - if you can think about it, it's probably out there somewhere.


The Universe
Straight down the middle neutral. It is dangerous, but bright and brave adventurers can prevail.

Examples
Books like Henry Berg's Den-7 series and Agnus Macvicar's Space Agent series. Most of Larry Niven's works. TV series like Star Trek, Babylon 5 and a host of imitations.


HEROIC SCIENCE-FICTION
Characteristics
A dark overlord threatens the peaceful lives of the inhabitants of the galaxy. A small band of unlikely heroes are drawn together from various races, planets and backgrounds to find the key for victory over this tyrant. At the end, usually not without personal sacrifice of some sort, evil is defeated and light shines once again. Lord of the Rings with lightsabres and spaceships instead of swords and horses.

Typical Conventions
Really High Stakes
The plot usually involves saving the entire galaxy or at least the planet form an extraterrestrial tyrant of some sort.
Larger than Life Characters
And drawn in bright colors too. Good is good, evil is evil, and never shall the two mix.
Technology is not All it's Said to Be
Technology is awesome, no doubt, but some forces are even greater. The dark lord armed with incredible alien technology is usually defeated by a small band of heroes wielding the most powerful weapons possible - honor, courage and devotion. Sometimes these heroes will employ some relic of ancient technology or teachings, but this is not necessary.
Aliens, Moderately
The classic convention dictates that the universe is in a war between the human race and a race of invaders from another planet/dimension/reality/whatever. However, diversions form this convention are much more frequent than from the others.


The Universe
Subtly beneficent. Even though the heroes must undergo immense hardship, and even though the forces of evil seem overwhelming, there is always a way good can prevail, somehow. But it is up to the determined hero to find and retrieve this key of victory.

Examples
The Lensmen series by E. E. Doc Smith. Movies like the Star Wars series, Starfighter, and a host of imitations.


CURRENT DAY SCIENCE FICTION (SCIENCE SEMI-FICTION)
Characteristics
The world is the world as we know it today, but with some subtle differences. Perhaps cloning has eventually become an every-day fact, perhaps computers have advanced ten-fold their current status, or perhaps it is possible to treat fatal diseases by gene therapy. The story focuses on these subtle but ever so important differences.

Typical Conventions
The World is a Known Place
The author goes into no trouble or into very little trouble to describe the world, since it is basically our world, and he assumes that we know it.
Current Scientific Trends are Exaggerated
This genre takes current popular science trends and concepts and exaggerates them. If for instance the hype of the popular science world today is the possibility to grow cloned vegetables for food in ten to twenty years, in this genre this will be the today's reality.
Technology is Here to Stay. But is it Good?
The main axis of the story line in this subgenre is usually the moral and ethical dilemmas advanced technology puts before its creators and users.


The Universe
Varies. It is basically our own world, and its nature depends on how the author perceives our world.

Examples
Almost anything by Michael Crichton. In his day Jules Verne was considered such an author. Movies like Sneakers.


INHUMAN SCIENCE FICTION
Characteristics
Humans are boring. Even science fiction about humans is boring. Lets explore something new and complete different - insects, aliens, or even sentient computer programs all make good choices.

Typical Conventions
Non-Human Subject
Inhuman Science Fiction deals with something that is altogether unknown to mankind - insects, alien beings or even sentient computer programs.
No Humans
This genre is almost the complete opposite of Social Science Fiction. It does not deal with human beings and is not interested in them. If any humans appear at all they serve only to show how little the humans know about anything different from them.
And Yet, Human Characteristics
Even though the entire environment is alien, at least some characters demonstrate behavioral traits that are oddly human such as compassion, loyalty, love or self-preservation and treason.
The Universe
Completely alien. It may be benevolent and it may be hostile, but in any event it is not like anything we've known before.

Examples
Books like C. J. Cherryh's Voyager in Night, Bernard Werber's Les Fourmis or Edwin A. Abbot's Flatland. TV Series like Reboot. Movies like Tron. The movie Matrix also falls under this category, bust just barely.


(POST)APOCALYPTIC SCIENCE FICTION
Characteristics
The world as we know it has been destroyed. Perhaps the a war went out of hand and escalated into a nuclear catastrophe. Perhaps years of pollution and abusing the environment have rendered the planet virtually inhabitable. Perhaps some genetically-altered virus has wiped out entire countries. Whatever the cause is, the world as we know it is gone, and it's our fault.

Typical Conventions
New World Order
The world as we know it is no more, and so are the powers of the old world. People of vision, wealth and muscle take control over small areas and rule them as they see fit. It is needles to say that more often than not they rule by muscle and compassion is thrown out the window.
Technology is Virtually Gone
With no industrial backbone, technology has more-or-less disappeared. Some people still hold relics and leftovers of working technology, but they cannot be refueled, fixed or manufactured. When these few relics will stop working, humanity will revert back to sticks and stones.
And Whatever Technology that Remained is Feared
Some technology did survive, and some still try to study it and return to the past days of humanity's glory. However, this technology is the reason the Earth was reduced to it's current situation and as such it is feared and hated.


The Universe
Harsh, and almost hostile. Only the strong survive. Those who are week will perish and be forgotten.

Examples
Books like Warday by Whitley Striber and Jamesv W. Kunetka, No Blade of Grass by John Christopher, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and After Doomsday by Paul Anderson. Movies like the Mad Max series, Waterworld and Postman.


ALTERNATE HISTORY
Characteristics
This is basically our world as we know it, but somewhere down the way, something happened differently. Perhaps the British Empire had never fallen. Perhaps the Nazis had won World War II. Perhaps JFK was never assassinated. In some occasions the heroes are from our world and have arrived into this strange world by some means of temporal or dimensional travel. In others, it's just the way the world is.

Typical Conventions
It is Still Basically Our World
Authors often make great efforts to show that this is still our world, only different. The same pop icons and brand names will usually be carefully inserted into the scene in order to show that it isn't that different from our world.
But Differences Can Be Found If You Look Hard Enough
The first time the heroes will notice that something isn't right is usually when they notice some small detail gone wrong. For instance, in a world where the Nazis have won World War II, the heroes may notice an abundance of Volkswagens on the streets.
The Future Can be Fixed
By affecting the personal choices of a certain individual (often a younger version of themselves), the heroes can set the future back on its course.


The Universe
Slightly hostile. Our world is the way the world is "supposed" to be, and it has somehow gone wrong.

Examples
The early seasons of the the TV show Sliders. Movies like the Back to the Future series.


FUNNY SCIENCE FICTION
Characteristics
Whimsical, pun-filled stories and plots playing on the conventions of other subgenres. The heroes, although likeable, may well be inept or stumble footed, to increase the irony.

Typical Conventions
Anything for a Laugh
No situation is too contrived if it leads to a nice pun, usually involving private jokes of those who know the genre well.
Computers are Anthropatic
Computers, androids and other lifeless machines often behave in human ways and act upon human motives.
Technology is Unreliable
Technology will always fail or miss-work in the way that will cause the maximum amount of laughs.


The Universe
Quite strongly benevolent, or else amusingly capricious - whatever would be funnier.

Examples
Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The Hoka! stories. Many of Eric Frank Russell 's works. Movies like Spaceballs. A host of literary or visual references to science-fiction concept in out-of-genre pieces, usually to Star Trek or Star Wars.