LESSON Science Fiction: More Than Just Star Ships

Discussion in 'REFINING WRITING' started by Revision, Apr 1, 2012.

  1. Science Fiction: More Than Just Star Ships

    When most people think of science fiction, their minds immediately go to vast vistas of stellar objects. Stars, asteroid belts, novas and nebulas are the canvas upon which their minds begin to paint. However, there is more to sci-fi than space ships and blaster pistols. The genre is vast, full of possibility and potential. Did you know that The Brave Little Toaster was originally a science fiction short story? Frankenstein is sci fi, too. Johnny Quest, Shadowrun, World of Warcraft, Doctor Who, and X-Men are ALL science fiction. The element of science, whether real or completely world specific, makes them science fiction. They may fit into other genres as well, but have no doubt, they are science fiction.

    It helps to know a bit about the various sub genres of science fiction. Here is a crash course on a few!

    Hard Science Fiction- Hard science fiction concerns itself with scientific accuracy, innovative technology based on a current understanding of science, and the implications of that sort of technology. This isn't always the best sub genre to roleplay in, and many people seem to fall into the assumption that you have to be a scientific genius to RP sci fi. This isn't true at all. Most of the other sub genres allow for quite a bit of technobabble. Technobabble probably won't cut it in hard sci fi, though. Arthur C. Clarke is a noted author of hard sci fi.

    Soft Science Fiction and Social Science Fiction- Some might argue that these two are one in the same. They concern themselves more with the social sciences or social effects of the story. These stories focus much more on how science affects society or on the way people react to their changing world. Technobabble is much more acceptable here, as is faster than light travel. Kurt Vonnegut is a noted social science fiction writer.

    Cyberpunk- Cyberpunk emphasizes distopia and grit. Technology may be advanced, but the rest of humanity is not, and is often compromised by taking advantage of one another, poverty, and a lack of advanced stances. Many characters will fall low on the chart of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, finding themselves fitting the rolls of impoverished freedom fighter, pirate, hacker, or some poor dupe just caught in the middle of the conspiracy. Cyberpunk is generally set in near future Earth, though far future is possible. (I call the far future variant “starpunk” just to not confuse myself.) Hacking, megacorporations, and conspiracies are popular plot candies for cyberpunk. Phillip K. Dick is celebrated for his cyberpunk story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.

    Steampunk- Steampunk is sci fi that is set in the past. It is a strange blend of alternate history and soft science fiction, positing the question “what if technological advances had been made with steam?” It has a couple cousins, the most prominent of which is dieselpunk. Steampunk is often set in the Victorian era, with much of the rest of that history intact. It is very possible to have steampunk in other settings (wild west and off planet, for example), but a great deal of emphasis is given to the social setting and fashion. Gears, lots of gears! The Wild Wild West is an example of Steampunk.

    Space Opera- Space Opera is probably the form of science fiction people are most familiar with. Set among distant worlds, focused on exploration and combat, it is all about adventure and people. Heroic characters surviving incredible odds and sticking to their morals are a staple of this sort of setting. Actual science has little bearing except when the scientific jargon gets skillfully adapted into technobabble. Star Trek is an example of Space Opera.

    Space Western- Space Western is a type of Space Opera that focuses on wild frontier worlds, a feeling of staying ahead of the law, frontier justice, and heroes in hard places. Star Wars is an example, with desert planets, bounty hunters, and rebellions. An example with even more of a western feel is Firefly, which gives the characters a very wild west feel.

    Superheroes- Superheroes are arguably science fiction. Origin stories and villains seem to specialize in science, even if it is mostly nonsensical jargon. Lets face it. Most origin stories seem silly when looked at in a modern light, but they were convincing enough to get our grandparents attention and hold generations in admiration since then. Superhero stories require a high suspension of disbelief and differ from most other sub genres by being set mostly in the modern day. X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and Justice League are easy examples of superhero stories.

    Mundane Sci-fi
    - Mundane sci-fi is very much akin to Hard Science Fiction, only it is set in the modern or near future times with tech that is believable based on our current tech level and focuses on much nearer to the heart problems and issues than stellar empires. When it Changed: Science into Fiction is a collection of Mundane Science Fiction stories.

    Military Sci-fi- Military Sci-fi deals predominantly with characters in the armed services in space or on other planets. It is often either political or dark and focuses on the soldiers and their battles. Other politics may go on in the background but they are not the focus. Science in these settings is normally utilized for powered armor, guns, and bigger, deadlier ships. Make no mistake, these are war epics in space, and the brotherhood of the soldiers should play a large roll. Warhammer 40k, The Forever War, and Starship Troopers are all examples.

    Alternate History- Alternate History is a genre of science fiction where things that happened in the past went completely different. Sometimes it is as simple as a shot missing in an assassination, or sometimes some bizarre bit of tech is introduced that changes everything. Harry Turtledove specializes in this sub genre.

    In addition to these sub genres, it is important to realize that almost any story can become one of science fiction, given the right modifications. Soft science fiction and space operas are good for adapting many stories and fairy tales to. There are some authors that specialize in doing just this. One such author made a great living off of taking dragon myths and setting these beasts on a distant colony world, the dragons themselves genetic modifications of a planetary native flying lizard. So have fun!

    Anyone can run or play a science fiction game, whether it is set in an elaborate scientific world, a theocratic nightmare, or it's just one species rebelling against another. There are more sub genres and themes out there than can be covered in a single workshop, so please, don't worry if your story doesn't fall into one of these categories! Go! Have fun!