The world of science fiction and fantasy is rich and varied. Often
lumped together under the catchall term "speculative fiction," these two
distinct genres encompass a number of sub-genres. Many who don't read
sf/f are unaware that the two though close kin are very different.
Isaac Asimov, once asked to explain the difference between science
fiction and fantasy, replied that science fiction, given its grounding
in science, is possible; fantasy, which has no grounding in reality,
The following are terms used frequently used to define elements and
"sub-genres" within science fiction and fantasy literature.
A catchall term for science fiction and fantasy.
It applies to work that answers the question "What if...?"
Sometimes it is also applied to fiction considered more "literary" in
nature that includes elements of SF or fantasy. Examples include
Nicholas Christopher's Veronica and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One
Hundred Years of Solitude. Within science fiction, the term
speculative fiction refers to novels that focus less on advances in
technology and more on issues of social change, such as Aldous
Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984, Margaret Atwood's The
Handmaid's Tale and Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick.
A genre that extrapolates from current scientific
trends. The technology of a science fiction story may be either the
driving force of the story or merely the setting for a drama, but all
science fiction tends to predict or define the future.
A term often used for science fiction primarily by people
outside the field. Serious readers of science fiction prefer the
Cyberpunk explores the fusion between man and machine. A
key element is the perfection of the Internet and virtual reality
technology. In a cyberpunk novel, characters can experience and
interact with computers in a 3D graphic environment so real that it
feels like a physical landscape. The society in which cyberpunk is
set tends to be heavily urban, and usually somewhat anarchic or
feudal. The "father of cyberpunk" is William Gibson, author of the
seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer. Eos authors defining this
ever-evolving virtual reality include Neal Stephenson and Rudy Rucker.
MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION:
Basically, the armed forces in space.
Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Joe Haldeman's The Forever War
are classic examples. Contemporary examples include David Feintuch's
Seafort Saga novels, and the work of Lois McMaster Bujold. Military
SF at Avon includes Susan R. Matthews's An Exchange Of Hostages and
Prisoner Of Conscience, and the upcoming Heritage series by William
Usually written by writers with a strong science background,
frequently research scientists, who provide meticulously detailed
future science in their work, consistent with the most current
research. Hard SF writers include Greg Bear and David Brin, as well
as Eos authors Gregory Benford and John Cramer.
PARALLEL/ALTERNATE UNIVERSE SF:
The idea behind parallel/alternate
universe SF is that for every decision made or event that occurs,
there is another place where the decision or the event went
differently. For example, Robert Harris's Fatherland, in which
Hitler was victorious, could be considered alternate universe sf.
Steven Gould's Wildside presents a contemporary parallel in which high
school seniors pass through a portal to a primeval Earth never
inhabited by humans. Another type of alternate/parallel universe sf
is that written by hard SF writers, usually physicists like John
Cramer whose novels Twistor and Einstein's Bridge are good examples.
High adventure in space; usually somewhat campy, of the
type that used to be serialized at the movies and in the pulp
magazines that were popular in the first half of this century.
Hallmarks of space opera include encounters with beautiful women and
bug-eyed monsters. Flash Gordon is vintage space opera, Star Trek is
more sophisticated, contemporary space opera. Edgar Rice Burroughs's
Barsoom series is space opera.