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What Are the Main Subgenres of Science Fiction?

Science Fiction is one of the main subgenres of Speculative Fiction – It relates to the extraordinary, fantastic, or out-of-common reality scenarios as we know them – and, in this case, deals with science, the future, and technology.

We understand Science Fiction as a genre that explores what has yet to be explored in terms of technological, scientific, and spatial advances. It’s a made-up, out-of-the-ordinary story. However, what makes it so appealing is that it is very close to the things we know and experience in the real world.

The most accepted theory of the origins of science fiction is that it was born in 1818, when Mary Shelley gave rise to Frankenstein, using his sinister history to question technological advances and how much people were (or were not) prepared to deal with their consequences.

For example, what would happen to the world if super-intelligent computers decided to eliminate human life on Earth? The Terminator is a genre classic that explores time travel – a powerful sci-fi concept and the powers of destructive artificial intelligence. Today, we already have examples of AI capable of doing pretty much anything, from writing articles to generating complex art.

So the basics are this. You have a scenario involving technology, scientific studies, space exploration, things that we can relate to because they happen in the reality where we live. But for science fiction, what drives a story is the: what if?

Then, as with all genres, there are subgenres. And the main and best-known science fiction subgenres we always see on shelves and releases are Dystopia, Space Opera, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Utopia, Virtual Reality, Post Apocalyptic and Time Travel.

There are numerous other subgenres, such as Terraformation, First Contact, Nanotechnology, Myth, Science, and Fantasy Fiction.

However, let’s stick to the main ones because they are better known within the literary universe and easier to identify and find in movies and tv shows.


It comes from ancient Greek, meaning “bad place,” and that’s exactly what the subgenre explores. A place in space or time where the quality of life is terrible, with an oppressive society run by a totalitarian government, where people have no rights, and their voices are never heard. Generally, you have that visibly divided society, where the elite has all the privileges, and the rest of the population is doomed to horror and oblivion. Great examples of dystopia are sagas like Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Legend (Marie Lu), and the classic 1984 by George Orwell.

Space Opera

It’s like a space soap opera. The epic adventure and heroic characters, interplanetary battles, that feeling of the hero’s journey, only without the dragons and Evil incarnated in an evil lord. Star Wars is the greatest example of Space Opera that exists. For books, we can mention Dune (Frank Herbert) and The Lunar Chronicles (Marissa Meyer).


The future is where technology and megacorporations have taken over almost everything. Life is either too extravagant (for those privileged to live it) or too painful (again, that very visibly divided society thing). Technology is in everything and everyone, but some live on scrap metal, and others live on the highest luxury. High tech and low life are how the cyberpunk subgenre is defined. Neuromancer (William Gibson) is a book to know and understand many of this subgenre. Blade Runner is a film to feel the vibe of this subgenre.


The total opposite of dystopia involves an ideal world or society. There may be conflict situations, but the idea is that this place is governed by the best laws, by the best people, a space of comfort and peace because everything is fine. The Truman Show (Andrew Niccol) is one of the best examples of this subgenre.

Virtual Reality

It already exists and is becoming more and more advanced. Video games use unique gadgets to place their players in the game environment, using special glasses and motion controls, and the idea is basically this. A story where Virtual Reality has become commonplace, where putting on a pair of glasses can make you live another life, another reality, a competition, who knows, an adventure. Amazon’s Prime, The Terminal List, is one of the most recent examples of this subgenre.

Post Apocalyptic

This is one of the classics that countless movies, series, and books have already worked on. The world ended due to catastrophe, terrible epidemic, war, whatever. And the survivors need to move on and learn the new rules of society, survival, and living in this new destroyed reality. The Walking Dead is one of the most know shows in this subgenre.

Time Travel

This subgenre deals with the concept of time travel, either to the past or the future. It typically involves a device or method, such as a time machine, that allows characters to travel through time and explores the consequences of their actions. Time travel stories often include history, science, and speculative fiction elements. They may explore themes such as the butterfly effect, the nature of time, and the possibility of changing the past or future. One of the classics in this genre is, of course, Back To The Future (Zemeckis and Bob Gale).



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