Definition – Examples – How to Write
Hello Lovelies, and welcome back to the blog. We are learning about the fifth Pillar of Genre, Fiction. Last time, we went over a definition for Western Fiction, and we talked about some examples and how to write it. This week, I want to dive deeper into the next of those subgenres, that of Science Fiction. Let’s get started.
Science Fiction Definition
Science fiction, often called “sci-fi,” is a genre of fiction literature whose content is imaginative, but based in science. It relies heavily on scientific facts, theories, and principles as support for its settings, characters, themes, and plot-lines, which is what makes it different from fantasy. So, while the storylines and elements of science fiction stories are imaginary, they are at least scientifically plausible.
I absolutely love science fiction as a genre. I could list a thousand novels here that I would recommend, but I won’t. Let me instead recommend a top 5 list of incredible science fiction novels that I think are absolute must-reads for the genre.
- A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle: First published in 1962, the book won the Newbery Medal, the Sequoyah Book Award, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and was runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. The main characters – Meg Murry, Charles Wallace Murry, and Calvin O’Keefe – embark on a journey through space and time, from galaxy to galaxy, as they endeavor to rescue the Murrys’ father and fight back The Black Thing that has intruded into several worlds.
I read this book in 4th grade and it made me the reader I am today.
- Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game is a 1985 military science fiction novel by American author Orson Scott Card. Set at an unspecified date in Earth’s future, the novel presents an imperiled humankind after two conflicts with an insectoid alien species they dub “the buggers”. In preparation for an anticipated third invasion, Earth’s international military force recruits young children, including the novel’s protagonist, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, to be trained as elite officers. The children learn military strategy and leadership by playing increasingly difficult war games, including some in zero gravity, where Ender’s tactical genius is revealed. The book originated as a short story of the same name, published in the August 1977 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. The novel has been translated into 34 languages.
Forget the movie, it’s garbage. I have had to buy this book more times than any other book because every single time I lend it out, that person keeps my copy. It is that good.
- Master and Apprentice – Claudia Gray: A canon novel which was published on April 16, 2019. The novel is set approximately eight years prior to the events of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, following Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi. It tracks Qui-Gon Jinn heavily through his formative years, and also shows the development of the two comrades leading up to the events of the Phantom Menace.
Qui-Gon’s my favorite and the Audiobook, narrated by Jonathan Davis, is incredible.
- Dune Messiah – Frank Herbert: The second in the Dune series of six novels. A sequel to Dune (1965), it was originally serialized in Galaxy magazine in 1969, and then published by Putnam the same year. Dune Messiah and its own sequel Children of Dune (1976) were collectively adapted by the Sci-Fi Channel in 2003 into a miniseries entitled Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune.
People may recommend the first Dune book, and honestly for good reason. Dune is to Science Fiction, what Tolkien is to Fantasy. It is that iconic. But really, the second Dune book far surpasses the first in the amount of political machinations and high-stakes plot points going on. Half the size of the first series entry, this book keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time and is a great read, whereas sometimes the first Dune book, while awesome and iconic, is still a slog.
- So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish – Douglas Adams: The fourth book of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy of six books”. Its title is the message left by the dolphins when they departed Planet Earth just before it was demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, as described in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has become an international multi-media phenomenon; starting out as a BBC radio broadcast, it was later adapted to other formats, including novels, stage shows, comic books, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 text-based computer game, and 2005 feature film. The novels have been translated into more than 30 languages. The first novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), has been ranked fourth on the BBC’s The Big Read poll. In 2017, BBC Radio 4 even announced a 40th-anniversary celebration.
What makes the fourth novel special to me is the introduction of my favorite character in the series, Rob McKenna the Rain God, and the reintroduction of my second favorite character, Marvin the Depressed Robot. The Hitchhiker’s Guide is a blast from beginning to end; its satirical nature really hit the nail on the head in so many ways for me when I read it in college.
How to Write Science Fiction as a Literary Genre
If you are interested in writing science fiction, I can help you out there with some tips.
- Dig deep into the Big Idea of your story.
There are ideas, and then there are Big Ideas. The Big Idea of Ender’s Game is that we’ve already gone to war with the Buggers twice, to disastrous consequences, and we’re determined not to lose this time. The big idea in Dune is that there is a hallucinogen called “spice” that can only be found on the planet Arrakis, the planet the natives call Dune. This spice is critically necessary for space travel, but also once you have the spice in your system it becomes an addictive poison, and you can never go without it ever again. What is your book’s really Big Idea? Dig deep into this idea and really explore every implication on what changing even one small element of your world can mean.
- Know what kind of Science Fiction story you are trying to tell.
In general, there are many subgenres of Science Fiction, including Space Operas, Hard Science Fiction, and Soft. Know which type of science story you are trying to tell, and don’t stray from that. A fan of Hard science fiction will want to know how the science and cool tech works, whereas a soft science fiction fan won’t. Sometimes a hyper condenser or a lightsaber is cool enough on its own, and sometimes you need an all out space battle between multiple spaceships in your story. Know which story you’re trying to tell so you aren’t shoehorning all science fiction tropes into the same novel.
- There has to be science and it has to matter to the story.
It seems like a no-brainer, but it can’t all be fun space chases. There must be a little bit of science in every piece of science fiction that you write. The science plot doesn’t have to be what the story revolves around. If we’re sent up in the first shipment of humans who are trying to colonize Mars, and something we didn’t know was there is destroying every structure we build with the limited supplies we’ve been sent to Mars with, the story isn’t really about colonizing Mars, it’s about the characters and how they’re surviving.
- The science can’t be too science-y, though.
We need to keep in mind that if the words on the page start sounding too much like info dumping, it probably is. I have a tendency to write my way through while telling myself the things I think I know. It starts to sound like a Wikipedia page in early drafts, but I know that I can always improve parts of a draft that start sounding like that. Any time the science sticks out, it’s going to throw the reader out of the experience of reading your book. Challenge yourself to drop the science even further into the background, make it even more commonplace and explain it even more simply than you did in a previous version.
- Let the characters take center stage.
The characters are the drivers of every science fiction story. We don’t watch Star Trek to figure out the ship’s decks. We watch it because the premise of Star Trek is that we’ve solved all of Earth’s problems and now we are out there searching for something else in the universe, searching for hope. It’s the characters that drive that message home for us. Not the fancy badge communicators, the ships, or the cool weapons. We fall in love with Captains and crew members. We fall in love with the people on board and their stories.
- Introduce your problem or conflict even earlier than you think that you need to.
What makes a science fiction novel that you simply can’t put down? It’s the page turn-ability. Similar to a thriller novel, think about where your chapters and sections end. Build your conflict up early and don’t stop until the last page. Don’t let things easily resolve. If they fix a gas leak, great, but now they are running low on oxygen. If they weather an attack by an unseen foe and everyone survives, they are lucky, but maybe their food stores are halved because they’ve soured from the creature’s acid claws. Is there a sleeper among the crew giving information to the unseen attackers? Maybe. Otherwise, how would they know exactly where to attack and when? Now they have to deal with that possibility too. A really great example of this is the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown. His space opera series is brutal and nonstop, and I am absolutely feral for book 6. Fair warning though, if you want a happy ending, do yourself a favor and stop at book 3 at least until book 6 comes out.
Next week, we are moving through the Fiction Pillar of Genre, and talking about the Horror genre, just in time for Halloween! Stay tuned for more fiction, coming your way for the rest of this year!
- What is your favorite work of fiction?
- Do you have a favorite type of fiction subgenre?
- What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
- What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
- What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?
Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!