Science fiction is often accused of using hard-to-understand terms. Well... Okay, guilty as charged. But just because science fiction has an occasional tendency to use complex language doesn't mean that it's impossible to understand—especially when you have the following glossary at the ready the next time you pick up a science fiction book from the shelf.  Continuing on from earlier parts in this series, here's an additional key to understanding more of the "mumbo-jumbo" in science fiction.

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A clone is an individual (usually one of many) created through asexual reproduction from the genes of a single parent. A clone is an exact genetic copy of the parent.

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RECOMENDED READING: The Clone Sedition by Stephen Kent is the latest in a series set in the 26th century, where the government ruling Earth's colony planets utilizes a powerful military made up almost entirely of clones. Also: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a beautifully subtle yet powerful story that explores what it means to be human.


Eugenics, a specialty of genetic engineering (see below), is the science of selective breeding. That is, it deals with scientifically promoting desirable human traits and/or eliminating undesirable ones. Stories involving eugenics often deal with the ethics of the practice, playing off the theme of "man playing god."

RECOMENDED READING: The Beggars in Spain books by Nancy Kress introduce into society a group of designer children that never need sleep. They are soon seen as outcasts by a society that fears them, jealous of their increased productivity during their never-ending waking hours.

flashforward ESP / PRECOGNITION

Precognition is the formal term for ESP (Extra Sensory Perception), the ability to see into the future.

RECOMENDED READING: Philip K. Dick's short story, "The Minority Report," which was adapted to film by Steven Spielberg, deals with ability to prevent crime before it happens thanks to the prophetic visions of the "precogs," a trio of individuals who can foresee the future. Also noteworthy, a worldwide experience of precognition is experienced in Robert J. Sawyer's Flashforward, where everyone gets a brief, one-time glimpse into their own future.


The science of genetic engineering refers to the direct manipulation of an organism's genome using advanced DNA technology, essentially changing the biological characteristics of that organism. Genetic engineering is not science fiction, it is science fact. Scientists routinely use this technology to combat bacteria and viruses. Genetic engineering is usually found in science fiction when such meddling occurs in humans. (See also: eugenics.)

RECOMENDED READING: The go-to story for genetic engineering is the H.G. Wells classic, The Island of Dr. Moreau, in which a deranged scientist operates on animals to make them sentient. Things do not go well.


Psi (pronounced like "sigh") refers to a set of psychic abilities. Psi powers usually include a broad spectrum of psychic abilities. (See also: precognition, telekinesis and telepathy.) Psionics refers to the study of psi powers.

RECOMENDED READING: The main character of Jean Johnson's military science-fiction series Theirs Not to Reason Why—the latest book of which is An Officer's Duty—possesses a variety of psi powers that she uses to attempt to prevent a horrible atrocity she has foreseen: The needless extinction of millions of lives three centuries into the future.


Telekinesis refers to the ability to move objects with one's mind. Just by thinking, a telekinetic individual can disrupt the plans of evildoers or, if they are feeling lazy, retrieve a piece of fruit without moving off the couch. A popular film portrayal of telekinetic powers (though not really named as such) is the power wielded by Jedis in the Star Wars films.

RECOMENDED READING: Hellhole by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson features an alien race that possesses the power of telekinesis, which they use to build cities.


Telepathy is the ability to read minds. This can be achieved with external assistance (as with machines or drugs) but is often depicted as a natural ability in science-fiction stories.

RECOMENDED READING: Clean by Alex Hughes features a protagonist who is also a telepath—a nice ability to possess when you also happen to work for the police and want to get inside the head of a suspect. Also: A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber features an intelligent alien species that is not only telepathic, but able to bond with certain humans.

John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also likes bagels.