Science fiction is a genre that almost prides itself on labeling stories—not just with the science-fiction label itself, but also with any number of sub-categorizations within science fiction. To sci-fi fans, the "science-fiction" label is simply too broad. To properly categorize a novel is to tag it with sub-genre labels like "steampunk" and "time travel" and "zombies." Obsessive? Perhaps...but the tags we put on sci-fi books ultimately help readers find the exact book they are looking for.
To that end, I present the Science Fiction Merry-Go-Round of new and recent science-fiction releases!
WHAT IT IS: Stories that involve beings that are not human.
RECENT EXAMPLE: Deathwatch: Xenos Hunters edited by Christian Dunn (set in the rich and popular Warhammer 40K universe) is an anthology about an elite organization of soldiers chartered with extermination of all extra-terrestrial beings.
WHAT IT IS: Alternate History is concerned with alternate versions of our own history, with stories that take place in our other-past or an alternate future based on it.
RECENT EXAMPLE: Truth and Fear by Peter Higgins (the follow-up to The Wolfhound Century) focuses on an investigation of mysterious angel-like beings in a totalitarian state. This is not just an alternate history in the traditional sense (in which our history diverges at some point into something-that-might-have-been); instead, this novel combines alternate history with myth and legends and blends them together into something altogether refreshing and compelling.
WHAT IT IS: Cyberpunk stories usually include a merging of humans, technology and radical social change.
RECENT EXAMPLE: Hotwire by Simon Ings features ruthless corporations and mad orbital AIs...but it focuses on a man who once gave birth to artificially intelligent cities and is now working for an intelligent city that wishes to become human.
WHAT IT IS: Dystopian stories are ones in which the conditions of society have become unfavorable.
RECENT EXAMPLE: The Detainee by Peter Liney features a government that has gone bust and can no longer support its weakest members. It's a society that ships its elderly and infirm to a remote island, where they become the scapegoats for the collapse of society.
WHAT IT IS: Hard science-fiction stories are characterized by their scientific accuracy and/or detail.
RECENT EXAMPLE: The Martian by Andy Weir is a gripping story of an astronaut who is abandoned on Mars after being left for dead. As hopeless as his situation seems, he demonstrates amazing feats of ingenuity and exhibits an almost inhuman optimism that is nothing short of uplifting for the reader.
WHAT IT IS: Futuristic stories largely characterized by the inclusion of military battles and strategies.
RECENT EXAMPLE: For Honor We Stand by H. Paul Honsinger takes readers to the year 2315, where mankind is already 30 years into a war with the Krag Hegemony—a war that could easily lead to the end of mankind.
WHAT IT IS: Apocalyptic stories concern themselves with the end of the word.
RECENT EXAMPLE: The End is Nigh edited by John Joseph Adams is the first anthology in a trio of apocalyptic anthologies, this first outing focusing on what happens right before the end of the world. It features stories from Paolo Bacigalupi, Tobias S. Buckell, Hugh Howey, Nancy Kress, Sarah Langan, Seanan McGuire and 15 others.
WHAT IT IS: Stories that include complex machines that resemble humans.
RECENT EXAMPLE: Incorporating 1950s B-movie charm and a lot of satire surrounding the tropes of that era, It Came! by Dan Boultwood is a graphic novel about how a space scientist and his female companion encounter Grurk, an indestructible, monosyllabic robot from outer space, who is on a mission to harvest energy from the British Blitz.
WHAT IT IS: Less rigorous than hard science fiction, steampunk stories are set in a (usually Victorian) world where the predominant technology is steam power.
RECENT EXAMPLE: Dawn's Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris is the latest installment of their wildly fun stories about the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Here, British agents Braun and Books team up with their American counterparts from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical to investigate a series of nautical and aerial disasters, the perpetrator of which seems to be one Thomas Edison.
WHAT IT IS: Time travel stories involve travel through time. (You were expecting...?)
RECENT EXAMPLE: The Time Traveler's Almanac edited by Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer is a terrific, 960-page anthology of time travel stories that features 65(!) stories as well as five additional non-fiction essays. Contributing authors include Issac Asimov, Kage Baker, Elizabeth Bear, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Joe Lansdale, George R.R. Martin, Robert Silverberg and Gene Wolfe, among others.
WHAT IT IS: Stories that feature realistic, computer-simulated environments.
RECENT EXAMPLE: Elusion by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam is the beginning of a futuristic series is which a new virtual reality world called Elusion is sweeping the nation. One girl takes it upon herself to find out the truth behind claims of Elsuion's addictive and dangerous nature.
WHAT IT IS: Zombies are what you get when dead people come back to life.
RECENT EXAMPLE: The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor: Part Two by Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga closes out a four-book sequence of stories set in Kirkman's superpopular Walking Dead zombie universe, where humans struggle to survive against the hordes of undead. Here, the story of the power-hungry, self-proclaimed Governor of Woodbury comes to its shocking conclusion.