This six-part series is intended to guide new science fiction readers toward books that they may enjoy. Here's what's on tap:
- Part 1: What You Need to Know
- Part 2: Ten Accessible Science Fiction Books
- Part 3: Award Winners
- Part 4: Short Stories
- Part 5: A Sampling of Genres [You are here!]
- Part 6: A Reading Trip Through the History of Science fiction
Part 5: A Sampling of Genres
Last week, I compared reading short fiction with eating tasty snacks. To continue the food analogy: think of science fiction as a huge, all-you-can-eat buffet. Not only is there plenty of fiction for you to consume, there is a wide variety of flavors, too. Since science fiction itself is a genre, these different flavors of sf are often called subgenres.
Here's a sampling of appetizing subgenres to match your tastes and get you started on the path to science fiction. For each subgenre, I include some representative titles worthy of a newcomer's reading time. Note that subgenres are not mutually exclusive categories, so it's possible to have a story that's, say, a military steampunk time-travel adventure. I can't think of a representative title for that, but I bet it'd be awesome...
ALIENS: Stories that focus on the differences between us and "the other"; may include first contact stories, alien invasion stories, displaced aliens and more. Suggested reading: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells; The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney; The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
ALTERNATE HISTORY: Concerned with alternate versions of our own history, with stories that take place in our other-past or an alternate future based on it. Suggested reading: Just about any novel by Harry Turtledove; The Man in the High Castle by Philip k. Dick; The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century edited by Harry Turtledove.
CYBERPUNK: Cyberpunk stories usually feature the integration of humans and technology and radical social change. Suggested reading: Neuromancer by William Gibson; When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger; Mirrorshades edited by Bruce Sterling.
DYSTOPIAS: Dystopian stories are ones in which the conditions of society have become unfavorable. Suggested reading: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Brave New Worlds edited by John Joseph Adams.
HARD SF: Hard science fiction stories are characterized by their scientific accuracy and/or detail. Suggested reading: Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement; Life by Gwyneth Jones; The Hard SF Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.
MILITARY SF: Largely concerns itself with military battles and strategies; such stories usually contain a high action quotient. Suggested reading: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein; The Hammer's Slammers series by David Drake; The Best Military Science Fiction of the 20th Century edited by Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg.
POST-APOCALYPTIC: Stories about what happens after the end of the world as we know it, usually due to some catastrophe. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.; Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank; Wastelands edited by John Joseph Adams.
SPACE OPERA: Stories that usually emphasize melodramatic adventures in space. Suggested reading: The Lensman series by E.E. "Doc" Smith; The Culture novels of Ian M. Banks; The Space Opera Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Crame.r
STEAMPUNK: Stories where technology is powered by steam. There's less rigorous science here; it's more about the flavor. Suggested reading: The Difference Engine by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling; Boneshaker by Cherie Priest; Steampunk II edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.
TIME TRAVEL: Involves travel through time; sometimes involves changing our own history and the time paradox. (What would happen if you went back in time and killed your grandfather before you were conceived?) Suggested reading: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells; The Company novels of Kage Baker; The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time edited by Barry N. Malzberg.
ZOMBIES: Not just the territory of horror, zombies are about the dead who come back to life. With scientific rationale, of course! Suggested reading: World War Z by Max Brooks; The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer; The Living Dead 2 edited by John Joseph Adams.