Sunday, January 20, 2013

What's the Criteria for Classifying a SciFi Story?

Updated: June.15.2015

Science fiction is a genre of fiction based primarily on popular scientific principles and sometimes, on principles created especially for the story. Modern SciFi tales have witnessed a shift in the form of the genre and this change owes in large part to advancement in technology. Almost every story indulges in the application of complicated gadgets and sometimes exhibit science themes but these are not by classification science fiction stories.

For Science fiction nerds who deserve a hiatus from this confusing trend in fiction, it seems necessary to draw a  line indicating the limit or extent of the SciFi genre. I have listed five peculiarities which most stories that fall under this genre exhibit. But rules are rules and creativity has been known to break them.
This is how you can identify a science fiction plot:

1. If it is Governed by the Laws of Science
There are exceptions as you will find out in 5. If the plot is in line with the laws governing the execution of scientific experiments, it is most definitely science fiction. If the plot of a story is driven by and depends solely on the limits and boundaries of set science laws then it is scifi.

2. If Conflicts Are Resolved Via Scientific Principles
In contrast to magic or sorcery in fantasy, the plots of a scifi tale must prove and uphold the power of science. Not of sorcery or religious belief or basically, the human emotion. If it must prove anything else it must have its root from a scientific viewpoint.

3. If the Plot Explores Science-Oriented Issues
There is a world of difference between a story with a science theme and a plot that explores scientific issues with intent to resolve it. The plots of scifi burrow deep into science and are only resolved when the scientific riddle has been solved. That's different from say a James Bond movie which only involves complicated technological gadgets but lack the drive for scientific research.

4. If there's No Trace of Supernatural Elements
I believe this one explains itself, effectively. Unless you're writing sword and sorcery or a religious book, science fiction plots do not explore the supernatural or things that cannot be solved with chemical formulas. Of course, there may be traces of religion in a scifi story, characters in the story may profess faith but the overall theme of the story is always explorations in science.

5. If it is Predictive in Structure
Because scifi delves into the unexplored realms of science, the structure of the genre is particularly predictive. When people use phones in movies today it is not so spectacular. But back when phones were still items of speculation, an author writing about a time when these gadgets would become available to everybody could be said to make predictions. Thus, predictions in science fiction is different from that of sorcery or divination.
Prediction in scifi is simply another way of saying speculation.

This discussion is open to debates why, it's science fiction, the literature of ideas. And there's definitely, other methods of identifying this genre besides these five. But if it works for any of you out there, my mission is accomplished.

Keep your pen bleeding!



  1. Science Fiction is typically about a plausible future while Fantasy is typically about a mythical past.

    1. These days (has it ever been different?), the line between what's 'plausible' and what isn't especially, as it applies to science fiction is pretty thin. Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Even things that are undoubtedly impossible with existing or foreseeable techniques may prove to be easy as a result of new scientific breakthroughs." But yes, there are some science fiction gigs that should be rather classified as silly and ridiculous.

      Science fiction is not 'always' about the future and fantasy is not 'always' about the past even though it usually exhibits that 'mythical' element.

      Thanks for the comment and thanks for visiting!

  2. As Asimov said SCIENCE fiction is a story about the human responce to a scientific advance that poses a question about the human condition and then answers it. Gattica, Contact, District 9

    Speculative fiction is a science fiction by a writer that doesn't understand science but thinks otherwise. Starwars, Starman

    Then there are genre flavored films. Bond, Serenity

    1. Well, I believe speculative fiction is a broader fiction genre that incorporates Fantasy, Horror and Science fiction.

      And yes, I agree there are a lot of films and books that people often misinterpret as SF but are really stories with science themes. It's what prompted me to do this article.

      Thanks for the quote by Asimov. That's a very goooooood one! And thanks for visiting.

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