Science Fiction: All About Genre

All About Genre #3

Science Fiction

By Leigh Holland

Science Fiction, or “Sci Fi”, is a difficult genre to pin down but incredibly easy to recognize when we see it. Perhaps it’s so hard to pin down because Science Fiction has no boundaries other than what we choose to give it. Let’s start by looking at how others have tried to define the genre in the past.

“To be science fiction, not fantasy, an honest effort at prophetic extrapolation from the known must be made.” -John W. Campbell Jr.

Realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method. To make this definition cover all science fiction (instead of ‘almost all’) it is necessary only to strike out the word ‘future’.” -Robert A. Heinlein

“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” -Rod Serling

“Science fiction then is the fiction of revolutions. Revolutions in time, space, medicine, travel, and thought…Above all, science fiction is the fiction of warm-blooded human men and women sometimes elevated and sometimes crushed by their machines.” -Ray Bradbury

“Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.” -Isaac Asimov

“Science fiction is something that could happen – but you usually wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though you often only wish that it could.” -Arthur C. Clarke

Simply put, the reason it’s hard to define is because science fiction evolves as science itself discovers new facts and possibilities, which occurs daily. Just when we think we’ve got it wrangled into a neat definition, scientific knowledge expands, and a whole new world of speculation flows forth.

Rather than defining it, it would be more useful to examine some of its elements. Science fiction often involves one or more of the following elements:

  1. An alternative history that contradicts our present understanding in some way
  2. An alternative future or a setting realistically in the future
  3. Outer space setting, such as moons, planets, and spacecrafts
  4. Subterranean settings
  5. Characters such as aliens, mutants, robots, evolved humans who differ from present humans, and androids.
  6. Alternate dimensions or parallel universes
  7. New or different political and social settings blended with technology
  8. Time travel, wormholes, warp drive, advanced communications
  9. Future plausible technology
  10. Paranormal abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis, etc.

There are two general categories within Science Fiction, “hard” and “soft”.

Hard Science Fiction strives to ensure that close attention is paid to details of scientific fields such as physics, chemistry, and biology, so the fiction is as realistically and faithfully grounded in scientific fact as possible. Because of this attention to “getting it right”, an intriguing number of predictions within hard science fiction stories of the past have become reality since then. It’s not difficult to imagine that technology and other advances envisioned in hard science fiction today will one day be available to us in the future.

Soft Science Fiction focuses more on character, social structures, and emotion than hard sci-fi and stems from the soft sciences, such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and political science. Utopian and Dystopian works are classified under Soft Sci-Fi.

What is the PICS focus for Science Fiction?

PLOT: 20%

IDEA: 45%



Are there “secret” Sci-Fi categories you can unlock at Amazon?

Yes, there are.

You can find more information about those helpfully here. The main reason to want to unlock these categories, if appropriate to your work, is because there is often less competition in these categories as they are not selectable at the outset of publishing.


Click the link to learn more about the subgenre.


Alien Invasion

Alternate History






First Contact

Galactic Empire

Genetic Engineering




Short Stories

Space Opera


Time Travel



  1. Thanks for the rundown on the genre!

    I think there’s a pretty easy way to distinguish between SF and Fantasy. It is the nature of science to explain things. In science fiction, the magical element is explained. In fantasy, it doesn’t matter how the magic works because the story has other foci such as character. In that regard, I would consider space opera, such as Star Wars, to be fantasy. It is becoming a more accepted opinion these days, as a new sub-genre has been coined for those sorts of stories: Space Fantasy. Star Wars is a great example because the first time they tried to include scientific explanation (as with the midichloreans) there was huge backlash from the fanbase to the point that the idea is all but ignored now.

    This is the first time I’ve hear the PICS thing. Thanks for that! 🙂 I imagine the numbers for SF a bit different. SF is very plot heavy, though I don’t know where the line between plot and idea lies. The low percentage for character is right on, though, at least for older, harder sci-fi like Heinlein.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree, J.M.! I flinched when “midichloreans” were introduced as well, though I think I just allowed myself to let it go in order to enjoy the films. My friends- they will rant about it to this day. 🙂 I’ ve always loved Space Opera because it blends elements of science fiction with more character based drama. “Space Fantasy” is probably a better term for the subgenre. PICS is a rough guidepost for how much emphasis the genre typically places on the four main elements. Some subgenres and cross-genres will change the PICS rations. For instance, mixing romance or fantasy elements will change the PICS for other main genres, such as mystery or science fiction. Space Opera’s PICS are going to be less Idea-intensive and more focused on character, more closely resembling Fantasy, as you indicated. Thanks for the discussion!


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