By Steve Davidson: Everybody is getting hung up on SF definitions, usually ending up by arguing over sub-genres. The problem is not with Science Fiction, the problem is to be found in the definitions themselves. They are inaccurate, do not define boundaries accurately and are misleading.
In order to rectify the situation, a selection of definitions for popular sub genres of science fiction are herein offered:
Hard Science Fiction: A science fiction work that is impossible for anyone not possessing genius level cognitive abilities to understand (and even then…). Alternatively, a science fiction work that no reviewer has managed to read past the first chapter, (often confused with “Bad Science Fiction”).
Space Opera: Published as a libretto, and always in Italian. Very few true extant examples of Space Opera can be found, as few authors manage to find suitable arrangements for their arias.
Mundane Science Fiction: Only found in newspapers under “Headlines”. Based on the concept that fiction should reflect reality, its purpose is often explained as “real life sucks, your fiction should too”.
Alternate History: Taught in charter schools supported by DeVos’s Dept. of Education; follows the civics section on “Alternate Facts”. (It’s a nice segue…alternate facts lead to alternate history…)
Military Science Fiction: Any science fiction work shipped to a war zone in support of our troops. (Works may or may not retain this status when removed from a war zone.)
Steampunk: Science Fiction for people who may understand plumbing, but not electricity.
Dieselpunk: Science Fiction for people who may understand electricity, but not electronics.
Cyberpunk: Science Fiction for people who DON’T want to understand electronics.
Superhuman Science Fiction: Previously referred to as “comic books”; now a major motion picture.
Space Western: Science Fiction that is based entirely and solely on white, anglo-saxon, western-European cultural precepts. Hitler’s The Iron Dream is frequently held up as an exemplar.
Apocalyptic Science Fiction: Science Fiction based in the here and now. Unlike Mundane Science Fiction, ASF is less discriminatory in its reliance on believable scientific extrapolation; for example, a whole sub-branch of this sub-genre is devoted to alternate realities in which Donald J. Trump was elected to the presidency of the United States.
Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction: Science Fiction that takes place in a very near-future time frame. Specifically, beginning at 1 second following the end of Trump’s term in office and extending until the heat death of the universe.
Libertarian Science Fiction: formerly a branch of Apocalyptic SF, Libertarian Science Fiction – frequently referred to as “I can too play with myself in public, I have rights, ya know!?” – has now been relegated to that branch of literature known as “Fantasy”.
Feminist Science Fiction: A movement of late has attempted to remove “Feminist” from the label. In point of fact, most author’s desire the label, deserving or not, as it almost guarantees that white people will be featured on the cover art. Most lexicographers consider it to be synonymous with “Science Fiction”.
Science Fiction Romance: Two alternate definitions prevail here: 1: Bodice Ripper In Spaaaaaaaace! (This rarely results in successful fiction as the object of desire almost always dies within a few seconds of their spacesuit’s bodice being ripped.) 2. See previous definition for Feminist Science Fiction
Easy to remember blanket definition: It’s fantasy, with science. Maybe.
Your proposal fails on line 1, since it would make The Book of the New Sun hard SF, which it manifestly is not.
Soft Science Fiction: What happens when a book’s entire run inadvertently gets printed on silly putty.
Dark Fantasy: Like regular Fantasy, except the characters end up stubbing their toes more often.
I think the definitions could be improved with examples, just like the one for Space Western. So here are a few possible examples:
Hard Science Fiction: The Female Man, or anything by Samuel R. Delany
Space Opera: Aniara (strangely enough, this was set up as an opera)
Mundane Science Fiction: Accelerando
Alternate History: Typewriter in the Sky
Military Science Fiction: A Civil Campaign
Steampunk: Hunting Party for plumbing. Memory for air ducts
Dieselpunk: “The Roads Must Roll”
Cyberpunk: “The Feeling of Power”
Superhuman Science Fiction: “Flowers for Algernon”
Apocalyptic Science Fiction: The Fifth Season
Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction: Rule 34
Libertarian Science Fiction: Farthing
Feminist Science Fiction: Kindred
Science Fiction Romance: the Leary series by David Drake
Awesome poster. Who did the artwork? I wish I could print out a wall sized copy.
Yeah, that poster is cool. Steve? You and/or the poster’s designer want to make a few bucks?
That is indeed an amazing poster concept – it’s a terrible shame they could only include one woman, and more racists than PoC.
Aniara is my go-to example for space opera., in the most literal sense. But, it fails this definition, since the libretto was published in Swedish, not Italian.
Then there are genres we just don’t have yet. E.g. We have hard SF but not easy SF. We have space opera, but not space disco.
Before any hypothetical printings of this virtual poster, I suggest that the Tolkien entry be fixed. It should be Lord of the Rings. Plural.
Cassy B on August 2, 2017 at 9:35 am said:
I seem to be under the impression that next to it should be War of the Worlds. Plural.
We have space opera, but not space disco.
Didn’t you read The Martian? 🙂
Space Disco could be part of 1970s SciFi revival, which could have a subgenre of punk-punk.
The thing I like best about Steve’s definitions is that Super Mario becomes officially Steam Punk 🙂
On the whole, these are pretty good definitions. If a bit too kind to LibertarianSF.
SF Romance: JD Robb, much of Vorkosigan, all of Lee and Miller.
Also, Super Mario is definitely steampunk.
What’s Space Chamber Music, then? Space Easy Listening? Space R&B?
Space Disco is “I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper”.
Two of Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos: Archives volumes were turned into operas by Philip Glass, so that’s two more for space opera. Well, except that the librettos were in English.
Easy Science Fiction: THE RUNAWAY ROBOT
Space Disco: “I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor
I guess Rick Wakeman’s solo albums, including NO EARTHLY CONNECTION, JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH and 1984, aren’t space opera, because reasons, but they’re something.
Sorry, Mike was responsible for that “poster”
I want to marry a starship trooper
and keep her company
I want to marry a starship trooper
that’ll be grand for me
(I want to marry a lighthouse keeper…featured in A Clockwork Orange)
Alternate History: A genre first appearing in the pages of New York Times where Walter Duranty lionized the use of communist principles to successfully manage agrarian efforts that maximized food production.
is this what you were thinking of regarding Space Disco?