How to use Science Fiction
Science fiction is a very broad genre—in fact, it is often described as difficult to define, but easily identifiable—in other words, many scholars say, “you know it when you see it.” Accordingly, there are very few rules or restrictions when writing within the genre, but its stories always have certain key elements and themes that immediately reveal them as science fiction. Below are some of the primary traits of science fiction works:
- Set in space or an altered version of Earth
- Set in a time in the future or within some sort of alternate timeline outside our own
- Existence of and travel between alternate universes, galaxies, planets, dimensions, etc
- Characters like aliens, robots, cyborgs, mutants, or intelligent computers, with and without human intelligence and their conflicts and/or coexistence with humans
- Characters with paranormal abilities that can be either helpful or hindering
- Time travel or other means of travel that are beyond what is physically possible (traveling at the speed of light, teleportation, etc)
- Advanced, futuristic technologies (beyond what we are capable today) that are part of normal life
- Political systems that were developed after an apocalypse or as a result of mankind’s downfall
- Technologies that threaten to wipe out mankind, i.e. biological warfare, industrial war, elimination of natural resources, etc
Of all of traits above, perhaps the most significant aspect of science fiction is the setting. Science fiction settings are often somewhat beyond the audience’s typical imagination, but are supported by scientific explanations. They provide the majority of the tone and feeling for the story and help the audience to step outside of their normal scope of understanding and open their minds to new worlds, times, and possibilities through science.
When to use Science Fiction
As exemplified by its own name, science fiction is always fiction. So, an account of a historical event that was heavily reliant on science—for example, the landing on the moon—is nonfiction; but a story about landing on the moon and discovering an alien race would be science fiction. Therefore, science fiction is used when an author wants to use real scientific theories, ideas, or facts to explore possibilities and create fictional scenarios. Though it is a very strong genre on its own, many science fiction stories use elements of other genres of fiction, like horror, adventure, mystery, thriller, superhero fiction, and even comedy.