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Defining Genre


Simply defined, science fiction is based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and how they impact society.   A speculative genre, science fiction has long allowed people to contemplate the possibilities and dangers that accompany science as it is developing. 

Defining 'Science Fiction' What is Science Fiction...and why study it?" Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. Kansas University.

Gunn, Eileen. "How America’S Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future". Smithsonian Magazine, May, 2014.

The term "space opera" is derived from features the sub-genre shares with radio and television "soap operas" that emerged during the mid-nineteenth cen tury.  The sub-genre features adventure or warfare in space.  Common features include:

  • melodramatic action
  • romance and heroism 
  • futuristic weapons
  • alien abilities unlike human abilities

In literature, not all encounters with alien life forms are predicated on human space travel.  The radio performance of  H.G. Wells' text, War of the Worlds, introduced people everywhere to an on-going dread that aliens are coming to earth. Common features include of alien invasion books include:

  • alien search for resources
  • first contact through sudden or hidden infiltration
  • social implications resulting from the encounter that often mirror real world social issues.
  • a triumph (but not always) of humans over the alien invader for the greater good

Speculation about machines that have conscience will  has been around for a long time. In fact, the potential benefits and threats of artificial intelligence is a recurrent theme in science fiction that dates back to1872, when Samuel Butler released his novel, Erewhon.  With the now ubiquitous presence of computers and computerized devices in our home, the subgenre has come to dominate science fiction speculative literature. Common themes of A.I. in literature include:

  • gaming technology and it's use and abuse in society
  • surveillance technology and the abuse of power
  • robots and anroids technologies and their rights

The Three Laws of Robotics (from I, Robot by Issac Asimov)

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

20 YA Titles featuring A.I.

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  3. Crier's War by Nina Varela
  4. Daemon by Daniel Suarez
  5. Defy The Stars by Claudia Gray
  6. The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
  7. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  8. Hull Metal Girls by Emily Skrutskie
  9. Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  10. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  11. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
  12. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlien
  13. Necromancer by William Gibson
  14. Partials by Dan Wells
  15. Railhead by Philip Reeve
  16. Robopocolypse by Daniel H. Wilson
  17. Scythe by Neal Shusterman
  18. The Similars by Rebecca Hanover
  19. Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis
  20. Tankborn by Karen Sandler


In the 1950s, a literary movement known as the beat generation emerged. Beatniks, as they were popularly called, rejected established narratives, exploring the intersection of spirituality with a non-conformist ideas about drugs, sex, and other social behaviors, as well as the role of governments and technology in the social construct. Their work was so influential that it gave rise to what we often refer to as "hippies."  This new way of thinking influenced speculative fiction writers in a new way.  

Cyberpunk was the offshoot science-fiction offshoot of beat literature. Deviating from a progressive outlook that technology is a necessarily "good" thing, authors took a darker view of technology's impact on society.  Technical utopias with heroic space travelers gave way to dystopian futures. The key element? Speculation of how current technology might beused and abused in the future.

The 1968 publication of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep on which the iconic 1982 movie, BladeRunner, was based, epitomize the style.  Cyber (mechanical) enhancements to and even replacement of humans are key element of this genre, in effect reimaging where we are now.

Biopunk is an offshoot of cyberpunk.  But, whereas cyberpunk speculates about the implications of mechanical enhancement to nature, this style focuses on bio-enhancements, such as genetic engineering.  DNA hacking, viruses, and mutations often lead to catastrophic events.  Interestingly, this style of story telling shares some elements found in Mary Shelley's 1817 tale of Frankenstein--horrific manipulation and the consequences of that ethical betrayal of nature.  Nanopunk is a newer form of cyberpunk, imagining the consequences (both good and bad) of emerging nanotechnology on mankind. Greenpunk is also a more recent iteration of cyberpunk.  It examines the intersection of renewable energy, the do-it-yourself movement, and human response to the consequences of global warming.  

Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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