Science fiction is simply a story that is based on speculative or plausible scientific ideas. Good examples of science fiction in pop culture include Transformers, Terminator Salvation, Jurassic Park, A.I., Star Trek, and Resident Evil. All of these films deal with technologies that make seemingly amazing things possible. Notice that Lord of Rings and Nightmare on Elmstreet do not fall under the Sci-Fi category. Although amazing things happen in these movies, they are not scientifically based. Instead, they rely on supernatural ideas.
Science fiction does not have to be purely scientific in terms of accuracy; however, it must at least have a scientific theme. For example, if someone wrote a story about how a kid made a type a goo out of toxic waste and paint and then stuck electricity in it to produce a super hot woman, that would be sooooo unscientific for obvious reasons, but it is playfully a scientific theme, so that would be a sci-fi story – probably a comedy.
Now that we know what science fiction is, let’s explore its history briefly and talk about its resulting genres. The genres may overlap in some cases where there is more than one theme. We will talk mostly about science fiction cinema (movies science fiction take place) because it is something more people can relate to.
First, there is hard Sci-Fi, which is about hardcore emphasis on science. It is also very strict on scientific detail to make the story as real as possible. All theories, even if unconfirmed, are carefully thought out based on what we know. Arthur C Clarke is one such famous writer of hard SF. He wrote A Fall Of Moondust.
Soft Sci-Fi on the other hand does not really mean lack of scientific accuracy. It actually means a lighter focus on science. The focus instead is usually exploring the aspects of the human condition in terms of psychology, economics, political science, sociology, and anthropology. V for Vendetta is a good example of soft Sci-Fi with its look into political science, sociology, biological warfare, futuristic electronic media/surveillance, and psychology.
Cyberpunk emerged in the 80’s and was especially popular around that time with films such as Blade Runner and Robocop. It features a pessimistic outlook on future society as corporations or an authoritative organization takes over society. Themes usually include a full reliance or immersion into information technologies, artificial intelligence, and prosthetics. The reason why the word punk is in it is because there is usually some kind of punk-attitude rebellion against such evil authoritative forces. This is shown especially in the 1995 film Hackers.
Time travel is also another Sci-Fi theme that is very popular. The Butterfly Effect and The Time Traveler come to mind. It is simply the exploration about the possibly of time travel as a central theme in the movie. Often, the question of the past affecting the future is explored. It also deals with the ethics of changing the past if indeed it were possible.
Alternative Sci-Fi is a very interesting subcategory in which time travel or alternate universe themes are used to ask what if history as we know it was changed. For example, in The Man In the High Castle, it explored the idea of what if the Allies had lost WWII and the Germans and Japs won. An intriguing thought indeed!
Military Sci-Fi explores conflicts between national, interplanetary, or interstellar armed forces. The details of the armed forces are seen in great detail usually from the perspectives of the soldiers themselves. Although Star Trek has overlapping themes in it, it can be considered a military Sci-Fi.
Superhuman is another sci-fi genre that has become very popular recently. It is about humans with exceptionally great strength. Examples are found in Superman, The Hulk, Fantastic Four, and Spider Man. These figures usually find themselves in alienation from the rest of society because they are different.
Finally, the last popular genre of Sci-Fi is the apocalyptic theme of the world ending. Apocalyptic films include Armageddon and of course 2012. It deals with mankind’s reaction to all that he knows coming to an end. It forces people to find meaning in something greater than themselves – whether it be about love or religion.
Other genres in Sci-Fi worth mentioning are Space Westerns, Space Operas(super-dramatic in space), Feminist SF(gender role exploration), New Wave(experimental crazy ideas), and Steam Punk(steam machines theme).
As you can see, science fiction genres are very broad in terms of their variety. These ideas should help you structure your ideas for your own original science fiction if you are going to write one. Remember, it’s not about whether the theme has been done a billion times. It’s the execution that tells whether you have bought your own depth to it. If you are serious about writing science fiction, then you should also get some science fiction reading in as opposed to just watching science fiction cinema.