Common themes of Science Fiction (SF)
The genre of Science Fiction is as diverse as its imagined worlds. Its common base is that each writer draws on scientific knowledge for its plot, settings and themes. Science fiction explores questions and possibilities beyond our present world, yet it raises questions about ethics, such as the value of human life, and the price we are paying to pursue scientific and technological progress in this world.
Some of the common themes of science fiction are:
- Space, underwater and inner earth travel – Travelling into the earth, to other planets and beyond. Space travel is motivated by the need to explore – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer (which also deals with aliens); or to colonise other worlds – The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Star Wars, Star Trek and Stargate all deal with this theme.
- Time travel – Travelling forward or back in time. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Jump by Sean Williams, and A Sound of Thunder, a short story by Ray Bradbury, as well as Back to the Future and the Outlander.
- Utopias and dystopias – Going in search of a better world. “Dystopian novels combine the dangers of technology with out-of-control big government to produce a world where no one is happy.” Dystopian novels serve as a warning to us about current trends. Examples of novels: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel, Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, and Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Gathering Blue. Other modern examples include: Legend series by Marie Lu, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Knife of Never letting Go by Patrick Ness, Chasers series by James Phelan, The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins, The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, Divergent series by Veronica Roth, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, Matched by Allie Condie, Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.
- Aliens – An encounter with aliens, or alien war, in which aliens hold different values, are stronger or wilder or more brutal, or occasionally more intelligent than humankind. – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, I Am Number Four series by Pittacus Lore and the movies Aliens, District 9 and After Earth.
- Monsters – The misuse of technology to create monsters, robots, cyborgs and artificially intelligent beings that sometimes turn on humans. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Machine Wars by Michael Pryor, I Robot by Isaac Asimov, Blade Runner (published as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick), and Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton are popular stories featuring this theme, some made into movies) and films such as The Fantastic Four, X-Men, and The Incredible Hulk.
- Genetic Engineering – Mankind uses genetic engineering to change unfavourable aspects of the human body or mind using cloned, manufactured or sourced body parts. Novels include The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, Uglies and Pretties by Scott Westerfeld, and movies such as I Am legend and Aeon Flux.
- Superpowers – Superman, Spiderman and other Marvell comic heroes have come to life on the big screen. Green Lantern, Justice League and Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are modern example of graphic novels with this theme. Civil War is a novelization of the screenplay by the same name.
- Immortality – How we would deal with the gift (or curse) of never growing old? Examples of novels include The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and Tuck Everlasting by Babbitt.
- Nuclear and Ecological Disasters and the Post-Apocalyptic World – What would everything be like after most of the world has been destroyed. This theme is explored in novels such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Z For Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien. I Am Legend and The Walking Dead (graphic novel and movie series) both fit this theme. Novels include The Road to Winter by Mark Smith, The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn, and Plague by Michael Grant.
- Good and Evil – This theme overarches many other themes, providing heroes and villains, conflict and finally resolution. Enjoy!