An Overview of the Science Fiction Sub-Genres

As discussed previously, science fiction typically deals with the advancements of science and technology in a futuristic setting. Science fiction stories can take place on future Earth, in space, or on other planets. Now let’s focus on the science fiction sub-genres.

Science fiction has many sub-genres. The following list is far from comprehensive, but it should give you a better understanding of the more common science fiction sub-genres out there.

Apocalyptic Fiction

Apocalyptic fiction takes place in a time where our world is coming to an end. It describes how and why this event may occur. Post-Apocalyptic fiction takes place after the world as we know it has already ended. It focuses on the people who survived the cataclysm and how they now live.


Cyberpunk takes place in a high-tech futuristic world. It has a heavy focus on computers, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. Cyberpunk stories typically take place in urban settings.

Hard Science Fiction

Hard Science Fiction is more focused on the scientific and technological ideas rather than the characters. The science and technology must be plausible in order for the story to be considered Hard Science Fiction.

Military Science Fiction

Military Science Fiction space wars! Seriously though, Military Science Fiction is all about war and combat in the future. Typically set in space or on planets other than Earth, Military Science Fiction focuses on high-tech weaponry (including genetically altered soldiers) and military protocols.

Parallel/Alternate Universe

Parallel/Alternate Universe means for every decision made there is another universe that plays out the consequences of the decisions that weren’t made in this one.


Slipstream is essentially a mainstream or literary fiction with strong speculative elements.

Soft Science Fiction

Soft Science Fiction is the reverse of Hard Science Fiction: it is more about the characters than the science and technology. It focuses on how the science or technology affects the characters and their society as opposed to how the technology works. Soft Science Fiction is rooted in the “soft” sciences (anthropology, psychology, and sociology).

Space Opera

Space Opera is essentially an adventure story set in space. They aren’t concerned with how technology works; they are more focused on the action and adventure.


Steampunk is typically set in an era where steam engines are widely used. It has strong technological elements combining what was used in that time period with future or imagined technology.

Time Travel

Time Travel stories are about characters who travel (or are visited by someone who travels) either forward or backward in time. These stories are often more about the consequences of time travel rather than the act itself.

Those are some of the most common sub-genres of science fiction. If you have any questions or think I’ve missed any important sub-genres, let me know in the comments.

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