This topic guide will help you work with the science fiction genre, focusing especially on dystopian science fiction. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects.
The science fiction genre spans a very wide selection of both literature and other media - and there is some disagreement about how exactly to define it. However, most agree that science fiction stories typically involve some kind of vision of the Earth's future (or futuristic scenarios on other planets), and often focus on the question of how technological, political or social developments might change the world.
In contrast to the fantasy genre, science fiction authors typically try to make their stories seem realistic to some extent - for example by describing technology which does not currently exist, but which might be viewed as a natural development of current technology.
Because of the somewhat loose genre definition, it is also tricky to pinpoint the exact moment when the first science fiction literature started to emerge. However, there is some agreement that the first dedicated science fiction novels showed up in the 19th century, even though earlier literature had sometimes featured science fiction elements.
Some regard Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the first true science fiction novel, even though most people probably associate it more with the horror genre. Others attribute the beginning of science fiction to the French author Jules Verne, while still others insist that the British H.G. Wells was the first true science fiction author.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the first science fiction movies started to show up - and even at this point they amazed audiences with special effects that made robots and space travel seem real. Alongside the developments in the cinematic world, some of the most famous works of science fiction in literary history were released - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Both present a dystopian vision of the future, with the human population trapped in meaningless lives with no room for deviations.
Towards the second half of the 20th century, a large number of new authors began to write science fiction, which led to many new ideas and subgenres. Science fiction also became an increasingly important phenomenon in the movie and TV world, where the two franchises Star Trek and Star Wars had massive cultural influence and created legions of dedicated fans.
In the early 21st century, there was a boom in science fiction marketed towards a young adult audience, with a number of new series that focused on young rebels in dystopian future societies. Some of the most famous examples of this trend were The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth. In the movie and TV world, science fiction is also a thriving genre - and many recent works have directed strong criticism against negative developments in present day society.
When you are asked to analyse a science fiction story, it is important to be aware of the common genre traits that might be especially useful to examine. It is also helpful to be aware of the typical major themes that science fiction stories often explore - such as philosophical questions about human nature or the role of technology in our lives.