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Deconstructing Science Fiction

A couple weeks ago, I read this tweet by literary agent Sarah LaPolla.

And this prompted an immediate desire for more information. 

Because, here's the thing. I love science fiction. I was raised on science fiction, along with my mother's milk and egg sandwiches (with ketchup). But Sarah's tweet made me realize how little I know about science fiction. I couldn't actually define post-apocalyptic vs. dystopian. 
So I set out on a quest to define and categorize the most common sci-fi subgenres in YA literature.
Here we go - for your entertainment and education. 

Space Opera: Space opera stories are set in outer space or on spaceships, and they usually involve
lots of romance, thrilling adventure, and drama. Picture a John Wayne film, but with aliens and technology and The Future.
Jupiter Ascending was another great example of a space opera

Examples of YA Space Opera: Starglass, Starbreak, Across the Universe and sequels


Dystopia: That one genre that totally blew up the bestseller list a few years ago, thanks to the success
of The Hunger Games. Dystopian fiction tells the story of a really effed up society / community. The word literally means "not good place." Imagine a claustrophobic walled city, a violent police state, death awaiting everyone over the age of 15, and possibly some mutant guard dogs. 

Examples of YA Dystopia: The Giver, The Divergent trilogy, Unwind series


Apocalyptic: As you might have guessed, apocalyptic fiction takes place in an apocalyptic world - in the midst of a mad disaster that changes everything. This is the Day After Tomorrow, a zombie infestation, a plague of Biblical proportions hitting a po-dunk Ohio town.

Examples of YA Apocalyptic: Life As We Knew It, Ashfall, The Forest of Hands and Teeth


Post-Apocalyptic: Post-apocalyptic stories take place after the disaster-that-changes-everything. After the tsunamis and the earthquakes, after the plagues and the zombies, the post-apocalypse shows characters trying to survive and band together in the wake of chaos. I think this is where readers and
writers get confused, because a post-apocalyptic world can easily turn into a dystopian society. The difference between these two subgenres is that dystopian fiction focuses on the "not-good-place" society that develops after an apocalyptic scenario; while the other focuses more on survival.

Examples of YA Post-Apocalyptic: Z for Zachariah,  Children of the Dust, Not a Drop to Drink 


Cyberpunk: I need more cyberpunk YA in my life. I really do. This is the genre that encompasses the Matrix - a bleak and badass tech-filled world with rebels who rise against it. In cyberpunk stories, you might find a cyborg, a pink-haired and tattooed hacker girl, virtual reality, and a general "stick it to the man" mentality. 

Examples of YA Cyberpunk: MILA 2.0, Program 13, Little Brother and Homeland

Of course, there are many more sci-fi subgenres that I haven't covered here, and so many of these books contain elements of several subgenres; but in my opinion, these are the most common categories in YA fiction. 

What do you think? What is your favorite type of sci-fi?

Kristin Briana Otts

Kristin is an aspiring YA author with an abiding love for her dog, ghost hunter tv shows, and rainy days.

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  1. Great article. There are so many different types of sci-fi, so it irks me when they all get lumped together. Especially when agents and publishers are saying YA sci-fi is a hard sell. Do they mean dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA or do they mean the broader umbrella of YA sci-fi? Because I don't feel like all of these sub-genres have been explored yet, or not to death anyway. Thanks for breaking this down for everyone!

  2. I think you nailed the labels. Sadly, I don't remember reading a single Cyberpunk-- I've read lots of post-apocalyptics and dystopias. I would like to read some more Space Operas too!

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex


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Item Reviewed: Deconstructing Science Fiction Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Briana Otts