Celebrating SF Sub-genres

There is one thing you can be sure of, modern science fiction gives us plenty of choice to choose from when it comes to sub-genre. Of course, it all depends on who you speak to about what may, or may not, make it onto the list but, for arguments sake, here are a few of what makes it onto my list:

  • Alien Invasion
  • A. I. (Artificial Intelligence | Nano Tech | Virtual)
  • Colonisation (also: Terraforming)
  • Dystopian
  • First Contact
  • Galactic Empire
  • Generational Ships
  • Military SF
  • Near Future
  • Parallel Universes
  • Post Apocalypse
  • Robots & Androids (see also AI above)
  • Space Exploration
  • Space Opera
  • Time Travel
  • Utopian

Of these, I think I dislike time travel the most, while on the flip side, one of my favourites is military SF. But what is about one that I dislike, and what is about the other, that I like? Well, I thought you would never ask.

Time travel, by its very nature is, for me at least, problematic from the get go. But let’s make it clear, for us, as humans, I have read a great deal of scientific data, and nothing, but nothing has convinced me that we can, as complex physical structures, travel either forward in time, or backward.

Two reasons pop up straight away.

  1. The nature of time itself, and
  2. Size matters

While it’s theoretically possible that matter, at the atomic and subatomic level, might be transmitted forward and backwards and, quite possible is (for all we know), when you scale up to human size complex creatures, you hit all sorts of barriers. And, without going into all the nitty gritty details (and giving a lecture) I cannot see us ‘flipping’ from one time to another, anymore than we could jump from point A to point B—whether it is through a wormhole as in the movie, Interstellar or otherwise.

And don’t get me started on the lovely idea of transporters, as in Star Trek—which is also, in its own way, a form of time travel. Definitely a topic I might take up in a post, one day.

But back to sub-genre, and my fav sub-genre: military SF. Now, anyone who knows me, and knows me well, will know just how much I love a good military SF read. It might be the fact I come from a military family, and my own background is several years service, or it could be how military SF is structured, the framework that is familiar and usually, action-packed too. Given that a great deal is either first contact, alien invasion of one sort or another, wars between worlds or empires, or war full stop.

It usually entails one or a more characters like Juan ‘Johnny’ Rico in Robert Heinlein’s classic, Starship Troopers, joining up to do their civic duty, earn citizenship, and fight aliens on some distant planet. Or like the fresh-faced Lieutenant Jander Mortas, in Glory Main by Henry V. O’Neil, in which he’s marooned on an alien battlefield teaming up with other survivors in order to figure a way to get off planet, alive. Or, taking a slightly different approach, as in my recent read, Planetside by Michael Mammay, in which an all but retired Colonel is asked to do one last so-called simple investigation for a missing lieutenant, on a hostile planet.

There are some excellent choices to choose from—and no, this is not a complete list by any stretch of the imagination, just some suggestions to get you going:

  • WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898) H. G. Wells
  • STARSHIP TROOPERS (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein
  • DORSAI (1959) Gordon R. Dickson
  • THE FOREVER WAR (1974) by Joe Haldeman
  • HAMMER’S SLAMMERS (1979) by David Drake
  • RIMRUNNERS (1989) by C.J. Cherryh
  • ON BASILISK STATION (1993) by David Weber
  • A HYMN BEFORE BATTLE (2000) by John Ringo
  • VALOR’S CHOICE (2000) by Tanya Huff
  • TRADING IN DANGER (2003) by Elizabeth Moon
  • MUTINEER (2004) by Mike Moscoe
  • OLD MAN’S WAR (2005)  by John Scalzi
  • GLORY MAIN (2012) by Henry V. O’Neil
  • VELOCITY WEAPON (2019) by Megan E. O’Keefe
  • PLANETSIDE (2019) by Michael Mammay

All very different kinds of military SF. And yes, women do write military SF just in case you didn’t know already. Anyway, I hope you decide to try at least one of the suggested books, or find something among the myriad books available, that you’ll like. And, of course, let me know what your favourite SF sub-genre is, if any.

8 comments on “Celebrating SF Sub-genres

  1. Avatar

    Ooh, I went with Military Sci-fi too! Old Man’s War was also in my stack!

    • Alex

      Ha! Ha! Great minds think alike then, Ollie. It’s one of my go to genres because it’s usually reliable, I mean, how bad can you mess up an action genre, right?

      • Avatar

        I have read the odd iffy one, but there are definitely a lot more hits than misses!

        • Alex

          Oh, indeed. There are so many authors that write what is in effect MSF, but not all are equal in quality, that much is for sure.

  2. Avatar

    I wouldn’t say I love military SF, but then again I loved Velocity Weapon and Starship Troopers, so I guess it depends a lot on the characters for me😁

    • Alex

      Ah, that’s the beauty of military SF, Tammy, in and of itself it has its own sub-genres. And MSF covers a lot of territory as well. If you liked VW maybe you will like Michael Mammay’s series as well as Henry O’Neil’s as they both have plenty of action, but also offer a lot of mystery and subterfuge.

  3. Avatar

    MilSF is probably the subgenre I (think I) read the least of, but dang there are some great milSF reads! Old Man’s War was a blast, and The Light Brigade was an experience (if not always a pleasant one), and Steel Frame was one of my absolute favourite reads last year.

    I’m just finishing up Velocity Weapon, which I hadn’t pegged as milSF – I think I would have just slapped a ‘space opera’ label on it – and that likely reveals a weird bias in my subgenre identification. Of COURSE VW is milSF now you’ve pointed that out to me. At some point I will finally get round to The Forever War, which has been on my shelf for ages…

    Side-note – I nearly missed this post (and I’m glad I didn’t!) With work due to get busier the next couple weeks for both Lisa and I, it’s worth adding a link to the master schedule to be sure we see posts to be sure of a tweet / Mission Log shout-out. I’ve done a quick check through this week and added all your posts so far, so no worries – just a tip for next week 🙂

  4. Alex

    MilSF is one of those genres that encompasses quite a large chunk of SF without people realising it. As you said, most would classify VW as space opera, but it is also MilSF by its very nature and content. That’s what I love about books like VW they cross any number of sub genre, and probably appeal to a lot more readers that way.

    And yeah, we forget how many great works there are out there already that are MilSF. Oh, I do hope you get around to reading the Forever War and let me know what you think. It might seem dated now, like Starship Troopers. People either love it or hate it.

    Oh, I didn’t know about the Master Log thingie … eh, and how exactly do I add my posts? Drat, better go take a look and figure it out!

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