Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Trends in Science Fiction

Since the time when science fiction appeared on the scene in the late 1800’s, it has helped those who read it look at the world in a different way.  Science fiction understandably speculated about what the future might look like thanks to science and advancing technologies.  Yet, like every other genre you can think of, it has gone through many trends.

The history of science fiction is often divided into eras.  Though stories of various kinds were published during each of these eras, there is a definite trend in the kinds of stories published during each era.  The pulp era of the 1920’s and 30’s was characterized by cheaply produced magazines that could provide affordable entertainment for working class people.  They featured heroes who had bold adventures on other planets.  The heroes were often dashing and charming and the kind of person people wished they could be.

During the late 1930’s and 1940’s, wartime shortages brought on the decline of the pulp magazines, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction began.  This golden age featured hard sci-fi (sci-fi that features science in a prominent and accurate way).

Later on in the 1960’s and 70’s, the New Wave came as a response to the social issues of the time.  The focus moved from hard to soft science fiction.  Soft sci-fi is less focused on the technology and more focused on the people and how they respond to the world in which they live.  This era also saw a lot of experimentation with writing styles.

Cyberpunk rose to popularity in the 1980’s as the computer became more accessible to everyday people.  The stories took place on Earth and featured people who interacted heavily with technology.  Sometimes the characters plugged in and escaped the dystopian world around them through the more appealing world the technology offered.  Other times the characters interacted with cyborgs that made people question what it means to be human.

The trends we see in various genres don’t spring up in a vacuum.  All of these eras arose in response to the world the authors of these stories lived in.  Writers look at their own world and use their writing to respond to it.  They may also read stories from fellow authors and draw inspiration for their own work.

One of the biggest trends today in science fiction is YA dystopian.  There has been plenty of dystopian fiction over the years, but most of it today seems to be post-apocalyptic.  It features protagonists that have to contend with tyrannical governments that were established after some major disaster destroyed much of the world and killed a majority of humanity.  The cause of the apocalypse is typically environmental in nature, and what remained of humanity had to fight for what little resources were left.  Why is this such a prominent theme today?

The future of our planet is a big concern for many people.  Is global warming a valid concern, and if so, what are the consequences?  Can our growing population be sustained without catastrophe?  People also worry about overbearing governments monitoring their every move, which is a common concern in the world we live in today.  These post-apocalyptic scenarios look at the social impact of living in a world that looks drastically different than the one we live in today, and we get to root for protagonists who are fighting against governments that abuse the people they rule.  We like see people like us triumph against all odds.

One question that often comes up with trends is this: does the market become too saturated with similar stories?  Do readers get sick of reading the same themes over and over again?  If you’re a writer, should you write a story that fits within the prevailing trend of the time, or should you try to write something else?  Does a story that falls outside of what is currently considered popular even have a chance?

There are no easy answers to these questions.  Some readers will reach a point of burn out, while others will continue to scoop up all the books they can because they love what these kinds of stories have to offer.  As a writer, I know we can’t please everyone with what we have to offer.  That’s just not possible.  If you have the inspiration to write a story and you’re passionate about it, but you fear that the market has too many stories with similar themes, I’d recommend you try writing it anyway.  Try to give it a twist or look at events from an angle that you haven’t seen yet.  Create the strongest characters you can.  If you give the story everything you have, you have a shot at finding readers for your work.

If your story is something that doesn’t fit within the current trend at all, I’d also recommend giving it a chance.  The most important thing is to tell a compelling story.

Remember, stories that fit within the current trend do so because they are compelling to a lot of people, but someone also had to start writing many of those stories before the trend existed.  Someone had to start that trend in the first place.  That’s why I try not to worry too much about whether a story idea seems trendy or not.  If the idea speaks to me, I try to make it happen.


  1. We should write the stories that speak to us, whether they are to a certain trend or not. Everything comes around to, so it's likely that what isn't trendy now may be in the future. :)

  2. Great post Laur! It's always interesting to see how the times have influenced production and consumption of stories, and why those trends may be coming along again. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I wish I'd been writing in the 60's and 70's.
    I think everything has a time when it's very popular. That might wane as readers' interests change, but it doesn't go away. Just gives us more genres and styles to choose from.

  4. During my first writers conference I was told the mystery was dead, and that vamps and the paranormal was on the way out. Turns out those ideas were wrong, but sometimes even the experts get it wrong. :)
    Write your story, whatever that is!
    Great article, Laura!

  5. It's interesting in how all those special effects in early films is now plausible. We think it, and soon it becomes reality. That is amazing.

  6. One thing that seems to signal to the reader that the story takes place in the future: a female leader of the oppressive government. I'm thinking of The Hunger Games (district 13), Divergent, and The Giver. For those of us in the US, we may finally experience a female president for real. I hope if Hillary is elected, she won't be evil like these characters.

  7. Science Fiction is definitely (when done well) my absolute favorite genre (with espionage a close second).

  8. Do readers get sick of reading the same themes over and over again? No I don't think they do. Certainly, we might take a break from reading a specific genre and switch to something else for a while - but ultimately we always return to the stories we enjoy reading... don't we?

    Susan at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos

  9. The way things are going, the future of our planet should be the real concern for all.

  10. What a stimulating post, Crystal! As with all things, Science Fiction has certainly evolved over time. It has to, in order to keep up with changing trends - and tastes. I swore off pizza for ten years after raising my daughter, now it's not so bad again ;-) The only reason I (obviously) didn't starve to death is because, as in writing, there is something for everybody!

  11. I just discovered this blog, LG, so I'm reading the posts backward. Sure glad that I found your interesting and well-written piece! I read widely, but science fiction is my favorite genre, and I have sampled it throughout its history. I have to write what has meaning to me.


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