When asked what I write, I’ve always answered, “Science Fiction”—quite proudly. As time has gone by, I’ve realized that I really need to be more specific. People hear “Science Fiction” and they assume that I’m talking about Star Wars or Star Trek or some other space-filled adventure. (Sadly, there are poor souls in the world that don’t enjoy that type of thing so it automatically makes them uninterested in my stories.)
So I did some research into the types of Sci-Fi. In this day-and-age when everyone likes to have labels, there are quite a few sub-genres that have been established. After extensive Googling and self-reflection, I’ve determined that I write Social Science Fiction.
Well, that’s great and all, but no one seems to know what that really means. (By the way, thanks to Richard Holliday @rjpholliday on Twitter for asking what it means and inspiring this blog post.)
The most basic reply I can give it is usually set in futuristic societies, focusing more on the human condition instead of technology. For more information, you can consult Wikipedia. Essentially, it comes down to the writers spending more time focusing on the characters in their stories, as opposed to gadgets or the grand adventure aspects. I should note that not all Social SF take place in the future from our perspective; some past writers wrote about the future, but those time periods have come and gone (like George Orwell’s “1984”).
Some of my favorite examples are “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, “1984” by George Orwell, “The Hunger Games” series by Suzanne Collins, “The House of the Scorpion” by Nancy Farmer, “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift, “Utopia” by Thomas Moore, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglass Adams, the “Divergent” series by Veronica Roth, “Dune” by Frank Herbert, and “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. Others that I’ve heard are good are “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov, “The Maze Runner” series by James Dashner, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, and “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. (For more examples, see the list on Goodreads.)
Now that I’ve inadvertently compared myself to some of the more brilliant literary minds on this century—yeah right, Amy—let’s talk about how my stories fit in this subgenre.
My first published story, “Undoing Life,” is about a man who finds a watch that lets him travel back in time. If I wrote Hard Science Fiction, I would have focused a lot more of the writing on how all the science of the watch works. But since I don’t want to do that kind of writing, I glossed over the details and spent most of the novella on the characters and how the interact in the situations I place them in. I cover the ethical and moral issues that come from the use of this technology, emphasizing how having such great power can effect a man’s world-view and change the core of who he is.
In “Iris: Book 1 of the Rygom Narratives,” I attempted to cover a number of anthropological aspects within the different character points of view. There are multiple young people who are trying to find their place in their Mega City, while not upsetting the status quo. There are political ramifications to the decisions most of the characters make, as well as dealing with identity, economy, stereotyping, and military conflicts.
As I wrote, “Reps and Royals,” I focused largely on the clashing of cultures. The planet called The World has a rich, but short history, full of adrenaline-junkie rulers who are always finding new ways to live life to the fullest. So when they are visited by two space travelers, conflicts ensue as they challenge the established sociology of the freshly colonized planet.
A common theme that I incorporate in all my works is relationships—romantic, familial, professional, and friendly. That’s the main fundamental of Social Science Fiction. How people view each other and interact is the biggest distinction between Social at the other types of Sci-Fi.
I hope this has helped you get a better idea of what Social Science Fiction is. If there is a title that I missed giving in the examples that you think is terrific, please mention it in the comments below. Thanks so much!