Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 19, 2010

Sci-Fi/Science Fiction Sub-Genres

Basic Fantasy
Includes lords and ladies, medieval styles and settings, kingdoms and castles, dragons and knights. This often develops into Epic Tales instead.

Epic tales
Good and Evil battle it out with the aid of a young hero who gradually discovers his talent. He usually retrieves something lost, succeeds where those more experienced have failed. These stories often cover much ground, develop into book series.

Alternative worlds with a medieval feel, where sword wielding heroes, aided by sorcerers, battle orcs and goblins. Magic is common in this land, as are dragons, and damsels in distress are often rescued.

Often violent, these are set in mythical lands, may incorporate fairies, unicorns or other strange creatures, and strange heroes.

Stories based on legends such as King Arthur, the Valkyrie, the gods of Vallhalla or Olympus

Magic is not innate in people, but requires something to make it work, such as a book of spells or an amulet. The setting may be quite modern, as may that of Dark Fantasy.

Dark Fantasy
Approaching the horror genre, there is an atmosphere of nightmare, of evil creatures and dark magic.

Fantasy Spoofs
Humourous and light hearted

Science Fiction
Science Fiction almost always has nothing to do with Fantasy. There is no magic. More often than not, it is not based on this planet. It has guns/phasers/lasers, photon rifles. It has space ships and aliens. Perhaps, genetically enhanced humans with telepathy, etc. Usually magic is not featured; potions, sorcery and magic rings or swords are not present!

Dystopian Fiction
Fictional societies that are incredibly imperfect, lacking the harmonious and egalitarian qualities of life depicted in utopias, but it’s not exactly opposite, in that dystopias often contain many of the same elements as utopias—such as intense measures of social control—but these elements are taken to horrific extremes, with emphasis upon their negative effects.

Utopian Fiction
A fictive ideal society based around notions of equality, social harmony, economic prosperity and political stability, such as a planned community based upon controlling individual impulses that could be destructive to the public good.  Private property is unknown, everyone wears the same clothes to eliminate envy of wealth or social status.  There’s no pretext for avoiding work; no bars or places that might corrupt people and no hiding places or any place where “secret meetings” could be held; at the same time, there’s no poverty, hunger, violence or other social problems.

Steampunk Fiction
Simply put it is Victorian Science Fiction, which focuses on real or theoretical Victorian-era technology, and includes steam engines, clockwork devices, and difference engines. The genre has expanded into medieval settings, supernatural themes, and often dips into the realms of horror and fantasy. Secret societies and conspiracy theories are often featured, and some steampunk includes fantasy elements. These may include paranormal, magic, the occult, and Gothic influences.

Themes involve vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, or time travel, paranormal romances can also include books featuring characters with psychic abilities, like telekinesis or telepathy.

Please let me know if you can think of any other sub-genres, so I can add them to the list.  Hope it helps a little.

Talk soon,



  1. Kathy, thank you for this more detailed list that defines the differences. Sometimes they seem subtly different, but not so much that they aren’t their own entities. Useful info, as usual 🙂


  2. great list! I came up with a few more subgenres, but then realizes they all fit nicely into categories you already have.

    Ok, I did come up with one – you might want to split general Scifi in “hard” and “soft”. Hard is typically space ships, technology, space opera, futuristic stuff, military scifi – more about the science and the tech than the characters. Soft scifi (sometimes called social scifi) is typcially more about society and characters, and how all this new tech effects things.


  3. Urban fantasy – fantasy set in a city that often includes features of inner city life such as gangs


  4. That clears things up nicely. Great post!


  5. Wonder where Homecoming fits in? Paranormal as regards teleportation, etc. but with a hard science twist–momentum and energy must be conserved. Soft scifi in the social and character aspects, plus space travel. I’ve just been calling it science fiction.


  6. It seems as though you have expanded some genres while omitting others. Usually, utopian and dystopian are lumped together, since while one is happening, the other is likely to be occuring as well. Utopias are just better at hiding the dark undersides.
    Also, where is post-apocalyptic fiction in this list, as it frequently falls firmly within the Fantasy/Science Fiction genre group? A hundred million zombies can’t be all wrong.
    Also, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke


  7. Awesome list Kathy. It’s funny how old genres are breaking into new separate ones as writers become more edgy in their writing or try combining elements. I’ve done that with my YA series Seraphym Wars. I like Steampunk, so I threw some in with the vehicles; I like horror so I have demons and I love basic fantasy so I set it on a new planet, characters use swords and magic and the demons are dragons. Fun!


  8. Weird. I just realized that my epic fantasy is Not really an Epic fantasy. It’s actually not a fantasy at all, really. Thanks for the list. I found it quite enlightening.


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