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Mythological Science Fiction
What is Mythological Science Fiction?
Stories within this sub-genre are rooted in, or draw from fables, mythology, folklore, or fairy tales. The story may retell the myth entirely or draw from the tropes, themes, and symbolism of the myth.
Myth and sci fi have a long and intertwined past. Myth used to be thought of as a kind of primitive science—a way to explain observable events. Myth is an attempt to understand the riddle of the world, the universe around us, and understanding the universes is exactly what science tries to do. In this tradition some sci fi writers create myths for the aliens and societies that they create. Doing so adds depth and richness to the story. Drawing from already established myths from right here on Earth has the same effect.
Other Features of Mythological Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
Variable. Myth, sci fi, and fantasy have a tendency to blur in this sub-genre, which can have a negative impact on the realness of science. But, there are other stories that use the echoes of myth to add depth and meaning, which has no real relation to science. This means that the science can be more realistic. Generally though, Mythological sci fi does not cross with Hard sci fi.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
High. There are some profound thoughts going on when myths and sci fi merge. Myths are used to add commentary to situations. For example, retelling an ancient myth in a modern setting provides a feeling that myths express a truth that relates to us no matter the time and no matter what society has become. Drawing from myths shows that even as society changes and technology advances there is a piece of the old that remains within us.
- Level of Characterization
High. Myths are full of legendary characters. Sci fi uses these characters as a basis for new characters, which makes them even more interesting. An immortal alien can be difficult for readers to relate to, but draw on the god Pan and now readers have a reference point and it also gives the character history and depth.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Moderate. Using myth in a story runs the risk of tried and true plots. However, with a bit of that sci fi sense of wonder and invention the plot likely won't be so predictable.
- Level of Violence
Variable. In the same way that some myths are violent and some are not, so too are the stories of this sub-genre.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Religious Science Fiction. Religions have their own stories and legends that are sometimes retold in sci fi.
Time Travel. One way to encounter mythic figures is by traveling through time.
Science Fantasy. Fantasy has fully embraced the use of myth so sometimes with Science and Fantasy come together they do so with mythic echoes.
Soft Science Fiction. Myths are an important part of the study of anthropology, one of the soft sciences.
Lost Worlds. For example, finding the lost world of the mythic Atlantis.
Mythological Science Fiction isn't for you if...
If you find drawing on classic and ancient stories pretentious. If you find the stories of old boring and dated.
- 1 Rendezvous with Rama
By Arthur C. Clarke. Has several echoes of ancient myths, the myth of Prometheus in particular.
- 2 Queen of Air and Darkness
By Poul Anderson. Set on a colony world in the future and draws on Celtic myths of Faerie.
- 3 Perelandra
By C.S. Lewis. The second book in the Space Trilogy depicts the myth of Eve's temptation.
- 4 Fool's Run
By Patricia McKillip. A retelling of the Orpheus myth set in a prison satellite.
- 5 Watch the North Wind Rise
By Robert Graves. Draws on the Cretan myth of the Earth-Mothers and imagines a future world where there is no money or machinery to tell a dramatic and mythic story.
- 6 Alice's World
By Sam Lundwall. A ship returns to an abandoned Earth that is now inhabited by a variety of mythic and literary beings.
- 7 The Einstein Intersection
By Samuel R. Delany Earth has been deserted, but is repopulated by aliens who take on human form and with our mythic burden of the past.
- 8 Captive Universe
By Harry Harrison. Draws on Meso-American mythology—the story of a young Aztec man who finds out that the valley he calls home is really part of a generation ship.
- 9 The Keltaid
By Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. In this universe the Celts took to the stars and established the kingdom of Keltia.
- 10 Creatures of Light and Darkness
By Roger Zelazny. Draws on Egyptian myth and set in a future where humanity stretches across the stars and has the ability to take on the personas of Egyptian deities.
- 11 Illum
By Dan Simmons. A re-imagining of The Trojen War, with the greek gods as super humans augmented by advanced scientific technology. An awesome book from start to finish with a sequel out.