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SF Subgenre Guides
Recursive Science Fiction
What is Recursive Science Fiction?
Recursive Science Fiction is the most metafictional of all Science Fiction sub-genres; it is Science Fiction about Science Fiction. That is to say, the narrative story of a Sci Fi story explores Sci Fi itself. Plots, characters, settings, descriptive terms (like avatars) are recycled throughout Sci Fi.
There are three basic variants of Recursive Sci Fi: tuckerization, intertextuality, full-blown recursion. Tuckerization uses real people as fictional characters usually achieved through inside-knowledge, much like an inside-joke or homage. These characters can also be Sci Fi fans or authors. Intertexuality happens when a reference to another text is made within the story. Intertextuality is more than just the influence of one text on another, there are deliberate connections that shape the narrative. Full-blown recursions are self-reflexive narratives that offer commentary on the genre of Sci Fi.
Recursive Sci Fi is popular within the Sci Fi community. Some stories can be quite cheeky and even silly while others present poignant examinations of the genre. In a positive light, Recursive Sci Fi is a celebration of the Sci Fi genre. Alternatively, it is a sub-genre that allows writers to comment on their frustrations, like feeling marginalized in the literary world.
You can view the crowd-ranked "Popular" Recursive Science Fiction Books list and vote and/submit entries to it.
Other Features of Recursive Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
Variable. Recursive Sci Fi has no specific scientific qualifications so the realness of the science and technology is inconsistent.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
Moderate. Sometimes Recursive Sci Fi is a silly story that makes a reader feel smart for getting all the references. Recursive Sci Fi is also a form used to explore Science Fiction itself. While the ideas explored in these deeper stories may not be social in nature, they can be significant, like the importance of Sci Fi writers and their work.
- Level of Characterization
High. Characters are key in Recursive Sci Fi because they are often what makes a story Recursive Sci Fi--if a writer is going to make H.G. Wells a character, the writer owes it to the Sci Fi community to do so properly.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Moderate to high. Plots can also be a reflexive element of a Recursive Sci Fi story as when writers borrow or pay homage to well-known plot devices or even sequences. Narratives of Sci Fi within a Sci Fi narrative can make for intricate and self-reflexive plots.
- Level of Violence
Variable. Much like the level of science, there are no specific qualities of violence in Recursive Sci Fi . How much violence is described varies widely.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Alternate History. Recursive Sci Fi is one technique used to create an Alternate History story--a story that often expresses nostalgia for early Sci Fi--where past Sci Fi visions of the world come true.
Anything. Recursive Sci Fi can reference, pay homage, or mimic the characteristics of any sub-genre of Sci Fi.
Recursive Science Fiction isn't for you if...
If you aren't already a Sci Fi fan.
- 1 Typewriter in the Sky
By L. Ron Hubbard. A story about a man inside his friend's book. This novel also borrows some plot elements.
- 2 The Number of the Beast
By Robert A. Heinlein. In this novel characters from some of Heinlein's other works make appearances and worlds created by other writers are used as settings.
- 3 What Mad Universe
By Fredric Brown. A Science Fiction magazine editor gets trapped in the Sci Fi pulp universe imagined by his fans.
- 4 Frankenstein Unbound
By Brian W. Aldiss. A 21st century American passes through a timeslip and meets Byron, Shelley, and a Frankenstein doppelganger.
- 5 The Passage of Light
By Barry N. Malzberg. The Recursive Science Fiction of Barry N. Malzberg. A collection of Malzberg's work that is humorous, entertaining, and valuable.
- 6 The Secret Ascension
By Michael Bishop. Philip K. Dick is a character and characterization and style mirror Dick's writing--an inventive homage to a key figure in Science Fiction.
- 7 Egoboo: A Fantasy Satire
By Manly Banister A short book that spoofs Time Travel and satirizes Sci Fi fans.
- 8 The Iron Dream
By Norman Spinrad. In an alternate history, Hitler becomes a Sci Fi writer in the US.
- 9 The Magic Labyrinth
By Philip José Farmer. In the Riverworld series humans from all throughout history and some possible fictional characters are resurrected--the opportunity for recursiveness is not ignored by Farmer in this fourth installment of the series.
- 10 The Return of the Time Machine
By Egon Friedell. A novel that continues the story written by H.G. Wells, who appears alongside Friedell as a character.
- Gold (Isaac Asimov)
- Frankenstein Unbound ()