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Social Science Fiction

What is Social Science Fiction?

Science Fiction (Sci Fi) is epic, it is varied, it is imaginative, it is rational, and it has something for everyone. Sci Fi, while itself a genre, can be divided further into sub-genres each with its own specific features. In fact, most Sci Fi stories pull attributes from multiple sub-genres which can make it difficult to describe one story, book, or movie as a single sub-genre. Nonetheless, to have a firm grasp of the genre a knowledge of its sub-genres is advised.

Thus, let the exploration begin with a sub-genre that is so pervasive in today's Sci Fi that some theorists do not even consider it a sub-genre anymore because its attributes are so embedded in the genre as a whole.

Social Sci Fi is primarily concerned with the often problematic effects of technology and science on humans and human society. Isaac Asimov defined Social Sci Fi in 1953 as one of three possible plots for a science fiction story (the others are gadget and adventure). What sets this sub-genre apart is that the futuristic technology the story centers around is already present and its presence is the driving force of the plot. The Social Sci Fi story is a vehicle for the author to comment on human society as it is effected by technology and science.

In a Social Sci Fi story the society is different than ours, but not so different. The focus is on the human condition, so aliens are at a minimum. When aliens do exist they are a foil for humans, an antagonist to move the plot forward, or metaphorically represent another type of human society.

In short, Social Sci Fi is sociological speculation rather than scientific speculation (no epic laser battles here).

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Other Features of Social Science Fiction

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  • Level of Real Science

    Minimal. In the Social Sci Fi sub-genre science is the driving force of the plot, but takes a backseat to the commentary of the effects of the science. The science is already established in the story's society and as a result there is little effort to explain the science. There is no emphasis on how the technology works, but rather on its effects on individuals and society.

  • Level of Characterization

    Decently high. While Social Sci Fi is all about societal implications and social commentary we, as readers, arrive at these ideas and experience them through individual characters. As such, the characters have to be flushed out with realistic motivations. Ultimately, characters are only as complex and deep as needed to move the reader through to the grand ideas.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Moderate. Yes, there is a plot and it is important as a means for exploring all the grand ideas. The story must advance through events, the reader must see cause and effect, so as to make sense of all the social commentary going on in the narrative. The full arc (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) must be present if only so the reader full experiences the world and can understand the social commentary. As such, plot is sometimes pushed to the foreground.

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. Violence can be a part of the social implications being explored in a Social Sci Fi story, but not always. Sometimes violence is in the forefront, sometimes it is on the peripheries, and sometimes it is nonexistent.

Related Science Fiction subgenres

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Social Science Fiction isn’t for you if

If you don't like thinking about what you read. But really, Science Fiction lets us explore ideas and worlds outside of ours, so if you don't want to do that maybe all of Science Fiction isn't for you.