Big Five Science Fiction Tropes, Explained
Sure, there are probably more science fiction tropes, but here I’ve focused on five broad tropes and explained what each trope tries to explore in a sci-fi work.
In each genre, there are conventions that readers expect to find. Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, General Fiction, non-fiction, and the rest each have norms that define them. Genre information helps readers decide whether he or she might have an interest in a book. It helps the storytelling along. So, there is both a marketing piece and a storytelling piece to genre conventions.
I find genre and genre conventions interesting. As I have studied what’s inside each category, it surprises me how authors innovative to create stories around these same few topics. How many different ways can we encounter two people who fall in love? How much can we say about time travel? There are many, many ways to explore these same ideas.
Science fiction has distinct narrative tropes and conventions that readers expect to find when a work is categorized as science fiction.
Below I’ve highlighted five features/topics/themes that readers expect their science fiction narrative to grapple with and explore.
- Artificial Intelligence: The central question in a story that features AI is what differentiates humans from machines? Examples include Her, Blade Runner, Westworld
- Technology: The central question is usually ethics. Just because we can do something, should we? Examples include Jurrasic Park, Stranger Things
- Aliens: The central question: if we are not alone, then are humans special at all? Examples include Arrival, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Axiom’s End
- Space Travel: We are so small and insignificant in the vastness of the universe. Examples include The Martian, Alien
- Time Travel: The central question is one of identity, do I possess free will, or is my path pre-determined? Am I a result of my experiences? Examples include Loki, Avenger’s Endgame, Replay, Back to the Future
I find that some of these central questions overlap, such as Space Travel and technology and Aliens or Technology and AI. In future blog posts, I hope to unpack different ones and review what elements bring out the central question and what works failed to do so. At a glance, Stranger Things doesn’t quite pose the question to the audience on whether the government should have made the “upside-down” in the first place. But maybe they cover this in subsequent seasons that I have yet to watch.