Sci-Fi or Not Sci-Fi?

I’m currently working on a new Galactic Alliance book (the same one I’ve been working on forever, it seems) and I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a new species to the mix. So far, it’s been humans and Ankylos, but the Ankylos aren’t going to figure large in this storyline. I could make one of my characters a new alien species, but what if I don’t?

I’ve seen this debate bandied about the internet – basically, where to draw the line when calling a story sci-fi. When you transport a contemporary story to another planet, and where there’s very little in the way of extra technology or extraterrestrials, can you still call it sci-fi?

Because that’s the point I’m vaguely concerned about. This story is a rather contemporary story set in my Galactic Alliance world. If I don’t have one of my love interests become an alien, the story definitely isn’t very sci-fi-y. Since it’s a sequel with some preexisting futuristic world building, I’m not tooooo worried about it, but if this were the first of a series… I think I might get some flak about it’s inclusion in the category.

Have you ever found a story that makes you wonder why someone bothered to stick it on another planet or set it a future that doesn’t seem all that different? Does it bother you when people do that? Do you feel there needs to be some minimum threshold beyond a future date or different planet/galaxy setting before one can “officially” call it science fiction?

No matter what you say, I’m not re-writing this damned book 😉

KC Burn



  1. The first thing that came to mind when I read this was Firefly. It’s set on other worlds but those worlds look pretty much exactly like our own (or our own in the past). The story could have been set on Earth in 1888 and would have made a great steampunk, with mad scientists messing with River’s brain. The spaceships and other planets weren’t really necessary to the storyline, they just add a coolness factor. There’s no lasers (except for the one in Heart of Gold), no aliens, no androids.

    The next thing I thought of was a short story by Ray Bradbury called “All Summer in a Day.” I remember reading it as a kid and thinking “this isn’t sci-fi” because it’s just some kids in an elementary school that happens to be on Venus. But being on Venus was essential to the plot, which hinged on the fact that the sun only comes out for an hour once every seven years.

    How about Flowers for Algernon? Classic science fiction but not even on another planet. Or 47 Echo? That was very near-future dystopian military sci-fi, no aliens, etc.

    “Science Fiction” covers a broad spectrum. I’m absolutely fine with that.

    1. Those are great examples (especially my personal fav – Firefly)! I myself aren’t too fussy about the labels, but I see differing opinions.

  2. I agree SF is a very broad spectrum steampunk, alternate history, space opera, hard SF, etc. I find it annoying when certain authors *coughMargaretAtwoodcough* say they don’t write science fiction just because their books lack rocket ships and lasers.

    1. I’m with you, Nicole. I do think it’s broad, and there are sub genres that cover rocket ships and lasers, which should be more than good enough!

  3. Sounds like your story could be tagged as Mundane SF:

    1. Huh, learn something new everyday. I have the bones of story that would qualify as Mundane, but considering the one I’m working on now does have aliens (peripherally) and is set on another planet (Earth has already been long destroyed) I’d have a tough sell calling it Mundane. But thanks for the link – gives me some ideas for the other story 🙂

  4. If it’s set in the future, in another galaxy or dimension or even post-apocalyptic, it defaults to science fiction for me. Some literary stuff, too – The Road, The Handmaid’sTale, Never Let Me Go – it’s all sci-fi to me.

    1. Hi Diane. Yeah, I agree. The only exception I might have, personally, are a few action/adventure or thrillers that have been set a couple years in advance. I think that’s a way to manipulate the fictional political climate to suit their stories, but even then, an argument could be made for them to be classed as sci-fi. The authors of those books would probably protest, though!

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