By Bhalachandra Sahaj
When I look at Amazon.com’s top sellers list, it makes me want to cry—and not out of happiness. And I don’t even mean junk like Leah Remini’s “Troublemaker,” numerous miraculous diets, Trump’s… well, I guess it’s a book. No, I am talking mostly about fiction literature—sci-fi literature, in particular.
How long has it passed since you last read well-written fiction? Recently, readers have been fed mediocre fast-food books like “Divergent,” “Maze Runner,” and other near-dystopian teenage dramas. The fact they have become popular does not mean anything. Sometimes I think authors either lack imagination to write in a setting different from trivial dystopia and/or post-apocalypse, or they consider the most commercially-beneficial options.
Fortunately, fiction is much more than this. Here are some sub-genres (or let’s call them settings) that are undeservedly ignored nowadays.
If you haven’t read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” or “Idoru,” you’ve missed a large chunk of what sci-fi can offer. Trans-national omnipresent corporations, surveillance, corporate espionage, cybernetic body modifications, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, neon, and noir—cyberpunk has it all. As someone described this genre, it’s about “high technologies and low life.” Extremely enjoyable.
2. Space Opera
When people hear the words “space” and “sci-fi,” they often imagine something like Star Wars, lasers, “good colonists, bad metropolia” and other stuff like that. However, space is too big for such tiny things as laser ‘pew-pew.’ Space opera is a genre that considers the scales of the Universe—everything in space opera is epic. Romance, rivalry, space battles, scales of events—everything is solemn and grand. Frank Herbert’s “Dune” (the first three books, at least) is an excellent example of a space opera novel series.
3. Alternative History
Have you ever wondered what life nowadays might be like if events in the past occurred in a different way, or did not happen at all? Alternative history is a genre that seeks such answers. What if Einstein never figured out his general relativity theory? What if Adolf Hitler was assassinated in 1932? What if Edison never invented the light bulb? What if the Holy Inquisition still existed? This genre can provide answers to your most impossible questions.
I can’t remember any books published in this genre recently. This is strange, because steampunk can be incredibly immersive and impressive, and could gain vast audiences all around the world. The world at the end of 19th century (or in the beginning of the 20th century); huge mechanisms working on steam and coal; polite gentlemen running around with Tesla revolvers; pocket telegraph machines, and so on. Generally, steampunk adapts modern technologies to the realities of the 19th century.
5. Mundane Sci-Fi
Well, I was not sure how to call this, so I invented my own name for this genre. All sci-fi elements in this genre are secondary, and are mostly mentioned in passing, and the focus is made on the main character, his or her interactions, thoughts, and so on. Like, “I had plenty of time to finish my coffee before work—ten sublime wonderful minutes; Mary has finally fixed my PTU, so now I could teleport to the office anytime. No traffic jams, no need to breeze that nasty air outside, no metro crowds. It felt so good to forget about the usual morning rush.” Generally speaking, it is a regular novel, but in a futuristic setting. Such an approach helps to introduce some nontrivial solutions without shifting the emphasis from the character to tech wonders and other sci-fi tinsel.
Sci-fi is an incredibly rich genre that has a lot to offer to all categories of readers: knowledgeable, unsophisticated, skeptical, enthusiastic, and so on. You just need to take a closer look.