The Ultimate Guide to the Science Fiction Genre (Best Books, Movies, TV Shows)

What if science fiction is your favorite genre and you don’t even know it yet? Here are 6 recommendations to help you find out if it’s for you!

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We all have a favorite movie or literary genre. Some of us find comfort in fantasy and others in realism; maybe we love sci-fi and horror is our favorite in October and October only.

Most of us stick to the genre we like the most and kind of stray away from others. This doesn’t mean we never watch anything or read books that aren’t our favorite genre, it just means we don’t dig deep or actively look for things in different genres. And we might be missing out on some amazing novels, movies or shows (and maybe some fashion inspiration).

For this series of posts I’m going to dive into some of my favorite genres and let you know which books you should read and which TV shows and movies to watch, plus a couple of outfit inspirations from iconic characters in each of those genres.

I’ve already covered horror, comedy, mystery and fantasy. This week, we’re going beyond our technological boundaries and taking on science fiction.

What is the science fiction genre?

Science fiction is a genre that deals with the question “What if”: What if we could travel through space? What if we lived in a utopia or a dystopia? What if aliens came to Earth? What if parallel universes were real? What if a past event had a different outcome? What if we could have superpowers?

These aren’t the only questions it deals with; to be brief, science fiction is a speculative genre that makes the improbable possible. It has a wide range of sub-genres and it has a very close relationship with horror, fantasy and mystery. The most defining trait people can agree on is that there is technology that doesn’t exist in the time period the story is written in. So, if a piece of work was written in the 1920s and it uses cellphones, but cellphones weren’t a thing then, the story falls under science fiction.

Like most of the speculative fiction genres, science fiction has a history of not being taken seriously by the art community. Science fiction authors and fans are notorious for their resentment towards this. They also don’t like the term ‘sci-fi’, since they feel like it degrades the genre to the popular conception of it.

Though it has its detractors, science fiction has given us some of the greatest novels, movies and TV shows of all time. These works have legions of fans around the world, keeping multiple fandoms alive even decades later. The science fiction genre includes everything from comic books to short stories, door-stopping novels, franchises spanning multiple media, to stand-alone books, all of them ranging from good to bad to so bad it’s good, so good that it’s hard to get through, to weirdly amazing, terrifying, and life-changing.

Science fiction has had an impact on popular culture and our world that no other genre can touch. Many modern scientists, engineers, astronauts, and investigators are doing what they’re doing because they were inspired by science fiction in their childhood. This means that most of the technological and scientific advances being made today (or in the last three decades, really), were inspired by this genre, directly or indirectly.

You might not think the science fiction genre is for you, but I urge you to give it a chance. Here are a few recommendations to help you enter the fantastic world of science fiction:

What to Read… Best Science Fiction Books

Science fiction literature is massively prolific. Like I mentioned earlier, it ranges from comic books to huge novels and everything in between. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus has been considered by academics the first science fiction novel. Jules Verne has been lauded for his attention to detail and accurate predictions of future technology, especially in his novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

But there is one author in particular that is not only considered one of the most important authors of all time, but the “Shakespeare of science fiction”. H. G. Wells changed literature and science fiction: he approached themes like alien invasions, biotechnological engineering, invisibility, and time travel. Back in the late 19th century and early 20th century, Wells predicted air and space traveling, nuclear weaponry, satellite television, military tanks, and something resembling the World Wide Web.

Wells’ influence is so important, that in 1938 a radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds caused panic among listeners because they thought a real alien invasion was happening. Oh, and it launched performers like Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) into stardom.

Now, for my recommendations. Let’s begin with one of my all-time favorites that’s accessible to everyone, a graphic novel:

1. Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Watchmen graphic novel

With all the comic book adaptations that we’ve been seeing over the last eleven years, it can be easy to put everything in the same category of “superhero flicks.” With Watchmen, you might remember Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation (one of the best superhero movies ever), or you might have started watching the 2019 series created by Damon Lindelof for HBO. (It just premiered last month.)

Even if you’ve seen the adaptations, though, this is well worth a read on its own. This is a graphic novel like no other.

Watchmen was written by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and published by DC Comics from 1986 to 1987. The story is set in an alternate universe that mirrors the real world of the late 20th Century, with just one key difference: Inspired by early comic books, real people have decided to fight crime and dress like superheroes. The main story starts when a former superhero, The Comedian, is murdered and his old teammates try to figure out what happened and why.

Famous for being the definitive take on the deconstruction of the superhero genre, Watchmen is a real and gritty examination of what would actually happen if superheroes were a thing in our society. While it contains various timelines, plot lines, and tons of characters, it’s difficult to explain in a couple of lines, but easy to read.

The heroes are imperfect and relatable, the villains are complex and interesting, and even the background characters are great to read when they appear on the page.

2. Strata, Sir Terry Pratchett

Best science fiction books: Strata by Sir Terry Pratchett

My next recommendation is the book that spawned one of the most famous franchises in the world. Sir Terry Pratchett was mostly known for his Discworld series, but the concept of the franchise began with this novel.

Strata was published in 1981 and it is one of the few pure science fiction novels that Pratchett wrote. It explores the concept of a flat Earth, much like Discworld does.

Kin Arad’s job is building worlds; she works for a mysterious organization called the Company. One day she is contacted by a man who enlists her to travel to a strange world that he claims is flat. Once there, they find a world that pretty much matches with the old myths about the Earth: it’s flat, things go round it, stars are actually points on a sphere surrounding it, etc. Also, the world is still in the dark ages, and demons exist.

Like every science fiction work, it deals with moral and philosophical themes, like humanity’s nature. It’s insanely well written, interesting and is a great way to get to know an amazing author. I highly recommend it!

What to watch on film… Best Sci Fi Movies

Speculative fiction is the best type for visual media, right? Just like fantasy, science fiction lends itself to incredible sets, CGI, great costumes and music.

The science fiction genre has given us classics like Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Alien, Predator, The Matrix and The Fifth Element. In the late 00’s and early ’10s, we saw films like The Martian, Interstellar and Annihilation top box offices and win awards.

From Jurassic Park to Star Trek, going through 2001: A Space Odyssey, the list of science fiction movies is never-ending.

Science fiction films were a gateway for me to get into classic cinema and other genres, but they’ve had an even bigger impact on my life: they gave me two of my best friends. No matter if we’re checking out blockbusters like the Star Wars franchise, Blade Runner, or the numerous MCU movies; or little indie movies like The Lobster, my friends and I always go to see the latest science fiction films together.

My friends and I watched my first film recommendation together and it blew our minds. This may not look like science fiction at all, but it is:

1. The One I Love, Charlie McDowell

One of the best new science fiction movies: The One I Love

Watch on: Netflix

This 2014 film stars Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, and Ted Danson. When it premiered, it had a limited release. It’s now available on streaming services like Netflix.

When their marriage starts to crumble, protagonists Ethan and Sophie go to regular appointments with a therapist (Ted Danson). After identifying a disconnection in their relationship, he recommends a weekend retreat at a secluded estate. Desperate to save their marriage, the couple agrees to go. When they get there, they make a discovery that will change their lives forever.  

I don’t dare to say anything else, since it’s the type of movie you have to watch without any external information. Just trust me on this — watch this film!

Now, we all associate Elisabeth Moss with science fiction thanks to The Handmaiden’s Tale, but in this indie movie she gives an amazing and nuanced performance.

The One I Love has great characters, excellent pacing, and shocking twists that make for a great watch.

2. Ex Machina, Alex Garland

How to get into the science fiction genre with movies: Ex Machina

Watch on: Netflix

My second recommendation is more on the classic science fiction side of things.

Released in 2015, Ex Machina stars Alicia Vikander, Domhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac. The film is not set that far into the future, just enough for both the tech to be probable and for it to hit close to home.

The best way I can describe the plot without giving anything away is that a young programmer is selected by a reclusive billionaire to spend the week in his isolated compound. There, he will take part in a Turing test: evaluating the human qualities of a female A.I. named Ava.

Ex Machina is suspenseful, thoughtful and, at times, scary. It deals with the ethics of artificial intelligence and it doesn’t hold any punches. Not only is it well acted, but all the characters can be both charming and unsettling to a certain degree.

What to watch on TV…? Best Science Fiction TV Series:

As with film, science fiction has many impressive television titles under its belt. The X-Files, Firefly and Doctor Who are some of the most famous and beloved science fiction series of all time.

Every single one of the superhero shows on TV can be considered both fantasy and science fiction. Of the whole batch of these shows, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are the ones that feature the most science fiction-y storylines and tropes, including time travel, wormholes, dark matter, and alternate universes.

Lately, dystopian science fiction shows have been popular, including HBO’s Westworld and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

There are so many great science fiction shows it was hard to choose one, but one of my absolute favorites is:

1. The Hundred (The 100), The CW

Best science fiction shows - The 100

Watch on: Netflix

Very loosely based on the novels by Kass Morgan, this show premiered in 2014 and is entering its seventh and final season next year.

The series begins 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse devastated Earth. The only survivors are thought to be the inhabitants of twelve national space stations that were in orbit at the time, which have since joined into a single large station called the Ark. On this ship, laws are harsh and resources are dwindling, so the Ark’s leaders turn to Earth as a potential solution. One hundred juvenile delinquents are sent down to Earth in a drop ship to see if the planet is survivable.

The two most prominent characters, Bellamy and Clarke, are complex and incredibly compelling to watch and they’re very beloved by the fans. They’re, literally, the Head and the Heart of the show. Actors Eliza Taylor and Bob Morley, who play Clarke and Bellamy, actually got married last May (after keeping their relationship under wraps for years!), causing a huge celebration among the fans of the show.

The 100 has had amazing storylines, along with some that are very, very questionable, but overall it’s one the best science fiction shows I have ever seen. It deals with harsh themes, but contemporary politics and social events give them a very present feeling. The 100 is gut wrenching at times, but it is a must-watch. You won’t regret giving it a chance.

2. Rick & Morty, [adult swim]

Best science fiction genre tv shows - Rick and Morty

Watch on: Netflix or on [adult swim] on Sundays at 23:30.

My second recommendation is an animated show that premiered its brand new season just this week.

Rick and Morty premiered in 2013 and was created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. It fast became a cultural sensation and it has given adult animated shows a much needed breath of fresh air.

The series centers around the misadventures of Morty Smith (voiced by Justin Roiland), a troubled young high school student, and Rick Sanchez (also voiced by Justin Roiland), Morty’s alcoholic mad scientist grandfather. Rick constantly pulls Morty and his family out of their normal lives to go on sci-fi acid trips across the multiverse and help him carry out insane science experiments.

Yes, it can be crass at times, but Rick & Morty is incredibly funny and compelling. It has garnered a bad reputation because of certain toxic parts of its fandom, but the series is 100% worth watching. It’s especially perfect when you need to relax and have a good time without worrying about the length of the episode or a stressful plot.

What do you think?

Do you like science fiction? What do you think of my picks? Tell me in the comments.

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