Should Science fiction be categorized by what the stories symbolize?

(So, the new STAR WARS movie is out. The next chapter. Finally. I haven’t seen it yet, but I will.)

Ex. Steam punk is a sub-category of this genre. It involves heavy machinery. It involves grandeur in outrageously unbelievable ways. Is that the right categorization for what this is? Where does the inspiration come from? Is that pure imagination? What is the underlying message? What does it symbolize?

Not a single story, not even science fiction, is pure imagination. It comes from somewhere. Science fiction especially, has its roots in something real. When people ask you where your stories are coming from, the answer is most probably ‘life’ if it isn’t science fiction.  It is life, and this concept based on an actual scientific theory when it is science fiction. Where science is concerned, even ‘fiction’ can get very realistic in an alternative reality kind of way. If we include the social and personal influences, and focus on the underlying message of a science fiction novel, it could lead to a startling conclusion – that the category it is in is not what the book is about.

According to me, the current Sci-Fi categorizations are superficial, meaning based on the more obvious conflict, but it works where the book never goes beyond the scientific premises it is based on. Where it is just telling a story; there is no obvious moral or social message.

Per BISAC there are just a few science fiction categories. When you are writing a story that comes to you as a brainwave, you are hardly focusing on what the genre is. You are simply writing. Unfortunately, the genre needs to be finalized before you can hit that ‘send’ button to anywhere.  Categorization is important if –

  1. You want to reach the right audience – miscommunication can often lead to bad reviews. The reader expects one thing and gets another – this is one of the main reasons why some books get nasty reviews.
  2. You want to pitch your book against comparable works – If you do your research right you can make sure that your work is unique and has a fresh perspective. It also must be similar to something that is already out there, (or not, either way you can pitch it accordingly) and locating that other book that is a lot like yours helps when pitching to an agent. It might also help avoid a pitfall like – ‘this is that science fiction movie the whole world knows about, you know, the one you always meant to watch but didn’t! You are writing Prometheus!”

Here are the BISAC categories for science fiction. The books we know and love are often categorized as combinations of two or more of these categories. Therefore “The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells is Time Travel (FIC028080) & Steam Punk (FIC028060). You get the idea.

  1. FIC028000 FICTION / Science Fiction / General – Everything goes here I assume. 
  2. FIC028010 FICTION / Science Fiction / Action & Adventure – Did some research and discovered that pretty much anything falls under this category. Movies like Star Wars, Alien and so on. 
  3. FIC028090 FICTION / Science Fiction / Alien Contact – (Carl Sagan – Contact – also hard science fiction, see below) See Also –
  4. FIC028090 FICTION / Science Fiction / Alternative History – see Alternative History (Kim Stanley Robinson – The Years of Rice and Salt)
  5. FIC028070 FICTION / Science Fiction / Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic – (“The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke, M. R. Carey – The Girl With All the Gifts)
  6. FIC028040 FICTION / Science Fiction / Collections & Anthologies
  7. FIC028100 FICTION / Science Fiction / Cyberpunk – (William Gibson Neuromancer)
  8. FIC028110 FICTION / Science Fiction / Genetic Engineering – (Robert J. Sawyer – The Neanderthal Parallax novel)
  9. FIC028020 FICTION / Science Fiction / Hard Science Fiction – (Arthur C. Clarke – Rendezvous with Rama) Emphasis on scientific accuracy.  (December 16th is his birthday by the way)
  10. FIC028120 FICTION / Science Fiction / Humorous – (Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)(See also – 19-funniest-science-fiction-books)
  11. FIC028050 FICTION / Science Fiction / Military – (Starship Troopers Kindle Edition by Robert A. Heinlein)
  12. FIC028130 FICTION / Science Fiction / Space Exploration – ( A great list here – The 24 best books ever written about space travel) Humans exploring space, the earth features as much as outer space. (Andy Weir – The Martian)
  1. FIC028030 FICTION / Science Fiction / Space Opera – (The 21 Best Space Opera Books) Set entirely in outer-space, space warfare. (Yoshiki Tanaka- Legend of the Galactic Heroes)
  2. FIC028060 FICTION / Science Fiction / Steampunk – Often set in an alternative history. (Tim Powers – The Anubis Gates)
  3. FIC028080 FICTION / Science Fiction / Time Travel – (Patrick Lee – Ghost Country) (See also – 23 Best Time Travel Science Fiction Books)


Here are the Sci-Fi categories from Amazon matched with the BISAC equivalents


  Amazon Categories (Science Fiction) BISAC Equivalents (Science Fiction – FIC028000      FICTION / Science Fiction / General)
1 ADVENTURE FIC028010  FICTION / Science Fiction / Action & Adventure
2 HARD SCIENCE FICTION FIC028020  FICTION / Science Fiction / Hard Science Fiction
3 ALTERNATIVE HISTORY FIC028090  FICTION / Science Fiction / Alternative History
4 POST APOCALYPTIC FIC028070   FICTION / Science Fiction / Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic
5 DYSTOPIAN There is no direct equivalent so I guess it goes under –  Science Fiction – FIC028000      FICTION / Science Fiction / General. Ex. The Handmaid’s Tale
6 SPACE OPERA FIC028030      FICTION / Science Fiction / Space Opera
7 CYBER PUNK FIC028100      FICTION / Science Fiction / Cyberpunk
8 FIRST CONTACT FIC028090      FICTION / Science Fiction / Alien Contact
9 ALIEN INVASION FIC028090      FICTION / Science Fiction / Alien Contact
10 MILITARY FIC028050      FICTION / Science Fiction / Military


11 GALACTIC EMPIRE FIC028030      FICTION / Science Fiction / Space Opera
12 HUMOROUS FIC028120      FICTION / Science Fiction / Humorous




I personally categorize my own way, based on the catastrophes/ technologies that drive the plot:

  1. Pressing buttons to do outlandish things – Time machines, Most futuristic or modern-day computer/ tech/ electronic gadgets – Outsourced. Time Machine
  2. Disease or cure going out of control – Any Robin Cook book, Repo Men, Frankenstein 
  3. Life-forms changing shapes in strange ways; amalgamations of two or more life-forms- Ant Man, The Blob, King Kong
  4. Discoveries/Inventions that can fulfill your dreams or turn your life into a nightmare – The Circle, Honey I shrunk the kids, Blubber, Dr. Doolittle
  5. Geographical disasters that aren’t of the normal kind (I will say aliens can be filed here) – 2012
  6. Exploration of the earth and other planets (Aliens can be filed here too, but sometimes it is just red earth like Mars) – Interstellar, Star Wars, Star Trek
  7. Bad behavior from existing technology – I.T.
  8. Psychologically affecting anything beyond what’s considered normal or legal – Get Out, The Box, The Handmaid’s Tale
  9. Should there be a category for pseudo governments? Is it Dystopian? – 1984
  10. Apocalyptic, the only categorization that overlaps – Wall-E

And to round up this discussion, here is a look at what’s inspiring science fiction writers these days. The categories split from a total of 238868 books are from Amazon, and the numbers are as of 11/17.