What Are the Most Common Science Fiction Themes?

Angela Farrer

The most common science fiction themes are those of alternate realities, possible future worlds, and of characters that have abilities beyond those of ordinary humans. Contact with extraterrestrial beings is also common in this genre of literature, and many science fiction books explore ideas of how life would dramatically change if humans meet and interacted with aliens. Other science fiction themes have underlying ideas of how a future world could possibly be different if humanity continues on its current path in the present, and this kind of narrative usually has a setting in either a dystopia or a utopia depending on the author's point of view. Technology often has an important role in science fiction stories as a tool for either good or evil.

Cybernetic lifeforms, such as daleks from "Doctor Who," are often featured in science fiction stories.
Cybernetic lifeforms, such as daleks from "Doctor Who," are often featured in science fiction stories.

The plot of a science fiction novel can often cause readers to question what could be possible beyond the confines of day-to-day existence. Stories of alternate realities sometimes describe phenomena such as rips in the fabric of the linear space-time continuum. These kinds of science fiction themes frequently explore the nature of time itself. Alternate realities can also raise questions of how much characters may or may not have control over what happens in their futures. Science fiction prose written with these themes often has some limited basis in factual scientific studies of phenomena such as black holes, worm holes, and dark matter.

The end of the Earth is one common science fiction theme.
The end of the Earth is one common science fiction theme.

Get started

Want to automatically save money while you shop online?

Join 3 million Wikibuy users who have found 
$70 million in savings over the last year.

Wikibuy compensates us when you install Wikibuy using the links we provided.

Science fiction themes surrounding alien contact are frequently among the most popular stories. Many of these narratives describe worlds where humans live alongside alien races that have equal or often superior intelligence. Some of the most optimistic themes explore how humans could overcome their common shortcomings through the enlightened teachings of such an extraterrestrial race. Other stories detail the human race abandoning existing prejudices and infighting to unite in battle against an alien threat.

Telepathy, or the ability for people to communicate with their minds, is a common science fiction theme..
Telepathy, or the ability for people to communicate with their minds, is a common science fiction theme..

Additional science fiction themes concern the limits of the human mind. Characters in these stories frequently have abilities such as telepathy or psychokinesis, and whether they use these talents for good or evil explores more elements of human nature. When these abilities result from scientific experiments with advanced technology, the underlying theme of the story is a cautionary one that humans should not interfere with their own inborn capabilities.

Many science fiction stories take place on other planets.
Many science fiction stories take place on other planets.

A science fiction story set in a future world often raises ideas of where certain collective decisions and actions will eventually take the human race. A narrative about a grim dystopia often serves as a warning about the present. A science fiction story concerning a utopia often presents a much more optimistic view of the human race.

Highly acclaimed writers in the science fiction genre include Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut.
Highly acclaimed writers in the science fiction genre include Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut.
Science fiction authors often play off of Albert Einstein's theories to imagine methods of time or space travel.
Science fiction authors often play off of Albert Einstein's theories to imagine methods of time or space travel.
Science fiction often explores the ramifications of cloning.
Science fiction often explores the ramifications of cloning.
The discovery of extraterrestrial societies, often in the form of radio signals that have been detected by Earth-based observatories, is a major science fiction theme.
The discovery of extraterrestrial societies, often in the form of radio signals that have been detected by Earth-based observatories, is a major science fiction theme.
Time travel is a basis for the popular Dr. Who franchise.
Time travel is a basis for the popular Dr. Who franchise.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

indigomoth

I love science fiction. I love the fact that they can really explore an issue from a different standpoint as they can pare away all the issues that might affect the story if it were told in "the real world" and get down to the nitty gritty.

Like the movie "In Time" which I saw recently. Yes, it was a pretty bad movie, but it was still quite savagely critical of our current money systems. They had just changed money into life force and classes into "zones" that people could live in. So, they could really cut into what's wrong with a system in which life force (which they measured by time, which is really what we do, as time = work) is used to pay for things.

I thought it was clumsily done, but it was what a lot of science fiction themes aim to do, explore a topic by contrasting it with a different world.

browncoat

@irontoenail - I've heard people use that argument against writers like Margaret Atwood, who only "dabble" in science fiction and so they tend to rehash themes that have been done by other people.

But, you know, that's OK with me. I don't see why people can't redo old stories. Every story is an old story, really when it comes down to it. Every story is just a retelling of an old story that has been told before, a hundred times.

After all, most so-called science fiction themes are just window dressing over the themes that are in every book, about courage and community and so forth. It's just that they have courage and community in the face of aliens rather than during WW2 or whatever.

irontoenail

I always find it kind of funny when people who don't read a lot of science fiction try to write a science fiction book or maybe a movie. Or even talk about popular science fiction books or movies.

Take The Matrix. I remember when it first came out. I really loved it and thought it was an excellent film, but as science fiction goes it wasn't exactly original. I'd read lots of stories with that kind of theme, I mean, even Star Trek had dealt with it a couple of times using the holo-deck. I'd even covered it in school during a philosophy class on reality and what it actually is.

But so many of my friends were completely blown away. The tag line of the movie was "what is the matrix?" and I even had people tell me they still didn't really understand what the matrix was after watching the movie.

I just told them to go and read more science fiction.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: