Genre & Theme
3 min read

A short guide to soft science science fiction

A purple and peach image of a person in a structured spacesuit.

Soft science fiction is a subgenre that emphasizes the social sciences and human elements within a futuristic or technologically advanced setting. Soft sci-fi lets things fantastical things happen, without trying to explain how it's possible. When you're writing a soft sci-fi story, you don't have to ensure a plausible or rational explanation for how technology works. By focusing on societal, cultural, or psychological themes, soft science fiction allows writers to explore the human condition while still maintaining a sense of wonder and imagination that is characteristic of science fiction as a whole.

Understanding the reality genre

Reality genres are categories of fiction that define the nature of the world or universe in which a story takes place. They serve as the foundation for the narrative, shaping the actions, motivations, and overall tone of the story's characters. Other examples of reality genres include magical fantasy, alternate history science fiction, and contemporary fantasy.

When to choose soft-science science fiction as your reality genre

Choosing soft science fiction as your preferred genre can be an excellent option if you have a strong interest in exploring social, cultural, or psychological themes within a futuristic or technologically advanced setting. This choice may be particularly appealing if you want to focus on human elements and engage readers who are more interested in character development and societal implications than hard science or technological details.

Key elements of soft-science science fiction

Soft science fiction focuses on exploring societal, cultural, or psychological themes rather than hard science or technological advancements. These stories often take place in worlds with advanced technology or futuristic societies, providing a backdrop for exploring human themes. The plot delves into issues related to society, culture, or the human psyche, offering insights and commentary on the human condition. The characters and their interactions are central to the narrative, driving the story forward and engaging readers on an emotional level.

Key elements of soft-science science fiction:

  • Focus on social sciences and human elements
  • Futuristic or technologically advanced settings
  • Exploration of societal, cultural, or psychological themes
  • Emphasis on character development and relationships

Techniques for effective soft-science science fiction storytelling

To create a compelling soft-science science fiction story, consider the following techniques:

  • Balancing scientific plausibility with engaging human stories: While maintaining a sense of wonder and imagination, ground your story in enough scientific plausibility to maintain credibility with your audience.
  • Developing compelling and relatable characters: Create characters with depth, unique personalities, and relatable struggles to engage readers emotionally.
  • Creating thought-provoking and immersive settings: Establish a vivid and believable world that captures the imagination and supports the story's themes.
  • Incorporating relevant social or cultural issues: Integrate social or cultural issues into the narrative in a way that is consistent with the story's setting and enhances the plot.

Examples of soft-science science fiction in storytelling

Notable authors and works:

  • Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" - A thought-provoking exploration of gender and society on a planet where the inhabitants can change their sex at will.
  • Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" - A cautionary tale of a theocratic society where women are subjugated and forced into reproductive servitude, focusing on the human experience and social consequences.
  • Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" - A dystopian society where books are banned, exploring the importance of literature and free thought in a world controlled by oppressive regimes.

Popular films and television series:

  • "Gattaca" directed by Andrew Niccol - A thought-provoking film that examines the implications of a society where genetics determine an individual's worth and opportunities.
  • "Her" written and directed by Spike Jonze - A poignant exploration of love and artificial intelligence as a lonely man forms a deep bond with his AI-powered virtual assistant.

Challenges and criticisms of soft-science science fiction

When writing soft-science science fiction, be aware of potential challenges and criticisms:

  • Ensuring enough scientific grounding for credibility: While soft-science science fiction focuses on human elements, it is still essential to maintain enough scientific plausibility to satisfy readers' expectations.
  • Avoiding heavy-handed moralizing or preachiness: Approach themes related to society, culture, and psychology with nuance and subtlety, avoiding overly didactic or moralizing messages that might alienate readers.
  • Maintaining a balance between storytelling and social commentary: While exploring societal, cultural, or psychological themes is central to soft-science science fiction, striking a balance between engaging storytelling and insightful social commentary is crucial to keep readers invested in your narrative.

The unique appeal of soft-science science fiction lies in its ability to explore the human condition within a futuristic or technologically advanced setting. By choosing this subgenre, you can craft stories that engage readers both intellectually and emotionally, delving into societal, cultural, or psychological themes. By maintaining a balance between scientific plausibility, engaging storytelling, and social commentary, you can contribute to this rich and thought-provoking genre.



  1. Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.