My novel Omniscience deals with futuristic themes. Technology plays a big role in the story but it’s scant on details about how this technology actually works. This, I believe, places my book firmly in the category of sci-fi lite, also known as ‘soft’ science fiction.
According to Wikipedia, there are two types of soft science fiction. The first ‘explores the ‘soft’ sciences (e.g. psychology, political science, anthropology), as opposed to ‘hard’ sciences (e.g. physics, astronomy, biology).”
The second ‘prioritizes human emotions over the scientific accuracy or plausibility of hard science fiction. Soft science fiction of either type is often more concerned with speculative societies and relationships between characters, rather than speculative science or engineering.’
My novel falls into the second category, as the main focus is on the characters and how they deal with the trauma of living under an authoritarian government.
What About Speculative Fiction?
I’m not a big reader of science-fiction and it was a surprise to me when my book went in this direction. I do love speculative stories and feel my novel is better classified under this label.
A good example of speculative fiction is Netlfix’s Black Mirror series. In each Black Mirror episode, we don’t learn much about how the technology functions or how society ended up in its current state. One of my favourite episodes, ‘Metalhead’, involves the protagonist being pursued relentlessly by a robotic dog in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s not necessary to know how the robotic dog functions or how it ended up hunting humans to appreciate the message. The story plays on visceral fears about advances in AI.
Not explicitly providing the backstory to events allows the audience to consider scenarios that might lead to this nightmarish situation. Speculative fiction helps people think more deeply about technological and scientific developments as well as political and societal trends.
I took the same approach in Omnscience which is set in the near future. I didn’t explain in detail how an authoritarian government came to power in Australia because I didn’t think it was necessary. Readers only have to look at the current political climate to recognise how fragile democracy really is, and how easily it could crumble. With surveillance technology becoming more prevalent in our lives, and apps tracking our every move, it’s not hard to imagine how it could be used to monitor and control the population.
Another book which takes the ‘less is more’ approach is Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant speculative novel The Road. McCarthy doesn’t explain how society crashed, all we know is that planet is dying and the remaining humans have been reduced to scavengers. This lack of context doesn’t make his book any less powerful in my opinion.
A Marketing Dilemma
A lot of readers love detailed information about the political context and technology in science fiction. The difficulty lies in trying to market a book with some soft sci-fi elements, without disappointing those who are looking for a more hardcore experience.
Unfortunately, ‘sci-fi lite’ is not a category on Amazon or any of the websites I’ve marketed my book on. ‘Speculative’ is also rarely an option, so I have to rely on the tag ‘science fiction’ and hope that my blurb clearly explains what my book is about.
‘Dystopian’ does help clarify it, and I also use ‘thriller’ but ‘science-fiction’ is the category that gets the most exposure.
I’m guessing a lot of writers grapple with this issue when their books don’t slot neatly into one genre. One of my target markets is women who read domestic thrillers. While Omniscience is different to their usual fare, I think they would enjoy it.
The question is how do I reach these readers who might not even consider ‘science fiction’ or ‘dystopian’ books when searching for their next read?
It’s a quandary. Any suggestions welcome!