Social Science Fiction?

I’ve always struggled with labeling the genre of my novel. In many ways, I knew it could be considered dystopian. It takes place in a society in the future where things aren’t as perfect as the people living there seem to think they are.

But recently, dystopian novels have certain tropes, and I have a list of tropes I intented to avoid when writing my story (disclaimer: I don’t think these tropes are bad. I just didn’t want to use them.):

  • The Chosen One (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent)
  • The Love Triangle (The Hunger Games, Matched, The Selection)
  • The Post-Apocalypse (The Hunger Games, Divergent)
  • etc.

I wanted to write something more in line with earlier dystopian works, like Fahrenheit 451 and The Giver–places where the hero isn’t looked on to save society, and where the world isn’t necessarily a better place when it’s over. I wanted the stakes to be personal. So I did. I’m really happy with how the story turned out. But then there was the matter of genre.

While dystopian fit in a technical sense, avoiding most of the tropes common in popular dystopians made me want to avoid classifying it as such. But there isn’t much new technology, so sci-fi didn’t feel right either. Alternate history might work, but the changes made aren’t based on any strong “what if this turned out differently” from our history, so that didn’t seem like a good fit either.

Finally, I did something I should have done a long time ago. I Googled the genre for Gathering Blue, the book that originally struck the what-if question in me that forms the backbone of my worldbuilding (which is, for the record, very different than that of Gathering Blue). According to the Wikipedia article on it, Gathering Blue is social science fiction set in a dystopian world.

I didn’t know what they meant by social science fiction, so I did what any good Wiki user would do and clicked on the little blue link. This is what I found:

Social science fiction is a subgenre of science fiction concerned less with technology and space opera and more with sociological speculation about human society. In other words, it “absorbs and discusses anthropology”, and speculates about human behavior and interactions.

“Yes,” I thought to myself. That is what I was trying to do. So I reclassified. Of course, it would be more helpful if it were a widely recognized subgenre, but Asimov wrote about it, and that means a lot to me.

So dispite its vaguely dystopian exterior, I’m very happy with my new subgenre of choice. Now only time will tell if it will help with requests.


  1. The Handmaid’s Tale is another novel that comes to mind, though according to Wikipedia it’s listed as a dystopian novel as well. Though I do love dystopias, I agree that there are a bunch of tropes that come to mind when you mention it. I think your distinction makes sense.
    As someone else who struggled long and hard with settling on a genre for her book, I can totally relate to everything you said here. 🙂
    Good luck with the contest!

  2. I can’t believe this never occurred to me before, but your MS is quite squarely in the realm of non-humorous satire, too. Not that it’s any help. Satire is up there with dystopian on the list of words to avoid in a query.

  3. As a child I thought I didn’t like science fiction because it was just about spaceships and robots, and was cold and impersonal. So it was quite an epiphany when I discovered–thanks to my idol, Le Guin–that there was such a thing as sociological science fiction, and realized that most of my stories fit into that category.

    But when it comes to querying, it’s my understanding that it’s best to stick to broad, well-accepted genres–essentially, where the book would be shelved in a bookstore–and not worry about subgenres (though you might use comp titles to convey what type of story it is within the genre). So it’s perfectly appropriate to just call yours YA science fiction; you can’t go wrong with that.

    Good luck! 🙂

    • I agree–I love sociological science fiction. I might just go back and use some socio sci-fi as comps, but of course I can’t think of any written in the past 15 years… oh well. Ideally I can say it’s something like “Gathering Blue” meets “Recent Title” but we’ll see.

  4. I love that you posted this. One of my next WIPs would definitely fall under social science fiction, and it’s always bothered me to just say “science fiction.” Even if you wouldn’t want to query with the term “social” science fiction, it’s still nice to have a label that feels more appropriate when you’re talking about it. Are you going to be ready to query by the time you’re due?

    • It is nice to have a subgenre that I know is right, even if I don’t use it in my queries. I think social sci-fi has always been my favorite sub-genre. You’re not stuck in the patterns of our current reality, but it can be satirized and make you think and everything… it’s just fascinating to read. 🙂

      I’ve sent out a few queries already. I just have to polish my synopsis to continue my search. 🙂 So yes, definitely will.

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