Since people seemed interested in the idea of fantasy tropes, and I write sci-fi as well, here are a few that often find their way into science fiction. There are even some overlaps, but I didn’t include them here. I focused more on the books that represent these ideas.
1. Robots – Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot stories set the standard. The distrust of any artificial intelligence has made its place in sci-fi to the point that real designers actually use the author suggestions when considering how to program their machines. In movies, the Terminator series uses this distrust idea. It reflects the fantasy trope of pastoral ideal.
2. Interstellar Travel: George Lucas’s Star Wars and Roddenberry’s Star Trek. Yes, I honor both. The very terms FTL, Warp and interstellar were first used in science fiction and now have been adapted to science fact. It is a given, if you have space and those bright lights in the sky, you need to travel to visit them, and that takes time and speed. And believe it or not, the scientists who work on these ideas refer to the likes of Star Trek just to think outside the box a bit.
3. Time Travel: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. “By His Bootstraps” by Robert Heinlein. Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future. Closely related to interstellar travel is the ability to travel through time. In a way this is more attractive because you can then manipulate and change what you know, rather than deal with all the things you don’t know. And what fun possibilities to write about when you mess something up in your timeline.
4. Superpowers: Superman by Joel Siegel and Joe Schuster. Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Both sci-fi and fantasy entail superpowers but they split in how the originate. In fantasy, it usually means you are the prophesied one. In science fiction, it’s usually the result of a scientific experiment or mishap. The possibilities allow for imaginative ways to gain, use, abuse and fight superpowers. Again, if you write this way, be sure to provide your own twist on them.
5. Bodily Transformation: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Closely tied to the superpowers is the transformations that go with them. The theme of dealing with the bad side-effects is common. Rare is the ‘you are more beautiful’ after undergoing a bodily transformation. In my own work, the transformation goes multiple ways, and allows us to explore race and beauty in new, non-linear ways.
6. Parallel Universe: “Mirror, Mirror”, Star Trek. Fringe. Ever since the ideas of dimensions (1st – a point, 2nd – a line, 3rd – mass, 4th – time) was defined, authors have been speculating ‘what would the 5th dimension be’? Bring on the wild theories and in what kind of universe would get to go see it. Science believes that there are innumerable alternative universes. Write on!
7. Alien Invasion: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Neill Blomkamp’s District 9. With the parallel universe and interstellar travel, it opens the gates to who might be on the other side. As Carl Sagan claimed, ‘If there isn’t life out there, it seems a terrible waste of space.’ There’s got to be someone/thing out there. And of course they are just as curious and evil as humanity.
8. Immortality: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. The Highlander franchise. Closely related to the superpowers, immortality can be gained or natural. Both the good and bad of living forever must be explored. Some argue that this should be in the fantasy camp, but again, it changes in how immortality is obtained. In that case, Highlander probably should be a fantasy.
9. The Post-Apocalyptic World: Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. George Miller’s The Road Warrior. This trope has evolved to be a genre all in itself. The Bible introduced the term apocalypse, the end of the world. What if you survived something that ends everything else you know? What a wonderful thing to investigate. So many ways to die…or survive.
I’m sure there are more tropes than these. Please feel free to comment and make suggestions of others. Someone once said there are only seven original story lines. However, following a trope and making it yours with a unique twist certainly allows a reader to fill up their library with more than seven novels.