The obvious way to understand quality is to examine what is successful. On the other hand, it is often more helpful to examine what has failed.

Are there any tropes generally considered to make bad science fiction? Some things that pretty much everyone hates? Except for, of course, Mary Sue.

  • this is very broad, I wrote my answer trying to restrict the question, maybe the question text should also include that restriction – Andrey Nov 13 '17 at 15:36
  • projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/misconceptions.php I have nothing else to say. – Mephistopheles Nov 13 '17 at 19:20
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    The same thing that makes bad action, bad horror, bad romance, bad whodunnit... – GordonM Dec 7 '17 at 21:16
  • Besides the answers below, bad SF (for me) is ignoring the obvious ramifications of plausible new science introduced. Why does anybody on Star Trek die? In episodes they can be copied or reproduced from a transporter pattern buffer. Wouldn't you just store your pattern at the beginning of the day, like taking a shower, and if you die that day just get reproduced from your morning back up? A little disorienting, perhaps, but not dead. Or have your dead body beamed up, "repaired in the buffer" (also done in an episode), and arrive back on the ship alive and well? – Amadeus Sep 19 '18 at 18:28

Inconsistency with its own speculative science is another great failing of bad science fiction.


Bad science fiction can have the following characteristics:

  1. It does not hew closely enough to actual science. This is my personal biggest gripe.

  2. It has some ridiculous premise or other (e.g. space aliens come through a worm hole, inseminate all the women of earth, and the offspring are time traveling superheroes). But, as a caveat, some good writers pride themselves on taking ridiculous premises and actually making good stories out of them. Still, hard to imagine a story like that employing good science (#1).

  3. Any quality that makes for bad writing (poor character development, etc) will make for bad science fiction writing

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    Item 2 is almost always part of items 1 and 3, but this is essentially what I thought when I read the question title. Bad science, and bad writing. – Zeiss Ikon Nov 13 '17 at 15:12
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    Pretty much this. There are so many bad sci-fi films out there in particular that are just poorly written and even worse acting. One classic sci-fi that I cannot stand is war of the worlds. It just ends because aliens eventually die to our diseases and oxygen and the end. we win. UM WHAT. It was such a horrid ending to what was an enjoyable story. – ggiaquin16 Nov 13 '17 at 15:51
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    @ggiaquin, The Hail Mary save by the diseases at the end of War of the Worlds is what makes that story great! Through out the build up to that point, the author describes Earth's apex species failing time and again against the alien technology. By the end, there is literally no hope for humanity and even our attempts to crawl underground to hide are failing. To take a protagonist to such depths of despair and then in the last few pages, provide a happy ending is not just great science fiction. It is great writing. – Henry Taylor Nov 13 '17 at 17:03
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    @DTP, "Actual Science" is a moving target; and the understanding of science by general reading public is an even faster moving target. The stories of Robert Heinlein and Edgar Rice Burroughs didn't become any less wonderful just because the science behind them was proven wrong. I think it is enough that a story reflects the actual science of it's author's time. – Henry Taylor Nov 13 '17 at 17:09
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    @HenryTaylor I can see your point, but this is where I disagree with you. It was too much of a hard switch. It was such a let down to a great story overall. while it is certainly plausible that that can happen, it was too abrupt. All aliens wouldn't all of a sudden just die. There would be signs of it affecting them. They would be acting differently, some may be laying on the ground breathing hard or something. Not just POOF they all turn to dust cause disease the end. That was my issue. – ggiaquin16 Nov 13 '17 at 17:17

In order to make this question answerable and on topic, let's assume that discussion of anything that can apply to any other genre is out of scope of the question.

Science-fiction breaks down into two categories: hard and soft. Hard Science-fiction is about real science stretched a bit into the unknown. It follows all known rules and then adds something new to experiment with. Arthur C Clarke is a great example of hard science-fiction. He goes as far as inventing new real concepts in his books.

Soft science-fiction is fantasy with a think paint of space, or time travel. All technology could be swapped out for magic and it would not make a difference. The Dune series is a great example.

So bad science-fiction is one that does not know where it lives. One moment it's hard, the next for plot reasons or ignorance of the writer it becomes soft.

Pure soft science-fiction has another pitfall. It often fails to appeal to science-fiction readers if it only becomes a meaningless backdrop for another genre like romance.

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