Adult · Sci-fi · Young adult

Sci-Fi Tropes and Overrated Books

Or, Acqua has unpopular opinions about science fiction.

Science fiction is the genre of my favorite book, but I don’t know if it is my favorite genre. When writers get it right (when writers get what Acqua wants) I always love it. The problem? More often than not, they get it wrong. I haven’t found what I want in a YA sci-fi book yet. But short fiction and adult sci-fi are great!
Well, mostly.

What do I mean by “get it wrong”? There are many ways a book can be bad, but with sci-fi, they’re always the same ones. In this post I will explain what I don’t like in sci-fi and some books I think are really overrated.

How Acqua Thinks Sci-Fi Should Be

Sci-fi should have science in it. It doesn’t have to be real science, it doesn’t have to be complex (but, if it is, I’ll love it more), and it doesn’t have to be realistic (there’s the fiction part, after all). But it has to feel realistic. Make me believe in your science. Don’t break my suspension of disbelief every two paragraphs. If your explanations are laughable, it’s better not to explain at all. Your readers shouldn’t notice that your explanations make no sense.

Research. Do your research, if you’re going to explain the impossible with science. That word probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Do something interesting with it. We’re in the future (most of the times). So, show me the cool inventions, the scary stuff – you can do everything you want. Surprise me. Again, you don’t have to tell me the details on how these things work, or tell me how they were invented. But I think that in your future there could be more interesting things than Star-Wars-like spaceships and droids who can fall in love.

Put some effort in your worldbuilding. If you’re writing space opera, don’t be lazy – every planet shouldn’t have only one climate and one distinctive trait. Earth is definitely not like that, then why all your planets are? And if you’re not writing space opera: in which ways is society affected by these technological advancements?

The romance shouldn’t sideline the plot. I’m tired of reading sci-fi that is 90% romance in space and is not marketed as such. Also, I’d be happier if there were no lost space!princesses. They’re already irritating enough in fantasy.

Not falling in love doesn’t make you not human. Too many writers love the comparison humanity = romantic love, and they will make their droid MC fall in love to show that they are not like other droids – they can love! Therefore, they’re not only a machine.
Overused trope and annoying cliché. Your droids can do better.

Aliens: do you have to? (I don’t like reading about aliens at all, but that’s me.) When you’re writing aliens, think about why they are the way you invented them. How did evolution get them there? Why do they look like that? If you’re going to include aliens, don’t introduce six different species in one book  – you don’t have the space to develop them, and their cultures will feel like caricatures. And if they’re in your book to be a metaphor for racism: think about it twice. Then do it again. Then hire a sensitivity reader, or more than one.

Some Overrated Sci-fi Books

Cinder by Marissa Meyer


If you ask for sci-fi recommendations, this book will be in them. Even if you’re asking for adult sci-fi, or if you’re asking for sci-fi that is not The Lunar Chronicles (yes, this happened). Why? Because it’s one of the two well-known YA sci-fi series (the other is Illuminae).
From a sci-fi standpoint, this book is boring. There’s nothing interesting or new about the technology, the worldbuilding makes no sense, and there is a lost space!princess (spare me). Even if you’re not judging Cinder as a sci-fi book, it’s mediocre at best. This book has the most predictable plot twist ever, and a bland romance. Also, the way the author wrote Asia is… bad.

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray


A new release of this year; probably the worst sci-fi book I’ve ever read. I read it because of the glowing reviews (which. how? why? I’ve read them, I still don’t understand.) and after 50 pages my only emotion was regret. Why didn’t I DNF it? Because I wanted to write a review. (If you can read Italian, here’s a very detailed description of what went wrong).
Defy the Stars was a supernova of cliché whose repetitive, unimaginative plot got sidelined very soon by a boring romance. This meant 512 pages of all-around bad: clunky writing, plot holes (big ones), underdeveloped worldbuilding, flat characters… But! The mech can fall in love! Like in every sci-fi book ever!
Your priorities, I guess.

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray


Here’s the thing about Defy the Stars: Acqua should have known better, because she strongly disliked the author’s previous series. This time, what drew her in was the cover (so pretty) and the fact that the main character was the daughter of two physicists.
I think this author doesn’t get science, or scientists. It’s been almost two years since I read this book, but I remember that it was a case of this-doesn’t-mean-what-you-think-it-means, and of plot?-who-cares-there’s-a-love-triangle. Also, she portrayed scientists as people who care only about science (same in Defy the Stars) and as these eccentric geniuses or something (yay stereotypes).
They could be. Do you know who won’t find them eccentric, though? Their daughter. Also, if they only talk about science, Marguerite should know something more about physics, but she doesn’t because the author doesn’t either.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

This is an adult sci-fi book, but it reads like a mediocre YA one. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet tells you that prejudices are bad (a good message), and then for 500 pages it doesn’t do anything but beat you over the head with its message, with no plot because that may distract you.
I knew about the lack of plot – I knew what this book was before starting it. But, at the same time, why should I care about the book then? I don’t know your characters yet, and there is no plot at all. Why should I keep reading? (To write reviews, that’s why).
I’ve read books with less plot than this one, but their writing was beautiful. In this book, the writing is boring, average. Average writing for an underdeveloped, cliché plot in an underdeveloped, cliché universe (you can’t develop so many different cultures in a book, it won’t work) with underdeveloped, cliché sci-fi technology. At least the characters weren’t flat, but there was an AI-falls-in-love subplot because we needed all the clichés.

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie TheAbyssSurroundsUs

I actually liked this book, but not for the sci-fi aspects.
F/f books. There are so few of them, and this is the only YA series whose main characters are wlw and end up together. (Read it, if you haven’t yet.)
I’m also someone who loves marine biology, and this was… not good. I guess you could just not care, but I couldn’t help but see what was going wrong. This is about genetically engineered sea monsters, which, ok. Science fiction, that’s not the problem.
The problem was that the made-up word the author chose for some made-up animals she often mentioned already exists and means something else. Neocetes is the common name of the clade Neoceti, which includes all cetaceans but Archaeoceti (extinct). They’re not neo-engineered-cetaceans.
Also, if your sea monster is half-tortoise, half-iguana (a reptilian reckoner, she says), it’s not going to have blowholes. Only cetaceans have those – it wouldn’t make sense for something with a neck to have them.

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza


I liked this one too, because it’s the perfect book to read when you’re tired, procrastinating and want something easy to follow, but it was mediocre. The worldbuilding was bad. Every planet had only one climate, the main characters had Russian and Welsh names when Russia and Wales didn’t exist (and both MCs are PoC). The light-skinned characters lived in planets that were closer to the sun than the planets in which the darker ones lived, which didn’t make much sense. The technology was also kind of cliché, but it had some interesting concepts (finally). The plot? Not so much. There were at least five plot twists, and I guessed all of them 50 pages before they happened.

These were some sci-fi books that disappointed me. What do you look for in sci-fi, and which books do you like in the genre?

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