Panology of Science Fiction: A

An A to Z of science fiction fields of study.

With Dan Simmon’s Hyperion Cantos and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series inching closer to television screens, a question resurfaces, a question I’ve been asking ever since first reading these two works of classic science fiction, both of whom have been fighting an eternal battle for the number one spot on my favourites list.

What makes these stories so great?

For me, it’s the scope of these novels. It’s how the authors infuse a multitude of scientific disciplines and morph them into the plot. This little project is intended as a study guide for me to use and others if they choose, and aims to list as many topics and fields of study as possible. It’ll be an ongoing process as I probably will miss a few academic disciplines along the way.


Science fiction is an art form, and visual art and science fiction have complemented and inspired each other from the beginning. From cover art of Jules Verne’s novels and Amazing Stories to the mind-bending number of sci-fi-influenced artworks in existence today, to the contemporary music inspired by this muse called sci-fi, it is a shame art doesn’t feature as much inside sci-fi stories as science does. Film and television do combine the two formats (art and literature), a synergy that creates its own standalone art, but there are few stories that explore art as a theme or as a science. How many authors pose the question, what is art?  

Science fiction, to me anyhow, is about exploring new concepts, and neglecting to explore such a vast aspect of human behaviour is always going to be a missed opportunity. As humans, we possess a range of sensors that can be aroused by art or information. Our eyes have pictures to lust over. Our ears have music to listen to. Our tongues have gourmet food to explore. Our skin has fashion; our noses, perfume and smell. Our inner ears give us balance, so is not defying gravity an appreciation of its beauty?

How else can humans make art? How would aliens make art? How else can an author explore the endless possibilities of art?

Time-tourism, Up the Line by Robert Silverberg

Mask-making art,  The Moon Moth by Jack Vance’s

Holographic sculpture, The Martian Inca by Ian Watson 

Music-and-light linkages, The Whole Man by John Brunner

Sartorial art‘s The Garments of Caean by Barrington J Bayley

Psycho-sculpture,  The Second Trip by Robert Silverberg

Laser-based artform, The Rainbow Cadenza by J Neil Schulman’s

Dream recording, Dreaming is a Private Thing by Isaac Asimov

Cloud-sculpting, Vermillion Sands by DJ G Ballard

Archeology (xenoarcheology)

Apart from the SETI researchers who search for signals that are millions of years old, not one person today is a practising xenoarcheologist. How can they be when there are no artefacts for them to study? This should not stop an author from giving it a go. The discipline can be monumental or incidental to the story, whether it’s uncovering an unknown civilisation, humanity’s alien origins or finding relics predating the cosmos, what better way to give a story some background than to have xenoarcheologists research the history of a place or people, here on a future Earth looking back at its past, on some exoplanet, or in deep space somewhere.   

Elder Things,  At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft

Multiple cyclical collapses of civilization, Nightfall, Isaac Asimov

Cylindrical alien starship, Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

High Ones, Across A Billion Years, by Robert Silverberg

Heechee, Gateway by Fredrik Pohl

The Klikiss, Saga of Seven Suns (Book 1: Hidden Empire) by Kevin J. Anderson

Puppeteer homeworld, Ringworld by Larry Niven

See also 10 Space Archaeology Novels You Must Read


Is it the architects leading the writers, or the other way around? Either way, whether you’re a human, transhuman or alien, you have to live somewhere.

From bionic architecture to autonomous buildings, nothing sets the scene better than creating unique habitats for your characters to live in. Functional spaces can add synergy to any plot whether they are based inside subterranean slums or in space palaces.

Hyperstructures,  Isaac Asimov’s Robot series

Ecumenopolis, Isaac Asimov’s Empire and Foundation series

Urban Monads, The World Inside by Robert Silverberg

Citadels,  Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center Saga

Projects, William Gibson‘s Sprawl trilogy & Bridge Trilogy.


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