The novel includes elements of mystery, romance, and science fiction. Rand referred to Atlas Shrugged as a mystery novel, "not about the murder of man's body, but about the murder — and rebirth — of man's spirit". Nonetheless, when asked by film producer Albert S. Ruddy if a screenplay could focus on the love story, Rand agreed and reportedly said, "That's all it ever was".
Technological progress and intellectual breakthroughs in scientific theory appear in Atlas Shrugged, leading some observers to classify it in the genre of science fiction. Writer Jeff Riggenbach notes: "Galt's motor is one of the three inventions that propel the action of Atlas Shrugged", the other two being Rearden Metal and the government's sonic weapon, Project X. Other fictional technologies are "refractor rays" (to disguise 'Galt's Gulch'), a sophisticated electrical torture device (the Ferris Persuader), voice-activated door locks (at the Gulch's power station), palm-activated door locks (in Galt's New York lab), Galt's means of quietly turning the entire contents of his laboratory into a fine powder when a lock is breached, and a means of taking over all radio stations worldwide. Riggenbach adds, "Rand's overall message with regard to science seems clear: the role of science in human life and human society is to provide the knowledge on the basis of which technological advancement and the related improvements in the quality of human life can be realized. But science can fulfill this role only in a society in which human beings are left free to conduct their business as they see fit". Science fiction historian John J. Pierce describes it as a "romantic suspense novel" that is "at least a borderline case" of science fiction.