Sunday, October 01, 2023

What is Speculative Fiction?

When I think of Speculative Fiction, I think of science fiction and fantasy, and all the genres that fall under those umbrellas. Everything from paranormal romance to dystopias to cyberpunk. Things that don’t fall under the rules of our world. I’ve been asked about the fiction I write recently by a couple of different sources. The novel I’m working on right now is gothic fiction, but the novel I’m querying is epic fantasy. Both fall under speculative fiction, so I thought I’d try to define it; find out what it means to me and maybe what it means to others.

I like the definition I found from Southern New Hampshire University: “With subgenres like fantasy, science fiction, horror, alternate history and more, speculative fiction is an encompassing genre that freely explores possibility and impossibility alike.”

Pretty much what I thought, right?

My question then becomes: is all “fantasy, science fiction, horror, alternate history…” speculative fiction? After some searching on the internet (a very dangerous pastime), I saw that any alternate history, even one without fantastical elements, can be considered speculative. But not all historical fiction is not speculative. Not all science fiction or horror is speculative. All fantasy is, though. As I searched, I came across this simple, yet fantastic diagram by Annie Neugebauer.

Does it answer my question? Yes. I write speculative fiction. Generally speaking, I write fantasy, horror (gothic) and a little sci-fi. They all have some sort of element that is not bound to the rules of our world, whether or not those rules are explicitly stated. There has to be some sort of “world-building”, but not necessarily the epic fantasy, Lord of the Rings style. There should be an explanation (hopefully woven well into the story) about how the story’s world is different from the real world. The definition that Annie Neugebauer comes up with excludes science fiction and horror that doesn’t “speculate”. Basically, science fiction that is based on current technology isn’t speculative, and horror without any supernatural elements isn’t speculative.

This also means that speculative fiction can change over time, as technology and our understanding of the world changes. Genres have been changing for ages. New subgenres are added all the time, (some of which I plan on exploring in my Substack/newsletter – What is Gaslamp?)

Did you know there is a “MasterClass” article on speculative fiction? They call it a “super genre”, which I think is pretty accurate. They cite Margaret Atwood, J. R. R. Tolkien, William Shakespeare, and Euripides as speculative fiction writers.

A few speculative books I’ve enjoyed recently:

  • The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, by Megan Bannen
  • Network Effect, by Marta Wells
  • Under the Whispering Door, by T.J. Klune
  • An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir
  • Silver in the Wood, by Emily Tesh
  • Wayward Son, by Rainbow Rowell
  • Dragons Don’t Eat Meat, by Kim McDougall
  • Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree

I could go on, but I won’t. Network Effect is very different from Under the Whispering Door, but they were both AMAZING. They were all great books, all with something speculative.

 I hope this helps anyone who was hoping to better understand Speculative Fiction. Do you write/read speculative fiction? Do you have any questions about it?


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