Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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What is "speculative fiction" ...?

glitteringlynx asked this fascinating question:

What is an example of a fictional story which would NOT qualify as speculative fiction? To rephrase the question, is there a discernable difference between fiction (a type of writing) and speculative fiction (a genre)?

I know that originally spec-fic was synonymous with sci-fi, but in my case I'm asking in reference to the more broad interpretation
which thus engulfs so many other genres.

Fiction in general is an accounting of imaginary events in our ordinary, everyday world.  Known features of this world may be exaggerated, minimized, or tweaked via artistic license but may not be violated outright.  Fiction is often divided into genres and subgenres to help readers find new books they will enjoy that are similar to books they have read and loved.

Speculative fiction is an accounting of events which take place in another version of reality, such as our world's future, a version of our world that has some weird twists in it, or another world altogether.  Known features of this world may be present, absent, or changed radically.

Genres of fiction which are not speculative include mystery (in which a crime is described and pursued by conventional justice), romance (in which an intimate relationship bumps over obstacles on the way to union), ethnic (featuring a specific culture, its challenges and values), and historical (set in a past time and place, displaying distinctive characters and concerns of that locale).

Speculative fiction is an "umbrella" term spanning many genres or subgenres.  Science fiction, at its core, describes things we know and imagines where they might go; more imaginary variations allow some very far-out additions such as humanoid aliens or time travel.  Fantasy describes things which are magical and contrary to some (or all) of what we know, often stepping outside our world altogether.  Horror describes abominable things, often adding macabre features to our known world and/or distorting things we customarily rely upon so that they become repellant.

Furthermore, genres can mix.  I once interviewed Dennis L. McKiernan, who gave a marvelous metaphor of speculative fiction as a mountain range.  Imagine one mountain with a spaceship at the top, one with unicorns and castles, and one with a haunted house and monsters.  At the peak of each mountain are the most iconic stories of that genre, pure in flavor; as you move down from a peak, you begin to see things native to some other mountain(s).  When you get down into the valleys, you are in the realm of "slipstream" or "interstitial" fiction that blends two or more genres.  There you find such things as the science fiction romance or the alternate-history Western in which the cowboys are fighting Indians who ride dinosaurs.</font>
Tags: reading, writing
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