Speculative Fiction (2019)

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Speculative fiction is an umbrella term|umbrella genre encompassing fiction with certain elements that do not exist in the real world, often in the context of supernatural, futuristic or other imaginative themes.

Speculative fiction differs from other types of fiction such as slice of life and from non-fiction.


Speculative fiction as a category ranges from ancient works to both paradigm-changing and neotraditional works of the 21st century.

In historiography, what is now called speculative fiction has previously been termed "historical invention",Martha Tuck Rozett, "Creating a Context for Shakespeare with Historical Fiction", Shakespeare Quarterly Vol. 46, No. 2 (Summer, 1995), pp. 220-227</ref> as when he co-locates Athenian Duke Theseus and Amazons|Amazonian Queen Hippolyta, England|English fairy Puck (mythology)|Puck, and Roman mythology|Roman god Cupid across time and space in the Fairyland of its Merovingian Germanic peoples|Germanic sovereign Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In mythography the concept of speculative fiction has been termed "mythopoesis" or mythopoeia, "fictional speculation", the creative design and generation of lore, regarding such works as J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

The creation of speculative fiction in its general sense of hypothetical history, explanation, or ahistorical storytelling has also been attributed to authors in ostensibly non-fiction mode since as early as Herodotus of Halicarnassus (fl. 5th century BCE), in his Histories (Herodotus)|Histories,

These examples highlight the :wikt:caveat|caveat that many works now regarded as intentional or unintentional speculative fiction long predate the coining of the genre term; its concept in its broadest sense captures both a conscious and unconscious mind|unconscious aspect of human psychology in making sense of the world, and responding to it by creating Imagination|imaginative, inventive, and artistic expressions. Such expressions can contribute to practical progress through interpersonal influences, social movements|social and cultural movements, scientific research and advances, and philosophy of science.

In its English language|English-language usage in arts and literature since the mid 20th century, "speculative fiction" as a genre term is often attributed to Robert A. Heinlein. He first used the term in an editorial in The Saturday Evening Post, February 8, 1947. In the article, Heinlein used "Speculative Fiction" as a synonym for "science fiction"; in a later piece, he explicitly stated that his use of the term did not include fantasy. However, though Heinlein may have come up with the term on his own, there are earlier citations: a piece in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1889 used the term in reference to Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward|Looking Backward: 2000–1887 and other works; and one in the May 1900 issue of The Bookman (New York)|The Bookman said that John Uri Lloyd's Etidorhpa|Etidorhpa, The End of the Earth had "created a great deal of discussion among people interested in speculative fiction".

The use of "speculative fiction" in the sense of expressing dissatisfaction with traditional or The Establishment|establishment science fiction was popularized in the 1960s and early 1970s by Judith Merril and other writers and editors, in connection with the New Wave (science fiction)|New Wave movement. It fell into disuse around the mid-1970s.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database contains a broad list of different subtypes.

In the 2000s, the term came into wider use as a convenient collective term for a set of genres. However, some writers, such as Margaret Atwood, continue to distinguish "speculative fiction" specifically as a "no Martians" type of science fiction, "about things that really could happen."

Academic journals which publish essays on speculative fiction include Extrapolation (journal)|Extrapolation, and Foundation - The International Review of Science Fiction|Foundation.

According to publisher statistics, men outnumber women about two to one among English-language speculative fiction writers aiming for professional publication. However, the percentages vary considerably by genre, with women outnumbering men in the fields of urban fantasy, paranormal romance and young adult fiction.

Distinguishing science fiction from other speculative fiction

"Speculative fiction" is sometimes abbreviated "spec-fic", "specfic",) and in several other contexts.

The term has been used by some critics and writers dissatisfied with, what they consider, the limitations of science fiction: i.e., a need for the story to hold to strict scientific principles. They feel the term "Speculative Fiction" better defines an expanded, open, imaginative fiction, stories typically dismissed as "genre fiction", such as "Fantasy," "Mystery," "Horror," "Science Fiction," etc. broke out of genre conventions to push the boundaries of "Speculative Fiction."

The term "suppositional fiction" is sometimes used as a sub-category designating fiction in which characters and stories are constrained by an internally consistent world, but not necessarily one defined by any particular genre.

Speculative fiction genres

Speculative fiction may include elements of one or more of the following genres:

Name Description Examples
Fantasy mythical creatures (dragons, elf|elves, wikt:dwarf|dwarves and fairy|fairies, for example), magic (paranormal)|magic, witchcraft, potions, etc. The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire
Science fiction (sci-fi) technologies and other elements that do not exist in real life but may be supposed to be created or discovered in the future through scientific advancement, such as Robots in science fiction|advanced robots, interstellar travel, Extraterrestrials in fiction|aliens, time travel, Mutants in fiction|mutants and cyborgs. Many sci-fi stories are set in the future. Dune, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, The Left Hand of Darkness, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park
Horror Focuses on terrifying stories that incite fear. Villains may be either supernatural, such as monsters, vampires, ghosts and demons, or mundane people, such as psychopathic and cruel murderers. Often features violence and death. The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Books of Blood, The Hellbound Heart
Utopian Takes place in a highly desirable society, often presented as advanced, happy, intelligent or even perfect or problem-free. Island, Ecotopia, 17776
Dystopian Takes place in a highly undesirable society, often plagued with strict control, violence, chaos, brainwashing or other negative elements. 1984, Brazil (1985 film)|Brazil, The Handmaid's Tale, The Hunger Games
Alternate history Focusing on historical events as if they happened in a different way, and their implications in the present. Fatherland
Apocalyptic Takes place before and during a massive, worldwide catastrophe, typically a climatic or pandemic natural disaster of extremely large scale or a nuclear holocaust. On The Beach, Threads, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 (film)|2012
Post-apocalyptic Focuses on groups of survivors after similar massive, worldwide disasters. Mad Max, Waterworld, Fallout (series)|Fallout, Metro 2033
Superhero Centers on superheroes (i.e., heroes with extraordinary abilities or powers) and their fight against evil forces such as supervillains. Typically incorporates elements of science fiction or fantasy, and may be a subgenre of them. DC, Marvel Universe|Marvel, Kamen Rider Series|Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, Metal Heroes, Power Rangers
Supernatural natural world and materialist assumptions about it. Paranormal Activity, Fallen (Kate novel)|Fallen