Apr 10

What is Speculative Fiction?

On forums devoted to science fiction, there’s an ongoing debate about the distinction between science fiction and fantasy. On the one side there are those who wish to recognize stories which follow the laws of science.  These stories face the stiff challenge of remaining scientifically plausible. The writers of such feel they deserve some recognition for their art. This writing often contains clever ways of making such things as faster-than-light travel or shape-shifting plausible. If the plausibility requirement is considered irrelevant, these stories don’t get deserved recognition. On the other side are those who feel the distinction implies that science fiction is better than fantasy. These arguments usually grind down to debating if Star Wars is science fiction or fantasy and then someone taking offense when it’s pointed out that Star Wars is fantasy.

We can avoid all this pointless debate by lumping all science fiction and fantasy under the heading “speculative fiction.”  And we don’t have to list out every permutation:  science fiction, fantasy, paranormal fiction, horror, magical realism, fairy tales, mythology, alternative history, and on and on.

Robert Heinlein first popularized the label “speculative fiction” and then Margaret Atwood embraced it as well, so I feel I’m in good company by preferring it to a mouthful of genre titles.

The defining characteristic of speculative fiction is that something within the story is known to be impossible or untrue in the world as we currently know it. It might be possible in the future or if history took a different path or if the universes were constructed differently, but the reader knows that the story couldn’t have happened as described. There’s no mistaking speculative fiction for memoir. Well except in the case of magical realism. I include stories set in prehistoric times because we have so little information about these eras that the stories function as speculative fiction.

As an aesthetic decision, I prefer that speculative fiction stories to have maybe only one or two things which I know aren’t be true. I like these elements to be revealed early in the story, and not come out as a surprise hand-of-god resolution. I believe most other readers of speculative fiction have this same preference. A good speculative fiction story comes off as a sort of thought experiment, an exploration of a single change in reality. Speculative fiction gives the reader a doorway into another reality.

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Mar 05

Northern Speculative Fiction

northern speculative fiction

This site is devoted to those in Alaska and Yukon who write speculative fiction of all types. if the story is fiction and contains something which isn’t true then it’s our type of story.