Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What is Speculative Fiction?

Before I get to the issue of the day, I’d like to mention that we’ll be posting here on this blog on Wednesdays.  I can’t say if it’ll be every Wednesday or every other Wednesday because we’re still working all of that out, but if we’re going to be posting, for now it’ll be on a Wednesday.  Once the A to Z Challenge starts, that will of course cease to be the case.

Now, on to the topic I wanted to address.

The IWSG anthology Parallels: Felix Was Here is coming out soon, and it’s comprised of ten tales that make use of alternate history or parallel universes.  These elements are part of a much broader category known as speculative fiction.

What is speculative fiction?  This is a far more interesting and difficult question than many people realize.  In a way, all fiction deals on some level with the question “what if?”  So does speculative fiction.  In the realm of speculative fiction, though, you’re asking the question “what if the world was different than it is now in this specific way?”  The differences may be realistic but significant in their consequences, or they may be wildly different from what we expect from the world in which we live.

The realm of speculative fiction can include science fiction, fantasy, horror, and various other genres.  It is a broad umbrella that encompasses many types of fiction.  That’s one reason why it’s such a tricky thing to define.  It’s about possibility and impossibility, as paradoxical as that may seem.  It allows us to go on adventures that we couldn’t otherwise enjoy.  Speculative fiction allows the writer and reader to explore important issues facing humanity in the context of an exciting story.

Here are a few examples for you to give you an idea of how inclusive the category of speculative fiction truly is.  Follow the links to learn more about any of these stories.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Fifteen years after the Allies lost WWII, the United States is occupied by Japan and Nazi Germany.  This is a classic example of alternate history.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

This is a classic science fiction novel that famously includes the three laws of robotics.  Asimov's three laws have been referenced throughout the genre since they were first introduced.  This exploration of robotics is just as much an exploration of humanity.

Arthur Dent just wanted to save his house from being demolished to make way for a bypass.  Then his friend Ford reveals that he's an alien, Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, and they end up in a stolen ship with the president of the galaxy.  The key to surviving is to not panic.  This blend of science fiction and humor helps you see the absurdity of the world in which we live.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

This farmyard full of talking, intelligent animals may fit into the realm of fantasy in many ways, but it's one of the most famous examples of social/political satire out there.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

A hobbit is drawn into an adventure he never expected.  This high-fantasy novel is, as is well-known, connected to the famous Lord of the Rings epic.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

This is an example of contemporary science fiction.  It's our world plus genetically modified dinosaurs, and things go entertainingly awry.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Shadow gets out of prison.  His wife has just died, and his world is suddenly filled with gods and all manner of crazy things he never expected.  This is an interesting mix of contemporary fantasy and mythology.

The Stand by Stephen King

In a plague ravaged world, a handful of survivors are forced to take sides in a struggle between good and evil.  As if merely staying alive weren't challenging enough.  This story is an interesting mix of post-apocalyptic, horror, and fantasy.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This story spans generations and introduces many remarkable characters.  A bizarre mix of historical, contemporary, science fiction, and post-apocalyptic themes, this novel explores the nature of human connections across time and space.

This is only a partial list.  I could go on forever with examples.  If you enjoy good stories that stray from reality in interesting and perhaps unpredictable ways, then speculative fiction may be right for you.  Jump in and enjoy the ride!


  1. I know it's my favorite genre umbrella. I probably lean more towards fantasy and science fiction than horror or paranormal though.

  2. It's definitely a very broad mix. I like the idea that it can be funny or terrifying or invoke any other number of emotions.

  3. Fantastic examples of speculative fiction! I like being able to have such an umbrella term because I enjoy writing fantasy, horror, and science fiction, and it's easier to say I'm a speculative fiction writer than have to list every genre and subgenre I might write in. :)

  4. Now that is really broad.
    So fantasy and sci-fi fall under spec fic? Or are they genres on their own? Or is it a merry mix?

    1. They all fall under the broad umbrella of speculative fiction. Fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, horror, and all of that have their place. You can define any of the genres separately, but they all still fall under the basic category of speculative fiction.

  5. It's 90% of what I write! Great book suggestions!

  6. Great explanation! Thanks, L. G.! It's an all encompassing genre. The key for me was an alternate history.

  7. This is totally my niche. Totally. You define it well.

  8. Great examples! I love how so many different styles can be classified under the same genre. I'm only that much more excited about getting my hands on this anthology now!

  9. Excellent examples! I've even read the majority of them too (gasp).

  10. Well, so I write speculative fiction and didn't know it. Duh! At least in my paranormal writing. Great list. Animal Farm would be one of my favourites. Spec Fic is certainly broad.

  11. I love spec fic! Though I lean more toward SF and the dark side rather than fantasy. Just can't take elves and centaurs very seriously... Great pics for the examples!

  12. I've loved Asimov, Tolkien and Orwell also Herbert. These writers create worlds that stick in my head.

  13. Excellent job of explaining this. I write contemporary. That's a far piece from speculative. But I have an idea. It's definitely closer to this than I thought. Thank you.


Your comments are most appreciated!