The Need to Make Speculative Fiction a Genre

Posted May 25, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature, Speculative Fiction / 0 Comments

twenty thousandRecently in the book club, I started a conversation on the difference between speculative fiction and science fiction, which maybe was met with a little bit of confusion but I think that was mainly due to people thinking of speculative fiction as an umbrella team that covers science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction and more genres. This is correct but I want to talk about Speculative fiction as a genre for now.

While many people thing of speculative fiction as encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, I would like to see a shift away from this definition and more towards the genre that Margret Atwood has been fighting for.  I think she said it best when she defined the differences between the two as:

“What I mean by “science fiction” is those books that descend from HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds, which treats of an invasion by tentacled Martians shot to Earth in metal canisters – things that could not possibly happen – whereas, for me, “speculative fiction” means plots that descend from Jules Verne’s books about submarines and balloon travel and such – things that really could happen but just hadn’t completely happened when the authors wrote the books.” 

I think there is a real need to separating the two as some books that are classed as science fiction don’t really fit into the general conception of sci-fi. I’m talking about books like George Orwell’s 1984, Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and even Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.

This brings me to my point, and an interesting problem. While it would be nice to separate the two genres so that people don’t get the wrong impression of a book being classed as Science Fiction; how do we choose which goes where. Take Jules Verne as an example. At the time of his writing, these books would definitely be considered as science fiction, but with the progression of time, most of the technology in Verne’s novels have been realised; making the books speculative fiction. So how do we class these books, do we make them science fiction until the technology catches up or do we just class books as speculative fiction if there is a possibility that these events could actually happen? I would love to hear people’s thoughts on this.

0 responses to “The Need to Make Speculative Fiction a Genre

  1. AnnabelSmith

    Hmmmm. This is an interesting question and a tricky conundrum. I like Margaret Attwood’s definition very much. And I am currently writing a book which I class as speculative fiction, for exactly those reasons – it is set in the near future (30 years from now), on our own planet and any technological developments are within the realm of the expected or already under development. However, when i tell people I am writing a speculative fiction, most people have never heard of the term. Yet I am hesitant to use the term science-fiction because a lot of people believe they don’t like science fiction.

    Another way I sometimes think of it is that science fiction books are very much driven by a focus on technological developents, whereas speculative fiction is more character/plot driven. For example, even those Dune is set on another planet and includes spaceships, I think of it primarily as a book about relationships so i consider it a speculative fiction.

  2. I’m not very good at classifying books into genres at the best of times. I think speculative fiction is hard to define. How do we know what will happen in the future?  Did the people of Jules Verne time know that submarines would become something not so out of the ordinary?  And what about when people look back at us and redefine our ‘science fiction’ as speculative, just because we didn’t know an invasion by tentacled Martians shot to Earth in metal canisters was going to happen. 
    But having said that, I’d probably more likely read something defined as speculative over science fiction, just because its more relateable for me.

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