Speculative fiction is an umbrella genre encompassing narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes, but is not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror, utopian and dystopian fiction, supernatural fiction as well as combinations thereof.
Speculative fiction as a category ranges from ancient works to both paradigm-changing and neotraditional works of the 21st century. Speculative fiction can be recognized in works whose authors' intentions or the social contexts of the versions of stories they portrayed are now known, since ancient Greek dramatists such as Euripides (ca. 480–406 BCE) whose play Medea seems to have offended Athenian audiences when he fictionally speculated that shamaness Medea killed her own children instead of their being killed by other Corinthians after her departure, and whose play Hippolytus, narratively introduced by Aphrodite, Goddess of Love in person, is suspected to have displeased his contemporary audiences because he portrayed Phaedra as too lusty.
In historiography, what is now called speculative fiction has previously been termed "historical invention", "historical fiction", and similar names. It is extensively noted in literary criticism of the works of William Shakespeare as when he co-locates Athenian Duke Theseus and Amazonian Queen Hippolyta, English fairy Puck, and Roman god Cupid across time and space in the Fairyland of its Merovingian 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. Such supernatural, alternate history and sexuality themes continue in works produced within the modern speculative fiction genre.
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, and was already both practiced and edited out by early encyclopaedic writers like Sima Qian (ca. 145 or 135 BCE–86 BCE), author of Shiji.
These examples highlight the 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 aspect of human psychology in making sense of the world, and responding to it by creating imaginative, inventive, and artistic expressions. Such expressions can contribute to practical progress through interpersonal influences, social and cultural movements, scientific research and advances, and philosophy of science.
In its 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: 2000–1887 and other works; and one in the May 1900 issue of The Bookman said that John Uri Lloyd's Etidorhpa, The End of the Earth had "created a great deal of discussion among people interested in speculative fiction". A variation on this term is "speculative literature".
The use of "speculative fiction" in the sense of expressing dissatisfaction with traditional or 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 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."
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.
"Speculative fiction" is sometimes abbreviated "spec-fic", "specfic", "S-F", "SF" or "sf". However, the last three abbreviations are ambiguous as they have long been used to refer to science fiction (which lies within this general range of literature) 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. Harlan Ellison used the term to avoid being pigeonholed as a writer. Ellison broke out of genre conventions, a fervent proponent of writers embracing more literary and modernist directions, 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 may include elements of one or more of the following genres:
|Fantasy||Includes elements and beings from traditional stories, such as mythical creatures (dragons, elves and fairies, for example), magic, witchcraft, potions, etc.||The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Chronicles of Narnia|
|Science fiction (sci-fi)||Features natural sciences and technologies that do not exist in real life (but may be supposed to exist in the future), including advanced robots, interstellar travel, flying cars and also beings and societies from other planets (aliens). Many sci-fi stories are set in the future.||2001: A Space Odyssey, The Left Hand of Darkness, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune|
|Horror||Somewhat similar to fantasy, but focusing on terrifying, evil and often powerful beings, such as monsters, vampires and ghosts. Also aims to transmit actual fear and confusion to the reader, watcher or player.||A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, 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, Brave New World, 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.||The Man In The High Castle, Fatherland, The Tales of Alvin Maker|
|Apocalyptic||Takes place before and during a massive, worldwide catastrophe, typically a natural disaster of very large scale or a nuclear holocaust.||The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, On The Beach, Threads|
|Post-apocalyptic||Focuses on groups of survivors after similar massive, worldwide disasters.||Waterworld, Metro 2033, The Stand, Fallout, Mad Max|
|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.||Marvel, DC, Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, Metal Heroes and Power Rangers.|
|Supernatural||Similar to horror, it exploits or requires as plot devices or themes some contradictions of the commonplace natural world and materialist assumptions about it.||Weaveworld, Imajica, Paranormal Activity, Fallen, The Castle of Otranto|
The Aurealis Award for Excellence in Speculative Fiction is an annual literary award for Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction. Only Australians are eligible for the award.Del Rey Books
Del Rey Books is a branch of Ballantine Books, which is owned by Random House and, in turn, by Penguin Random House. It is a separate imprint established in 1977 under the editorship of author Lester del Rey and his wife Judy-Lynn del Rey. It specializes in science fiction and fantasy books, and formerly manga under its (now defunct) Del Rey Manga imprint.
The first new novel published by Del Rey was The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks in 1977. Del Rey also publishes the Star Wars novels under the LucasBooks sub-imprint (licensed from Lucasfilm, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios division of The Walt Disney Company).Fantasy
Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often without any locations, events, or people referencing the real world. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then became literature and drama. From the twentieth century it has expanded further into various media, including film, television, graphic novels and video games.
Fantasy is distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the absence of scientific or macabre themes respectively, though these genres overlap. In popular culture, the fantasy genre is predominantly of the medievalist form. In its broadest sense, however, fantasy consists of works by many writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians from ancient myths and legends to many recent and popular works.Internet Speculative Fiction Database
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB) is a database of bibliographic information on genres considered speculative fiction, including science fiction and related genres such as fantasy fiction and horror fiction. The ISFDB is a volunteer effort, with both the database and wiki being open for editing and user contributions. The ISFDB database and code are available under Creative Commons licensing and there is support within both Wikipedia and ISFDB for interlinking. The data are reused by other organizations, such as Freebase, under the creative commons license.John Clute
John Frederick Clute (born 12 September 1940) is a Canadian-born author and critic specializing in science fiction (also SF, sf) and fantasy literature who has lived in both England and the United States since 1969. He has been described as "an integral part of science fiction's history" and "perhaps the foremost reader-critic of sf in our time, and one of the best the genre has ever known."He was one of eight people who founded the English magazine Interzone in 1982 (the others including Malcolm Edwards, Colin Greenland, Roz Kaveney, and David Pringle).
Clute's articles on speculative fiction have appeared in various publications since the 1960s. He is a co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (with Peter Nicholls) and of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (with John Grant), as well as writing The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction, all of which won Hugo Awards for Best Non-Fiction. He earned the Pilgrim Award, bestowed by the Science Fiction Research Association for Lifetime Achievement in the field of science fiction scholarship, in 1994.
Clute is also author of the collections of reviews and essays Strokes, Look at the Evidence: Essays and Reviews, Scores, Canary Fever and Pardon This Intrusion. His 2001 novel Appleseed, a space opera, was noted for its "combination of ideational fecundity and combustible language" and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book for 2002. In 2006, Clute published the essay collection The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror. The third edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (with David Langford and Peter Nicholls) was released online as a beta text in October 2011 and has since been greatly expanded; it won the Hugo Award for Best Related Work in 2012.
The Encyclopedia′'s statistics page reported that, as of 24 March 2017, Clute had authored the great majority of articles: 6,421 solo and 1,219 in collaboration, totalling over 2,408,000 words (more than double, in all cases, those of the second-most prolific contributor, David Langford). The majority of these are Author entries, but there are also some Media entries, notably that for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
Clute was a Guest of Honour at Loncon 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, from 14 to 18 August 2014.LGBT themes in speculative fiction
LGBT themes in speculative fiction refer to the incorporation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) themes into science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction and related genres. Such elements may include an LGBT character as the protagonist or a major character, or explorations of sexuality or gender that deviate from the hetero-normative.
Science fiction and fantasy have traditionally been puritanical genres aimed at a male readership, and can be more restricted than non-genre literature by their conventions of characterisation and the effect that these conventions have on depictions of sexuality and gender. However, speculative fiction also gives authors and readers the freedom to imagine societies that are different from real-life cultures. This freedom makes speculative fiction a useful means of examining sexual bias, by forcing the reader to reconsider his or her heteronormative cultural assumptions. It has also been claimed by critics such as Nicola Griffith that LGBT readers identify strongly with the mutants, aliens, and other outsider characters found in speculative fiction.
Before the 1960s, explicit sexuality of any kind was rare in speculative fiction, as the editors who controlled what was published attempted to protect their perceived key market of adolescent male readers. As the readership broadened, it became possible to include characters who were undisguised homosexuals, though these tended to be villains, and lesbians remained almost entirely unrepresented. In the 1960s, science fiction and fantasy began to reflect the changes prompted by the civil rights movement and the emergence of a counterculture. New wave and feminist science fiction authors realised cultures in which homosexuality, bisexuality and a variety of gender models were the norm, and in which sympathetic depictions of alternative sexuality were commonplace.
From the 1980s onwards, homosexuality gained much wider mainstream acceptance, and was often incorporated into otherwise conventional speculative fiction stories. Works emerged that went beyond simple representation of homosexuality to explorations of specific issues relevant to the LGBT community. This development was helped by the growing number of openly gay or lesbian authors and their early acceptance by speculative fiction fandom. Specialist gay publishing presses and a number of awards recognising LGBT achievements in the genre emerged, and by the twenty-first century blatant homophobia was no longer considered acceptable by most readers of speculative fiction. There was a concurrent increase in representation of homosexuality within non-literary forms of speculative fiction. The inclusion of LGBT themes in comic books, television and film continues to attract media attention and controversy, while the perceived lack of sufficient representation, along with unrealistic depictions, provokes criticism from LGBT sources.Paranormal romance
Paranormal romance is a subgenre of both romantic fiction and speculative fiction. Paranormal romance focuses on romantic love and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the speculative fiction genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Paranormal romance may range from traditional category romances, such as those published by Harlequin Mills & Boon, with a paranormal setting to stories where the main emphasis is on a science fiction or fantasy-based plot with a romantic subplot included. Common hallmarks are romantic relationships between humans and vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, and other entities of a fantastic or otherworldly nature.
Beyond the more prevalent themes involving vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, or time travel, paranormal romances can also include books featuring characters with psychic abilities, like telekinesis or telepathy. Paranormal romance has its roots in Gothic fiction. Its most recent revival has been spurred by turn of the 21st century technology, e.g. the internet and electronic publishing. Paranormal romances are one of the fastest growing trends in the romance genre.
Examples of authors specializing in this genre include Dani Harper, Nalini Singh (author), Jessica Bird, Kresley Cole, Christine Feehan, Kelley Armstrong, and Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series. According to 2013 statistics by the fantasy publisher Tor Books, among writers of urban fantasy or paranormal romance, 57% are women and 43% are men, whereas men outnumber women by about two to one in writing historical, epic or high fantasy.Parsec Awards
The Parsec Awards are a set of annual awards created to recognize excellence in science fiction podcasts and podcast novels. The awards were created by Mur Lafferty, Tracy Hickman and Michael R. Mennenga and awarded by FarPoint Media. They were first presented in 2006 at DragonCon and have since become "one of the most recognizable honors in science and fiction podcasting".Nominations are accepted from the listening public annually in each of the categories. The list is vetted for eligibility by the steering committee, before producers are invited to submit samples of work for consideration by a panel of judges. The panel reduces the list of nominees to five finalists in each category. The finalists' work is submitted for judging and the winner is selected by that panel of authors, podcasters, and others knowledgeable in the field of speculative fiction, podcasting, and/or publishing. Past finalist judges have included Catherine Asaro, Charles de Lint, Cory Doctorow, and Evo Terra.Peter Nicholls (writer)
Peter Douglas Nicholls (8 March 1939 – 6 March 2018) was an Australian literary scholar and critic. He was the creator and a co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction with John Clute.Reproduction and pregnancy in speculative fiction
Because speculative genres explore variants of reproduction, as well as possible futures, SF writers have often explored the social, political, technological, and biological consequences of pregnancy and reproduction.Saturn Award
The Saturn Award is an American award presented annually by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films; it was initially created to honor science fiction, fantasy, and horror on film, but has since grown to reward other films belonging to genre fiction, as well as on television and home media releases.
The award was originally referred to as a Golden Scroll. The Saturn Awards were created in 1973.Sex and sexuality in speculative fiction
Sexual themes are frequently used in science fiction or related genres. Such elements may include depictions of realistic sexual interactions in a science fictional setting, a protagonist with an alternative sexuality, or exploration of the varieties of sexual experience that deviate from the conventional.
Science fiction and fantasy have sometimes been more constrained than non-genre narrative forms in their depictions of sexuality and gender. However, speculative fiction also offers the freedom to imagine societies different from real-life cultures, making it an incisive tool to examine sexual bias and forcing the reader to reconsider his or her cultural assumptions.
Prior to the 1960s, explicit sexuality of any kind was not characteristic of genre speculative fiction due to the relatively high number of minors in the target audience. In the 1960s, science fiction and fantasy began to reflect the changes prompted by the civil rights movement and the emergence of a counterculture. New Wave and feminist science fiction authors imagined cultures in which a variety of gender models and atypical sexual relationships are the norm, and depictions of sex acts and alternative sexualities became commonplace.
There also exists science fiction erotica, which explores sexuality and the presentation of themes aimed at inducing arousal.Supernatural fiction
Supernatural fiction or supernaturalist fiction is a genre of speculative fiction exploiting or requiring as plot devices or themes some contradictions of the commonplace natural world and materialist assumptions about it.The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, originally published in 1985. It is set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian state resembling a theonomy that has overthrown the United States government. The novel focuses on the journey of the handmaid Offred. Her name derives from the possessive form "of Fred"; handmaids are forbidden to use their birth names and must echo the male, or master, whom they serve.
The Handmaid's Tale explores themes of women in subjugation in a patriarchal society and the various means by which these women attempt to gain individualism and independence. The novel's title echoes the component parts of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, which is a series of connected stories ("The Merchant's Tale", "The Parson's Tale", etc.).The Handmaid's Tale is structured into two parts, night and other various events. This novel can be interpreted as a double narrative, Offred's tale and the handmaids' tales. The night sections are solely about Offred, and the other sections (shopping, waiting room, household, etc.) are the stories that describe the possible life of every handmaid, though from the perspective of Offred. In many of these sections, Offred jumps between past and present as she retells the events leading up to the fall of women's rights and the current details of the life which she now lives.
The Handmaid's Tale won the 1985 Governor General's Award and the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987; it was also nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award, the 1986 Booker Prize, and the 1987 Prometheus Award. The book has been adapted into a 1990 film, a 2000 opera, a television series, and other media.
In 2018, Atwood announced that a sequel novel, The Testaments, will be published in 2019.Tor.com
Tor.com is an online science fiction and fantasy magazine published by Tor Books, as well as an imprint of Tor Books.Troll Bridge
"Troll Bridge" is a Discworld short story, written by Terry Pratchett in 1991 for a collection entitled After The King: Stories in Honour of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Set following the events of The Light Fantastic, the story stars Cohen the Barbarian, who plans to prove himself by killing a troll in single combat. Instead, he and the troll find themselves reminiscing about how the Discworld used to be, when trolls all hid under bridges to be killed by heroes, and the land was not yet settled.
In 2011, a short film of Troll Bridge began production by Snowgum Films. Snowgum Films production team are almost 100% volunteers with funds for outside costs raised through a Kickstarter campaign. In 2018 The film began to be sent to various film festivals for consideration.Utopian and dystopian fiction
Utopia and dystopia are genres of speculative fiction that explore social and political structures. Utopian fiction portrays the setting that agrees with the author's ethos, having various attributes of another reality intended to appeal to readers. Dystopian fiction (sometimes combined with, but distinct from apocalyptic literature) is the opposite: the portrayal of a setting that completely disagrees with the author's ethos. Many novels combine both, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take, depending on its choices, ending up with one of two possible futures. Both utopias and dystopias are commonly found in science fiction and other speculative fiction genres, and arguably are by definition a type of speculative fiction.
More than 400 utopian works were published prior to the year 1900 in the English language alone, with more than a thousand others during the twentieth century.Women in speculative fiction
In 1948, 10–15% of science fiction writers were female. Women's role in speculative fiction (including science fiction) has grown since then, and in 1999, women comprised 36% of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's professional members. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley has been called the first science fiction novel, although women wrote utopian novels even before that, with Margaret Cavendish publishing the first (The Blazing World) in the seventeenth century. Early published fantasy was written by and for both genders. However, speculative fiction, with science fiction in particular, has traditionally been viewed as a male-oriented genre.World Fantasy Award
The World Fantasy Awards are a set of awards given each year for the best fantasy fiction published during the previous calendar year. Organized and overseen by the World Fantasy Convention, the awards are given each year at the eponymous annual convention as the central focus of the event. They were first given in 1975, at the first World Fantasy Convention, and have been awarded annually since. Over the years that the award has been given, the categories presented have changed; currently World Fantasy Awards are given in five written categories, one category for artists, and four special categories for individuals to honor their general work in the field of fantasy.
The awards have been described by book critics such as The Guardian as a "prestigious fantasy prize", and one of the three most prestigious speculative fiction awards, along with the Hugo and Nebula Awards (which cover both fantasy and science fiction). World Fantasy Award nominees and winners are decided by attendees of the convention and a panel of judges, typically made up of fantasy authors. Winners receive a small trophy; through the 2015 awards it was a bust of H. P. Lovecraft designed by cartoonist Gahan Wilson. The bust was retired following that year amid complaints about Lovecraft's history of racism; a new statuette designed by Vincent Villafranca depicting a tree in front of a full moon was released in 2017. The 2018 awards were presented at the 44th World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 4, 2018, and the 2019 awards will be presented at the 45th World Fantasy Convention in Los Angeles, California, on November 3, 2019.