Bookish Topic Tuesday – Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Bookish Topic Tuesday

Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction or Fantasy?

In recent years the term Speculative Fiction (which is annoyingly cut down to SF sometimes, which is the same abbreviation used for science fiction, so definitely try to avoid that confusion) has become increasingly used in literary circles. It is a term which incorporates the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural, dystopian fiction, post-apocalypse and alternative history. In a way it is its own genre, but it’s also an umbrella genre. It allows books to be classified as speculative fiction when they may contain a number of genres like fantasy, horror, alternative history, etc. in the one book making it hard to narrow down the classification to a single genre.

The word actually has been around for decades, and at first was more used as a synonym of science fiction. Then in the 60s-70s it was used again to show dissatisfaction with the label of science fiction, as authors were starting to experiment. And I think the usage today is also a bit of this because people want to move away from the fixed opinions of what a science fiction or fantasy novel is. There are connotations these words have which can make people feel a little off put because they might think that a book labelled fantasy means that it’ll have magic and dragons, while if it’s sci-fi then it’s going to have aliens and spaceships or robots. So the use of speculative fiction breaks the notions of the established genres, and allows for overlap between genres and experimentation of things which could sort of be classified previously but also don’t quite fit.

Speculative Fiction Logo  on the English Wikipedia courtesy wikimedia user Nihonjoe
Speculative Fiction Logo on the English Wikipedia courtesy Wikimedia user Nihonjoe

So books like Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games, Fahrenheit 451, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Isobelle Carmody’s The Obernewtyn Chronicles are all speculative fiction. Because of it’s very broad definition, it encompasses a large variety of books. Whose subject can be anything really as long as it’s being ‘speculative’ in nature, and not something that could entirely happen. Like you would never start calling The Fault in Our Stars speculative fiction because it is real fiction and is a story that can exist. Or, as it also includes alternative history, it means that things have been played on a bit, like for example John Birmingham’s Axis of Time, where World War 2 is drastically altered. So spec-fic also includes things that could happen but didn’t, because it is purely speculative in nature, and nobody knows what would have happened if x, y or z did or did not happen. It reminds me a little of Futurama and Professor Farnsworth’s latest invention of the ‘What If’ machine, that creates speculative fiction in a visual format as it displays alternative history.

So a book can be fantasy as well as speculative fiction, or perhaps it is science fiction and fantasy and speculative fiction. Or it could just be speculative fiction. There’s a whole lot of possibilities. Perhaps there is magic and dragons and robots and it’s alternative history and a dystopia plus some horror.

You can check out The Internet Speculative Fiction Database and take a look at what books have been classed as spec-fic. Or perhaps you’d like to read some? Check out Strange Horizons a weekly spec-fic magazine (with stories you can read for free!), where you could also submit your own stories and get paid for them!

So what are your thoughts on speculative fiction? Is the term necessary? What are your favourite examples of spec-fic?


I’m going to be doing a few of these genre related posts over the coming weeks for Bookish Topic Tuesday, subscribe to be notified of them!


3 thoughts on “Bookish Topic Tuesday – Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction or Fantasy?

  1. I think it’s helpful to have an over-arching term for these genres, not to get away from the science fiction or fantasy labels, but to encourage readers and writers to explore the overlaps and areas between them. A lot of sci-fi fans are also fantasy fans – something about them appeals to the same audience – so having a big genre label for that set of small (but still big) genres is useful.

    1. Thanks for your comment, and good point. And the terms is definitely useful, considering there is so much overlap between these two genres, and it’s a bit more elegant and appealing than something described as fantasy and sci-fi.

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