WTF Is Speculative Fiction?

I describe myself as a “speculative fiction novelist.” Says so in the header of my website and on the banner that adorns my table when I do appearances, so it must be true. But evidently, it confuses people. So much so that I’m sometimes referred to in press as a fantasy writer or a science fiction author. Neither is quite accurate, though not exactly wrong, either.

This should be on everyone’s car, since we’ve all been there.

So what is speculative fiction? I can’t say it any better than Wikipedia:

“Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction, weird fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history…”

So far, I’ve hit three of those groups: fantasy, dystopian, and superhero. And actually, my superhero series, The Many Deaths of Dynamistress, could also qualify as alternate history. I suppose in another ten years, my dystopian future book will also qualify as alternative history.

Some of you may have noticed that it says Science Fiction on the spine of the first Dynamistress book and on the back above the bar code. That’s because those codes (called BISAC codes) are pre-set by the Book Industry Study Group. They don’t have a listing for Speculative Fiction. And when Reckoning was nearly ready for publication, they also did not have one for Superheroes (though they do now, probably due to the email I sent them). So I had to choose between Fantasy and Science Fiction. I chose the latter because there’s a good bit of solid science in it, even though it obviously can’t give the results I chose. It’s really Science Fantasy, I suppose. But that’s not an official category, either.

Such is the ongoing quandary of the Spec-Fic writer. We often cross genres and have to pick one to use as a label. That’s why so many of us latch onto the Speculative Fiction label. It fits better, taking into account the mixing of these similar genres.

Not that kind of… oh, never mind.

So why do I write this stuff? Probably because it’s what I grew up reading. I’ve loved comic books ever since I was little. When I was thirteen, I discovered science fiction. A few years later, fantasy. For a long time, that was pretty much all I read, so it only stands to reason that I’d want to write it, too.

My first writing professor in college complained that my short stories, while serious, had a strong element of “popular” fiction in them. He apparently considered this to be a bit of a flaw. That’s okay, because I considered him to be a bit of an idiot.

It’s entirely possible to write “popular” or “genre” fiction that goes beyond the common expectations, to be “serious,” to make people think. And that’s something my table banner also says: “Fiction that makes you think.”

I like challenging peoples’ norms, pushing them outside their comfort zones. And Spec-Fic seems to contain the ideal set of genres in which to do this effectively, while also being entertaining.

And that’s why I love it.

Posted by vmwales

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