Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Follow-up on Speculative vs. Science Fiction

A day after my post on Speculative Fiction vs. Science Fiction, Catherynne M. Valente wrote a post on the same topic and she has a lot of good and interesting things to say about this. One thing I really didn’t talk about in my post is what I see as a taxonomy problem. Personally, I think genre is useful because it helps me to find what I am looking for when I go into a bookstore (brick and mortar or virtual). We can debate what we mean by “science fiction” or “fantasy” or “paranormal romance” but the fact it that they fill descriptive buckets that helps guide the consumer to what they want.

Genre, therefore, defines the major class the work falls into. Individual pieces can have elements that cross genres.

To say a piece is speculative is equivalent, in my mind, to saying a piece is humorous. That is, they are both aspects of the individual piece of fiction and not an attribute of the genre as a whole. You can have a funny fantasy story. You can have a literary science fiction story (see just about anything by Barry N. Malzberg).  You can have a speculative paranormal romance. Sure you can. The key, for me, is that the terms “speculative”, “literary”, “funny” are attributes of a work within a genre, not the genre itself. In a similar vain, YA is not a genre as much as an attribute of an individual work. You can have YA science fiction or YA horror or YA romance. Heck you can have a humorous, literary YA paranormal romance if you wanted to try.

I still think “speculative” was chosen to take the imagined stink off science fiction–and as Cat Valente points out in her post, it maintains the same initials: s.f. But I think it was an even poorer choice when you look at the taxonomical implications I’ve just discussed.

And what of “literary” fiction. There’s no such thing, I don’t think. There is a “literary” aspect to a work of fiction, just like there can be humor or speculation. But “literary” is an adjective that describes something that pertains to the nature of books and writing, especially literature. And what is literature, but “writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.” I prefer “mainstream” fiction because it is the fiction of the masses, as opposed to the more narrowcasted genres like science fiction, romance, fantasy, horror, mystery, etc.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and with our readers, let’s call things what they are. Science fiction has a noble and important history in American letters, and more recently, around the world. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We should be proud of our body of work, it reflects well on us. In the general sense, we are Writers, but in that more special sense, we are Science Fiction writers; of Fantasy writers; or authors of Paranormal Romance.

Flaunt it, love it, shout it from the hilltops so that everyone can hear.

Speculative fiction vs. science fiction

I don’t like the term “speculative fiction”. In fact, I hate it, and there are several reasons for this:

  1. It sounds pretentious. It seems like a way of avoiding the words “science fiction” or “fantasy”.
  2. It seems to be used as a way of collecting a variety of imaginative genres together in one taxonomical bucket. When I see “speculative fiction” I think of something that includes science fiction and fantasy and perhaps even horror. But why do these things need to be collected into the same bucket in the first place? Why can’t you simply have science fiction and fantasy and horror?
  3. It is a misnomer: to speculate means to form a theory or conjecture without firm evidence. But any fiction is speculative in that sense, offering up some theory or conjecture about the human condition and exploring that as part of the narrative.

I consider myself to be a science fiction writer and I am in no way ashamed of that. Tastes vary. Science fiction provides a convenient label for the tastes of one specific genre and I am thankful for that. I know what science fiction means to me. I love to read science fiction stories as much as I love to write them. “Speculative fiction” is too vague for me. It inclues things that I don’t like to read or write and is therefore, in my mind, a poor description of the genre that I love so much.

What bothers me most is that the term (which has been around for close to five decades now) feels like an attempt to rebrand the genre out of shame, in the same way that Comcast attempted to rebrand itself Xfinity. I see no reason to be ashamed of science fiction as either a reader or a writer. The best stories in our genre hold up to the best stories in any literature, in my opinion, and I see no reason to hide behind a false taxonomy.

I am a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, not the Speculative Fiction Writers of America, thank goodness. I don’t write speculative fiction and I don’t read speculative fiction. I write science fiction and I am proud of that. People who write fantasy should be proud of that, too. I think we’ve proven ourselves as a genre and it’s high time to put the “speculative fiction” label behind us.

ETA: I just discovered that Cat Valente has a post on this topic today as well. You should check out what she has to say.