Speculative Fiction: What is it?
We are all familiar with the popular reading genres such as romance, mystery, action/adventure, science fictions, horror, etc. Those are further divided into subgenres such as paranormal romance and historical romance, cozy mysteries, YA, etc. While fantasy has become popularly accepted as a major genre, it’s still considered a subgenre of science fiction.
Have you heard of “Speculative Fiction”? Most readers have not. In fact, if you were to look in Amazon’s categories, as wide-ranging as they are, you will not find speculative fiction anywhere. However, it is a type of fiction that encompasses many genres such as futuristic fiction, fantasy, historical fictions, and many others.
In its simplest elements, it is any fiction that “speculates” as to possibilities. These possibilities may be future, present, or past. For example, The Man in the High Castle is speculative fiction because it speculates on what may have happened if the Nazis had won WWII. Jurassic Park also is speculative fiction because it explores the possible results of bringing creatures that nature chose for extinction into the present. Anytime a work of fiction “speculates,” if it explores the “what if,” it can be considered speculative fiction.
Some writers, such as Margaret Atwood, have gone a bit further into their definition of what constitutes speculative fiction. She held that speculative fiction must be plausible. She felt it was fiction that “could happen.” In this view, science fiction that deals with Martians is not speculative because it could not happen as we now know for sure that Mars has no inhabitants. Fiction that speculates on humanity settling Mars and terraforming the planet would be speculative.
You might be tempted to ask: why is this type of genre necessary or important? It is necessary because some works of fiction do not fall into any other simple genre. Case in point is my series, Daniel’s Fork, in which I constructed a society that is ruled by lords as Europe was centuries back. The people of Daniel’s Fork (a village) speak in simple, formal English. They live with technology that dates back to the colonial times. Many of my readers have asked why I chose to do that.
A good friend, when she first read the Daniel’s Fork novel, was very angry and insulted. She could not believe that Americans, with such a history and fierce love of democracy, would revert back to being ruled by lords in the future.
However, she read the middle book first because it was the first one I wrote. It is understandable that she was doubtful of the possibilities. However, if you read the books I wrote after, you begin to see the very real possibilities of Daniel’s Fork.
I have been working, (in between other projects) on the first novel, timeline wise, of the series. It’s called A Time for Lords. In it, the following questions are answered: Why use stilted, formal language? Why are there bathrooms and not aqueducts? Why are there lords and not presidents? Why use blades, bows, and shotguns too?
Some readers have observed that Daniel’s Fork reads like historical fiction. Others feel it reads like fantasy. While I made a creative decision to use simplified, formal English, the novels are not historical fiction. In effect, they are futuristic! They depict a future society that has inherited knowledge of our present, a history of technology, but an inability to create the technology anew. In many ways, I was influenced by the world that Anne McCaffrey created in her Pern novels.
Anyone who has read Daniel’s Fork can see that while it’s set in the future, eighty years after a pandemic, it does not fit well into science fiction. It might be called dystopian by some, but it lacks the elements of the dystopian genre in that the society works rather well and is not disaffected. The biggest hurdle of classifying Daniel’s Fork is that it is truly a mystery! It is the tale of the new alpha male in town, coming to take over the dead lord, and having to catch a serial-killer who has run amok for years. Still, selling the novel as a mystery would target readers who expect cozy mysteries or police detective stories. They would not be happy.
Finally, there is the erotic side to my novel. There are strong sex scenes, one that includes two males having sex. This causes some promo sites to categorize the novel as “erotica,” and many sites refuse to promote it because of those few scenes. You can now understand the problem of genre categorization for some works of fiction.
In fact, my Daniel’s Fork series can only be categorized properly as “Speculative Fiction.” It is totally possible if a few years from now, a pandemic decimated our world and a few survivors opted to re-form society by keeping that which would help them survive.