Getting our arms around speculative fiction

Because I’ve declared that this site will be about speculative fiction, I should probably explain what I mean by the term. Some argue that “speculative fiction” (SF) should not be considered a new category of fiction and that we would be better off sticking with the genres we’re familiar with, such as literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, etcetera. I think the traditional classifications are useful, but I think the broader term–SF–frees us up to discuss the merits of the range of works that highlight large societal challenges.

What I understand to be SF is fiction where the world presented to me as a reader follows laws that differ in some significant manner from earth’s natural laws. The timeline could be future, past, present, or a parallel universe. The reader understands she/he is not in the everyday world anymore. Speculative fiction also highlights a large-scale problem that is critical to the story, and does not only serve as background for a character’s journey of self discovery or a romance or to solve a crime or mystery.

I’m not very interested in the debates about what separates science fiction from SF. Whether one considers SF as stories that creates almost-there worlds anchored to plausible societal shifts or scientific discoveries, while science fiction can be about any old crazy thing like…wait for it…space travel and aliens, or you believe the labels should be switched, I think there is tremendous merit in discussing good work of both types. The other fascinating feature of what I consider SF is genre overlap. As a matter of fact, the best SF, in my opinion, features fully drawn characters in rich worlds where the writer has borrowed from two or more genres. Of course, poorly written SF can suffer from the weaknesses of its genre sources, too.

What is your definition of SF? Do you think it is a useful label or not?

 

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