Definition of Speculative Fiction with Examples
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Definition of Speculative Fiction with Examples

Though speculative fiction is a popular phrase for today's creative writers, people are often confused about how to define the term or which genres of writing fall within its scope. This article defines speculative fiction and provides a series of useful examples from popular fiction. It also offers writers advice on paying attention to magazine or publisher guidelines regarding genre.

“Speculative fiction” is a broad term used to describe genres and sub-genres of literature (and film) that incorporate some form of the fantastic. It emerged as a concept around the 1960s and was coined as a term by Judith Merril, a British editor of science fiction and one of many individuals in the writing industry who felt that traditional labels such as “science fiction” and “fantasy” were too restrictive on writers.

Speculative fiction encompasses science fiction, fantasy, and horror, as well as more specific genres such as alternate history, post-apocalyptic, superhero, supernatural, utopian and dystopian. In essence, the term refers to any story that does not take place in the real world and does not incorporate only real-world elements.

The following is a list of examples from prose fiction that illustrates the broad nature of speculative fiction:

The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Kraken by China Mieville

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice

Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

John Dies at the End by Jason Pargin

Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Jumper by Steven Gould

Note that the definition of speculative fiction also applies to movies, television series and other forms of media. Movies such as Event Horizon, V for Vendetta, Dawn of the Dead and Willow, or television series such as Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural, Lost and Heroes are all examples of pop-culture speculative fiction. The limits of speculative fiction are in many ways defined by the writers’ imaginations.

Having a firm understanding of speculative fiction is important for writers because magazines and publishers can be very specific in what they want. Some magazines indicate on their submissions page that they are only looking for a specific type of speculative fiction. The editors for Redstone Science Fiction, for example, state that they will consider science fiction in any form, but specifically will not consider fantasy or horror. For this magazine, a writer with an excellent superhero-based story (which could be considered urban fantasy) might want to contact the editors before submitting the piece to determine if it fits the magazine’s criteria. Other magazines that will accept fantasy, horror or science fiction are basically indicating that they are interested in any form of speculative fiction.

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Comments (1)

Excellent and comprehensive explanation. It will certainly help those who write this type of fiction.

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