What is Speculative Fiction?
I got asked this over Twitter the other day, and until then I’d assumed everyone knew. Then again, it’s a term that I’ve only recently started using myself. As far as I’m concerned, it’s everything good and dear in the world of fiction. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and all their little genrelings like Steampunk, gothic, dystopian etc.
But it’s more than a genre classification to me. Spec-fic is freedom.
I don’t talk about my writing on a day to day basis. Friends and family know I write, many of them have read something I’ve written. But until they hear the high-pitched squealing that comes with an acceptance, they never hear of it again. My girlfriend is a sod for dropping me in it with perfect strangers.
Stranger: “So what do you do, Craig?”
Me: “I’m a Nurse” (although I usually change this for professional polo player or dumpster technician so people don’t show me their uncomfortable rashes)
Laura: “He writes too, you know! Tell them about your writing!”
I’d rather see the rash. Anyway, this leads to me muttering something and Laura swiftly taking over to express that I’m the next Coetzee/Gaiman/Tolkein. And just as I’m starting to edge away in search of another beer, the fateful question arrives:
“What is it that you write?”
Words, is the snide answer. Heiroglyphics is good in certain crowds. But eventually, I have to say the words Sci-fi, Fantasy or Horror. At which point the stranger looks at me like I’m the one with the rash. But Spec-Fic gets me out of this. Because it sounds brilliant. Because it sounds complicated. And there’s one thing strangers hate, it’s showing that they don’t know something. So I drop Speculative Fiction into the conversation, explain that it involves any form of fiction which uses speculative elements as metaphors to mirror and discuss current moral, social and religious philosophies in a metaphorical way.
Then Laura gives me the stink-eye because she knows what I’m doing, and the stranger’s glazed look frees me to go find the fridge.
Although this is my selfish point of view, I think you get where I’m going. Spec-Fic genres are frownded towards, scoffed at and generally shit on by anyone who thinks they know something about literature. It’s a horrible fact, but it’s true. The same people who quote Crime and Punishment as their favourite book, or continuously lift the likes of Middlemarch into the top books of all time. Pompous idiots, basically. But Spec-Fic takes back a little ground. It reminds people that there is more to fiction, that often the extremities of the imagination are what makes a book most potent. Look at Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Yes, it’s about a guy who hunts androids and owns the eponymous sheep. But it’s much more about maintaining a sense of reality and self in a world which is putting more emphasis on the manufactured and the generic. Go further, and it’s about social stratification by means of material possessions. The first you see in every celeb mag and newspaper in print. The latter you’ve seen friends, family and even yourself suffer from. So, when you put it that way, are the androids really such an important part of the book’s identity?
My fingers, they run away with me! (what a horrific image)
What this post is about (if there’s a meaning at all) is that Spec-Fic makes writing our favourite genres ok. It’s like coming out of the proverbial closet. It makes it alright to talk about it in public. You’re a writer. Your main character is a mutant elf from another dimension. But the story is about stupidity of xenophobia and the right have to interracial relationships, and that’s the important part. Just like another other ‘proper’ writer.
And so we return to our original question like a politician that has rambled on for an hour without saying anything of worth so that everyone falls asleep and misses the final statement:
What is Spec-Fic? It’s a bloody blessing.
Thanks for reading.
This entry was posted on July 22, 2011 by Craig Hallam. It was filed under Uncategorized and was tagged with coetzee, Do andoroids dream of electric sheep, fantasy, freedom, gaiman, horror, indie author, Philip K Dick, rant, Sci-fi, speculative fiction, tolkein.