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.


14 thoughts on “What is Speculative Fiction?

  1. In all honesty I’ve never thought about it to the extent you have until now. I knew spec-fic was a thing, and I liked it, but that’s about all. I think I’ve stayed away from all the literary buzzwords because I’m not a “proper” writer, but I really think it’s time we took all that metaphor and allegory and all that back, for the people. Or at least for those of us who can’t read Jane Austin without falling asleep.

    I do think spec-fic has a lot of message, we just know how to hide it a bit more cleverly than most. 🙂

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    1. Coral – Viva la Resistance! Hahaha I genuinely believe that Spec-Fic deserves more recognition as an artform. And the hipocracy bugs me. No Philip K Dick, Doug Adams, Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman in schools, but they can teach Harry Potter with all its lazy plots and lack of subtext. Shocking.
      Thanks for dropping by!

      Sonia – You go, Girl. Have at them! 🙂

  2. I agree with your definition and, if you don’t mind, it’s one I might use myself – it is certainly better than saying sci fi, horror and fantasy (I had one friend tentatively ask me if that meant I wrote erotic fiction). It also, I think, let’s those genres open up to include sub genres, eg steampunk, just general odd little tales really, and is a step away from the often very rigid genre rules you get, letting writers be more experimental in tone, format and story.

    1. Feel free to quote me, Shirley hahaha. The beauty of Spec-Fic is that it defies categorisation, and the ideas step outside of the expected. So the term certainly gives us more freedom from expectation 🙂

  3. Great post. I’ll have to remember this. Previously, before I was published, when people have asked about my writing their eyes have glazed over as soon as they realised I didn’t actually have a book out. Now I can say: “Yes, you might have seen my book in the speculative fiction section” and watch them smile as they clearly think maniacally “Aaaaah, I have no idea what that is. He’ll think I’m stupid!”

    Hee hee.

    1. Shea – Mostly sins hahaha

      David – Im at that horrible stage right now. “oh, have you written anything I’ll have heard of?”. If you had, I’d be wearing a smoking jacket and chugging a Chateau Neuf de Pap like an award-winning uber-author should, rather than jeans and Tiger beer. Next silly question, please! Hahaha. I just keep hoping there’s another stage after this 🙂

  4. I started out writing speculative fiction, but chickened out because I worried that I wouldn’t be taken “seriously” as an author. I’ve been happy writing historical fiction for years, but the specter of my original spec-fic novel calls to me, and its lure is growing louder… Considering the author of the Nightwatch series, Lukyanenko wrote other kinds of novels for years before writing what he wanted — and when he turned to spec-fic, he became immensely successful. There’s a big lesson in that for me.

    Last year I was a teaching assistant for a vampire literature course at Harvard Extension, and we explored some books that are within the realm of speculative fiction (such as Kim Harrison’s Hollows series) — and the key point of the lectures demonstrated that spec-fic provides an opportunity to explore societal issues, among other things. It was a hugely popular course, and the discussions and papers were fascinating.

    So all of this combined, reading this post, my experience in working in this course (being offered again by popular demand!), and the fact that in the world of indie publishing, you can switch genres without drama from agents and pub houses, it gives me the courage and motivation to say FINALLY….I will be returning to that original novel of spec-fic that has been haunting me since 1994. So thank you. 🙂

    1. I definitely agree. I’ll always be a Spec-Fic writer at heart but have been tinkering with a ‘normal’ fiction novel too. I wouldnt feel I was a sell out for releasing that first and letting my Spec-Fic ride the coat tails, so to speak. I’m really glad to hear you’re going back to your old love, I’d love to read more about it. As for the Vamp Lit course, it sounds fantastic (avoided the obvious pun) where do I sign? Hahaha

      Thanks for commenting, Christine. Good to hear from you!

  5. Great blog post. I haven’t written a lot of spec fic, as I vary what I write depending on what’s in my head. I have to admit it took me a while to discover what the genre was so I did laugh at your post.

  6. I say I write speculative fiction too. Though my reason is much more mercenary. If i say I just finiahed a sci-fi novel, often I get an “I’m not in to sci-fi, horror, or whatever… But if I say speculative fiction, people ask questions.

    1. Good tactics! Us genre writers have to be sly about our work. What many people dont understand is that even a scifi novel an transcend the usual cliches making it an entirely different experience.

      Looking forward to reading some of your work. Thanks for dropping by!

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