Speculative Fiction

A couple of years ago, I declared that I “used to be” a big Science Fiction geek/nerd (I forget which).  I was told that by no means had I ceased.  I’m not sure how big said geekiness is at this point in my life, having discovered “literary” fiction and ancient literature and theology and liturgy to keep my reading hours busy alongside Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Nevertheless, I am a fan of Science Fiction & Fantasy, of “Speculative Fiction”.  This type of fiction, be it written, drawn, filmed, is essentially the fiction of speculation, with creative twists and turns and characterisations based on “What if . . .”  For example:

What if you could “tesser” to different places and times in the space-time continuum?  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

What if magic were firmly woven into the fabric of English culture and made a comeback in the middle of the Enlightenment?  Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke

What if there were a man who involuntarily travelled through time, and what kind of romance would be his?  The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

What if there were a world populated by mythical beasts which be accessed through furniture?  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

What if there were a galactic empire on the verge of collapse and a man knew what he could do to set in motion the events that would lead to the rise of another?  The Foundation novels by Isaac Asimov (the original trilogy won the Nebula for Best Series Ever)

What if Captain Kirk hadn’t died in Star Trek: Generations but was resurrected by the Borg?  The Return by William Shatner

What if the Roman Empire never fell? Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg

What if an innocuous magic ring turned out to be an object of great Power and its destruction was the only way to save a world populated by beings from Norse myth? The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

What if . . .

If the speculation creates a world that basically operates by our laws, it is Science Fiction.  Sometimes the science is imaginary, such as Hyperspace, or Psychohistory as invented by Asimov, or the time travel of Niffenegger’s novel.  Sometimes it is real science applied to a future circumstance.  If speculation involves magic and mythical beasts, then it is fantasy.  Or if the story has plastic and rivets, it’s Science Fiction, whereas if it has trees and dirt, it’s fantasy.  This is not always true, as in the various Pern novels by Anne McCaffrey, which are actually Science Fiction, but the science is lowtech and we see the results at the far end of genetic engineering.  There is also a subset called “Urban Fantasy”, apparently, which I should read some of, since I’m writing such a beast.

Speculative Fiction creates a space where questions can be explored in creative ways.  There is often beautiful, glorious art produced in these novels — at least the good ones.  Speculative Fiction often has better storytelling than “literary” fiction frequently does.  It can also come equipped with everything “literary” fiction can boast — symbolism, psychologically true characters, rhetorical devices, themes that resonate with audiences, and so forth.

I like SF, and I hope you do too.  If you have dismissed it out of hand, I urge you to try again.  You might be surprised by what you find.


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