We here at The Book Wars work by monthly themes because it keeps our reading and reviewing somewhat in focus (unless powerful forces like Publishing Houses request our attention and then… we sell out because we love them). This generally allows us to delve into some interesting niche topics and genres. This month however, we will focus on the oft-used catch-all Speculative Fiction.
Speculative Fiction, the acronym for which is confusingly SF, is not simply Science Fiction. Rather, it is a broad literary genre that encompasses any fiction with supernatural, fantastical or futuristic elements – or, more often it is said to describe works in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (purrrrfect for October, donchathink?). You might be thinking, “Well, that blankets over an awful lot of books,” to which I say: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
So now you may be wondering – why the heck, if we already have fiction, fantasy and horror as distinguished genres, are we muddying the pristine pond of genre with Speculative Fiction?
The answer isn’t necessarily simple, but here it is nonetheless. Speculative Fiction addresses fiction that includes the stories that don’t exactly fit. Those that rest on the fringe, if you will (and yes, Fringe would be Spec. Fic.). The weird and the wonderful, amazing stories and fantastic fiction. Speculative Fiction can be a collective term to describe Sci Fi, Fiction and Horror stories while it is also a term that addresses those works that are not Sci Fi, Fiction and Horror, yet don’t right belong in any other genre.
Y’follow me? Basically, the term embraces works that don’t fit neatly into the separate genres. In a way, the outcasts have the most company.
Robert Heinlein, because if you don’t know that I’m a fan of facts and History you will now, coined the term Speculative Fiction in an essay in 1941. He was actually quite disappointed when Horror was thrown under his term, but c’est la vie, eh Heinlein? Heinlein is actually quite an accomplished author (Starship Troopers, Sixth Column, Stranger in a Strange Land) and scholar with many interesting papers – he argued that Sci Fi predicts future technological development (and he was one of the first to say so) and he also wrote about the writing of Speculative Fiction.
In his essay (which for the life of me I can’t find a free online copy of, try here), he goes over five of the key Speculative Fiction plotlines, which, I think, still hold true today.
- The Gadget Story
Heinlein says that he enjoys, but doesn’t write, these kinds of stories. Basically, it is a story that revolves entirely around a particular gadget or invention – think Flubber or Hollow Man.
- The Human-Interest Story
This was the kind of story that Heinlein wrote. He says:
“There are at least two principal ways to write speculative fiction–write about people, or write about gadgets. … Most science fiction stories are a mixture of the two types, but we will speak as if they were distinct–at which point I will chuck the gadget story aside, dust off my hands, and confine myself to the human-interest story, that being the sort of story I myself write.”
He then details that there are basically three human-interest stories and these are the next three subgenres.
While many, dare I say most, stories include an element of romance, for this sub-genre of Spec. Fic. the romance has to be the compelling and necessary element that creates and then solves the problem. Perhaps Blade Runner is an example of this kind of story.
Heinlein gives extended variations on the Boy-Meets-Girl potentials but he also, kind of hilariously, gives us a plot for free, saying: “it is a great story that has been kicking around for centuries.”
- The Little Tailor.
Basically, a nobody becomes a somebody or vice versa.
“It is the success story or, in reverse, the story of tragic failure.”
- The Man (and I’m gonna throw in woman just to add at least one more gender here)-Who-Learned-Better.
A character has one point of view or opinion at the beginning and then acquires a new one by the end – probably through some dramatic event or having his nose rubbed in hard fact etc…
I do think that there are more potential plotlines than these basic ones, but Heinlein argues that all stories that fall under Speculative Fiction are some variation and combination of these – and I have to say… when you think about it, they do encompass a lot. Particularly the inclusion of the human-interest story – I mean, considering most stories are about or contain humans (and if they don’t and they contain robots or aliens then still, because it is written by man, in a way this is still very andro-centric and andro-critical) in various settings and situations well… Hello all of literature.
Anywhoo, we will be taking our separate routes to this broad genre and we hope you’ll join us! We have reviews, discussion posts, a couple of interviews planned (Megan Crewe for you Canadian Spec. Fic fans out there!) and of course our regular Top Ten Tuesdays and Saturdays with our Cover Wars.
Also this month we will be doing spotlights on two publishing houses: Simply Read Books and Pushkin Press – so stay tuned for some beautiful picturebooks and well, some more beautiful illustrations :)