Speculative has been used as a catch phrase for horror, science fiction, and fantasy. While these are sub-categories of this genre, speculative fiction is a genre in its own right, and some speculative novels have nothing to do with these common subcategories. Speculative fiction involves an unusual story using fantastic happening. Sometimes these stories have a spiritual aspect to them, particularly in Christian fiction and stories involving magic, but not always. What these stories always have is the question, “What if?”
Orson Scott Card Quote (See How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Writer’s Digest Books, 1990, p. 17)
Speculative Fiction includes all stories that take place in a setting contrary to known reality. This includes:
- All stories set in the future, because the future can’t be known. Out-of-date futures, like that depicted in the novel 1984, simply shift from the “future” category to:
- All stories set in the historical past that contradict known facts of history or “alternate world” stories.
- All stories set on other worlds, because we’ve never gone there. Whether “future humans” take part in the story or not, if it isn’t Earth, it belongs to fantasy and science fiction.
- All stories supposedly set on Earth, but before recorded history and contradicting the known archaeological record–stories about visits from ancient aliens, or ancient civilizations that left no trace, or, “lost kingdoms” surviving into modern times.
- All stories that contradict some known or supposed law of nature. Obviously, fantasy that uses magic falls into this category, but so does much science fiction: time travel stories, for instance, or invisible-man stories.
I would add one more to this list. Christian fiction which covers the spiritual realm such as miracles, prophecies, apocalyptic themes, demons, angel, and other spiritual beings would also be classified as Speculative.
Alternate History: Stories where history changes. Example: “Guns of the South” by Harry Turtledove.
Apocalypse/Holocaust: The end of the world as we know, the world being destroyed, or end times prophecies being fulfilled. Example: The Left Behind Series.
Coming of Age: The human race takes a big evolutionary leap. Example: “Emergence” by David R Palmer.
Contemporary Fantasy/Magical Realism: This is set in the modern world but has spiritual or supernatural forces involved. Examples in the Christian realm are Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing the Darkness”. An occult example is “The Harry Potter Series”.
Cyberpunk: This is a science fiction sub-genre that involves virtual reality and technology changing society. Example: “Neuromancer” by William Gibson
Dystopian: Dysfuntional utopias. Example: “The Giver” by Lowis Lowry
Fairy Tales/Light Fantasy: These stories have a lesson built into them and usually include fairies, elves, animals with human traits, goblins, trolls, or enchantments and charms, set in a rustic setting. “The Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings” by TR Tolkien are examples. So is “The Chronicles of Narnia” by CS Lewis.
Horror/Dark Fantasy: These stories have dark themes. Example: “Interview With a Vampire” by Anne Rice.
First Contact: These are stories about how we react to being confronted by an alien species for the first time. Example: “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin
Futuristic: These stories tell of a future shaped by events of today going in a certain direction. “1984” by George Orwell was one of the best in this sub-genre.
Science Fiction: This involves future technologies and space exploration. I’ll give examples of this when I post about the Science Fiction genre.
Slipstream: This sub-genre is set in our world but distorts things in some way. Example: “White Noise” by Don DeDillo
Steampunk: Take a Victorian setting and give it modern technology, and you have steampunk. Example: “The Difference Engine” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.