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    Speculative Fiction

    Somewhere between literary fiction and sci-fi? I only became aware of the category when writing some futuristic fiction and finding that it wasn't really sci-fi, and then I stumbled across this category instead and it seemed to fit what I"d been working on (that is, yet another novel consigned to the figurative drawer after my agent mumbled about it and then never mentioned it again, though it did make it on to a short-list and a long-list in a couple of First Chapter competitions). Right now I'm really enjoying Tade Thompson's Rosewater, but as it's the first of a trilogy I'll probably get around to completing the set by 2066, when the novel is set.

    Is speculative fiction much of a thing for OTF readers? Or is it all covered in the sci-fi thread?

    #2
    I like the really long range stuff that goes out beyond science fiction. Dune is an example. I'd lump the Culture novels, Alastair Reynolds, Adrian Tchaikovsky and so on in there. If you can stomach it, then it's where Warhammer 40K is set.

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      #3
      I think the definition of speculative fiction has changed these days. Back in the 80s and 90s, I think, it was generally more directly literary and tended to near-future plausible futures that talked about societal stuff rather than changes in technology in SF or the magical and supernatural stuff in Fantasy. Yer Atwoods and Vonneguts and Ballards and Bradburys and so on. I used to absolutely love that stuff, and probably still would if I knew what to read.

      Now it seems like it's just a blanket term for anything set in a non-current and non-historical world, to the extent that it's almost meaningless.

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        #4
        Yes, Rosewater feels more like sci-fi to me as it involves an alien presence on earth. In my own effort, I'm looking at a utopian/dystopian future with nothing more supernatural than a universal wonder drug that has replaced food as the source of all nutrition and happiness. (As I've read very little of this kind of fiction, please feel free to point out here, "Wait, that sounds just like the plot to...")

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          #5
          I think it's a marketing term used for sci-fi works by authors who don't normally write sci-fi. Shute's 'On The Beach', Deighton's 'SS-GB', Atwood's 'Handmaid's Tale' and MaddAdam trilogy. Atwood and/or her marketers would have been keen to ensure her sci-fi books were shelved with her other work so they could get literary attention and sell to her existing fanbase.

          Originally posted by San Bernardhinault View Post
          I think, it was generally more directly literary and tended to near-future plausible futures that talked about societal stuff rather than changes in technology in SF or the magical and supernatural stuff in Fantasy
          Science fiction is famous for talking about societal stuff. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, PK Dick...

          I certainly don't see why Tade Thompson would be described as 'speculative fiction' for anything other than marketing reasons.

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            #6
            Originally posted by delicatemoth View Post
            Science fiction is famous for talking about societal stuff. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, PK Dick...
            I think those three were often grouped in with "Speculative Fiction" back when that was the definition I understood, but sort they were thought of as straddling the divide. Dick's background in writing pulpy shorts didn't help in people considering him "literary".

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              #7
              I wouldn't class The Handmaid's Tale as science fiction*. I would see it as "speculative fiction" in the sense of being set in a possible (and increasingly plausible) future.



              *probably because I have read a lot of science fiction and have views on what counts as science fiction.

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                #8
                I wouldn't call Dick 'literary', my point was that sci-fi covers a lot more than changes in technology. Especially when written by authors marginalised in mainstream/literary spaces. I'd be interested to know if Doris Lessing's SF ever got described as 'speculative fiction', my hunch is that it wasn't, and neither was Ballard's until he achieved lit fic success. Certainly the Ballard books I own are jacketed and described as science fiction.
                Last edited by delicatemoth; 03-06-2022, 15:16.

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                  #9
                  This is not a genre that I am at all familiar with, but shouldn't it also include "what if?" historical novels (aka "alternative history")?

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                    #10
                    (to SB) - Is 'On The Beach' a good example of what you mean? It's near-future mainstream fiction with a single sci-fi element - his conception of how nuclear fallout works. I can see why someone might regard that as different to most SF.
                    Last edited by delicatemoth; 03-06-2022, 15:21.

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                      #11
                      Originally posted by ursus arctos View Post
                      This is not a genre that I am at all familiar with, but shouldn't it also include "what if?" historical novels (aka "alternative history")?
                      No reason why not, in theory, but I'm going to say no because it just doesn't feel right. Then again, that's thinking like a marketing executive at a publishing house, which isn't something anyone should ever do.

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                        #12
                        I never read On The Beach, but looking at its Wiki page it does seem to fit the bill.

                        That said, it was always a pretty vague term. And often it was used to disparage most SF - to some critics in particular it was a way of separating out SF written by the kind of writer than also wrote "serious books", so it was OK to like it.

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                          #13
                          Ha, here's an author who's won SF and fantasy awards using the phrase 'black speculative fiction'. I think this may be a 'depends who you ask' thing.

                          The essay she links is on the difference between Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism, explaining why this matters.

                          https://twitter.com/Nnedi/status/1532749398467174400

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                            #14
                            Yeah, I'd say alt-hist is different to sci-fi and different again to speculative fiction (which may or may not be sci-fi). And then I divvy up sci-fi into science fiction and science fantasy / space opera.

                            Examples:
                            Alt-hist - The Plot Against America (Philip Roth) changes details in the past to create a different set of events, or a different contemporary reality. I'd also include Jasper Forde's books about Thursday Next here and any other books about a world that looks a bit like ours but is different in some way.

                            Speculative fiction - The Handmaid's Tale (or Nineteen Eighty-Four / Brave New World in a previous generation) starts with where we are now and predicts what might happen. This gets science fictioney when something novel is introduced, like Triffids. (See below) I'd put the JG Ballard books I've read in this category. I'd also put the modern zombie novel The Girl With All the Gifts here.

                            Science fiction - deliberately introduces an advance in knowledge or application. So 2001: A Space Odyssey and I, Robot fit here because humans discover or introduce something that changes the world. I feel this is getting rarer as a genre in terms of new releases.

                            Science Fantasy/ Space Opera - there are advanced technologies separated by vast time periods from our present, or unconnected at all. Dune, the Culture novels, Alastair Reynolds, (in films Star Wars or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets fit here)

                            These are just my own categories and I'm probably inconsistent.

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                              #15
                              Those are certainly defensible, though I feel any line between the last two is going to be rather arbitrary.

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                                #16
                                Alternate history requires a divergence point that distinguishes it from accepted events. Some claim there are other qualities too, but that's the uncontestable one.

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                                  #17
                                  I've seen alternative history both included and excluded, and those including usually reference Plot Against America and Man In The High Castle (World War II might be a bit too obvious a divergence point, but if you send the divergence point too far back you'd probably end up with basically no common reference points). Like Patrick, I don't think it's quite the same thing although obviously has some similarities in what it does.

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