Monday, October 4, 2010

A Closer Look at Speculative Fiction

The challenge before me last week was write a short story contest entry in the Speculative Fiction genre, inspired by the following prompt:
Practice is nothing to be sneezed at.

This particular contest, hosted by WYRM, a writers group at that promotes Spec-Fi, is one of my favorites.  I don't normally write speculative fiction, so the contest flings me far outside of my comfort zone.  Since I've been concentrating on the genre for the past month, I thought I'd share what I know here.

Speculative fiction is an umbrella category, under which fall stories usually incorporating elements of science fiction, horror, fantasy, paranormal, etc.  So what makes a story spec-fi, and not simply one of those genres? To answer, you have to focus on the word "speculative."

Speculative fiction premises ask the question, "What if...?"  What if a major world event had ended differently?  What if space aliens walked amongst us?  What if humans took an evolutionary leap, yesterday?  What if...?

I like to think back to the old Twilight Zone television series when I'm brainstorming for spec-fi story ideas.  My favorite episode starred Burgess Meredith as the man who just wanted peace and quiet so he could read.  Suddenly, in typical Twilight Zone fashion, the world ends and Meredith's character is the last man alive.  In his devastation and terror, he stumbles upon the ruins of the public library.  Salvation is his!  Until he trips on the library steps, breaking his coke-bottle thick glasses in the fall.

What distinguishes speculative fiction is that the story's supernatural or other-worldly facet is more than just a sidekick cat that can talk.  It is a fundamental element around which the entire plot swirls.  If you take out that element, the plot collapses.

J. Golden at has provided an excellent list of sub-genres under the speculative fiction umbrella.  I use it here with permission:

  • Alternate History
    Alternate History poses questions about different outcomes to historic events, and how that would alter our known world.
  • Apocalypse/Holocaust
    Apocalypse/Holocaust is set in a reality where The World As We Know It ends or has ended.
  • Coming of Age (as a species)
    Coming of Age stories redefine what it means to be human when we make an evolutionary leap as a species.
  • Contemporary Fantasy
    Contemporary Fantasy has a realistic modern world setting with elements of supernatural forces such as magic or mythological deities occurring through access to another world, realm, or plane.
  • Cyberpunk
    Cyberpunk is actually one of the more likely SF genres, with virtual reality & technology inundating every level of society, most of which still have a low quality of life.
  • Dystopian
    Dystopian literature is set in dysfunctional utopias.
  • Fairy Tales
    Fairy Tales tell a lesson story via human-like beings (fairies, elves), animals with human traits (goblins, trolls), and enchantments and charms, set in a rustic setting.
  • Fantasy
    Fantasy is set in medieval or low technology environments with strong dependence on magic and other supernatural elements.
  • First Contact
    First Contact stories are about how we react as a species when confronted with other intelligent life for the first time.
  • Horror/Dark Fantasy
    Horror/Dark Fantasy develops from supernatural evil or human evil/mental disorder encroaching on ordinary people's lives.
  • Magical Realism
    Magical Realism is set in a realistic modern world with the addition of magical elements.
  • Science Fiction
    Science Fiction explores potential (far) future developments in technology, space exploration, and human evolution.
  • Slipstream
    Slipstream is set in our world ~ almost. There are slight, uneasy making distortions in our reality or else the protagonist has fallen out of the consensual reality but is not insane in any way.
  • Steampunk
    Steampunk gives the Victorian era modern technology.

I submitted my speculative fiction contest entry last night.  It could be classified as Horror/Dark Fantasy or Slipstream.  It was sooooo hard to write; although, once the main character and plot solidified in my brain I found a rhythm that worked (I think) really well.

Should anyone be interested in reading it (3500 words), here's the link.  To whet your potential reading appetites, I will say this:  the title is a huge play on words that can be interpreted in (at least) three different ways.

Here's the link:  Controlling Nature

How about you?  Ever dabbled in Speculative Fiction?  What do you find is the biggest challenge in the genre?