What Is Speculative Fiction?

This post, by N.E. Lilly, originally appeared on GreenTentacles.com.


Well? What is it? You don’t really know do you? Well that’s OK, because then there would be little point in writing this article.

Speculative fiction is a term, attributed to Robert Heinlein in 1941, that has come to be used to collectively describe works in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.

But if we already have science fiction, fantasy, and horror, then why do we need to muddy the water with yet another genre description? Because speculative fiction addresses fiction that includes Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and Fantastic Fiction. It also may include other genres, such as Mysteries, Alternate Histories, and Historical Fiction. Speculative fiction can be a collective term to describe works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror and also addresses works that are not science fiction, fantasy, or horror, yet don’t rightly belong to the other genres.



Speculative fiction is also more than the collective title for works of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. The term also embraces works that don’t fit neatly into the separate genres. Tarzan. Television’s Early Edition. Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Tales that span the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. Stranger in a Strange Land. The Twilight Zone. Stories by Edgar Allen Poe. Tales that have been labelled simply as ‘weird’ or ‘adventure’ or ‘amazing’ because there was no proper place to put them. Stories on the fringe.

When you’ve come across a story or movie or game that both is and isn’t science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror, then you’ve discovered speculative fiction.

Examples of speculative fiction may run the gamut from the outright weird, such as in the short stories ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ by H.P. Lovecraft or ‘The Metamorphoses’ by Kafka, to the frighteningly possible, such as in the movie ‘Jaws’ directed by Steven Spielberg.

Speculative Fiction is Everywhere

Nearly every major industry has some little niche that produces content for or about speculative fiction. From an obvious industry such as cinema or toys, to industries that are not quite so obvious such as the manufacture of clothing and jewelry (costuming).

Nearly all content and media created for children contains some aspect of speculative fiction, such as talking animals, magic, or monsters. When speaking of children’s literature it’s almost impossible not to find speculative fiction in the form of fantasy or science fiction.

The majority of computer game titles produced, whether for personal computer or gaming consoles, also contain some element of speculative fiction. Whether it be a science fiction strategy game like Sid Meyer’s Alpha Centauri or a fantasy based first person role-playing game like Everquest.

And I defy you to find a single pen and paper role-playing game that doesn’t draw on some element of speculative fiction. There may be one, but I wouldn’t hold my breath looking for it.

Speculative Fiction is everywhere. It has invaded our lives… but what is it? We’ve contacted various people in the specultive fiction industry to profess their knowledge of the question… What is Speculative Fiction?



Read the rest of the post, which includes definitions and remarks from five more contributors, on GreenTentacles.com.

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