Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately – can fantasy be considered to be speculative, even though it doesn’t involve speculating about the future?

In the 1980s, a new section began appearing in the bookshops in my town.  It was called ‘science fiction and fantasy’, and as I had always loved both, it made sense to me to put them both together.  When in the 2000s I found these genres were often referred to as ‘speculative fiction’, I accepted that too.  But in recent weeks, I’ve found myself wondering about that and if it really fits my genre.

 Science fiction is clearly speculative, as it predicts and hypothesises about what impact science will have on humanity in the future, and what we will do with that science.  Fantasy, on the other hand, is throwing back to an ancient past, even if it’s projecting that past onto a fictional world. 

 However, in my opinion, that kind of thinking misses the point of the fantasy I write.  Any student of history knows that although the resources and technology might change, human nature doesn’t all that much.  Even if you consider your own lifetime, can you come up with a sense of your Self that has always been there, even when you were a toddler and didn’t have as much experience in the world?  I can, and I speculate that you can too (and I use the word ‘speculate’ deliberately).

 What this means is that fantasy (as I write it) strips away the distraction of technology and asks the reader to concentrate on the human dynamic. It also asks the reader to consider how much our physical, social and technological environment impacts on who we are, how we think and how we make meaning of the world around us.  Is that very different from science fiction?  Is it just a different mechanism to get to the same point?

 And another thing I was thinking is that while the role of science and understanding in sci fi is obvious, there is also a very strong role for science in fantasy as well.  It’s through science and technological advancement that we develop a fuller understanding of the past.  Also, science has peaked and troughed throughout history, and we have found and lost the ability to understand the world through scientific exploration a number of times if you look over human evolution.

 So I think that it’s fair enough that fantasy is called ‘speculative fiction’ and considering that point has made me consider my own aims when I write in this genre.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. SMD
    Jun 28, 2009 @ 02:13:24

    Another way to look at it is to take science out of the equation, as well as time, and take “speculation” for what it is in the context of genre:
    Science fiction speculates upon the possible, or the seemingly impossible becoming possible.
    Fantasy speculates upon the impossible, or the impossible that can never be.

    It makes sense to think on those terms, since science fiction so often deals with things that probably will happen in some way or another, or what might happen, at the very least. Fantasy, however, deals with things we know cannot happen, never will happen, and are purely within the realm of the nonexistent and impossible.

    Anywho, good post!


    • J-A Brock
      Jul 07, 2009 @ 19:11:15

      thanks! i like that way of thinking about it, and i’ve called it to mind often over the last few days. you’d think sci fi would be the one that dates, wouldn’t you, but there are many examples of where a book written 30 years ago is still fresh and relevant. wonder if those authors would be disappointed in our development, though?


  2. terry
    Jun 29, 2009 @ 09:01:04

    Good to stir things up a bit, J-A. i agree about the main reason for a story to exist – the exploration of human behaviour.

    Watership Down is a case in point – if we merely accepted it as the tale of a bunch of animals the yarn may have quietly died away. But it wasn’t, it was about people.

    And come on now, who cried when Bambi’s mother died? Yes, I see that hand!



    • J-A Brock
      Jul 07, 2009 @ 19:08:20

      good to hear from you, terry. have you read that book about the magpies and owls? came across it in a bookshop today.


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