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.