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Certainly one of the tougher genres to specifically nail down, speculative fiction casts a wide net that can include anything from narrative fiction with mystical elements to hard-line science fiction. To better grasp this genre, you might first wonder: What is spec fiction vs. science fiction? And what makes good spec fiction? Keep reading to really understand what this lesser-known genre is all about!    

What Is Speculative Fiction?

This genre is a broad spectrum. It is often used as a catch-all term for stories that don’t align with your standard, based-in-the-real-world fiction. That is to say, stories with even the smallest mystical, magical, or fantastical elements can be considered speculative. Because of its widely cast net, spec fiction is sometimes referred to as a “super genre,” containing science fiction, horror, fantasy, and more. 

Like many definitions and understandings in literary studies, the terms and conditions that deem something speculative have changed over time. Critics and authors continue to debate the super genre and its defining qualities.

According to the Speculative Literature Foundation, the spec fiction definition is a genre that “encompass[es] literature ranging from hard science fiction to epic fantasy to ghost stories to horror to folk and fairy tales to slipstream to magical realism to modern myth-making—and more.” 

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Speculative Fiction vs. Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

While spec fiction is very broad, science fiction and fantasy tend to cast a smaller net. In fact, it is fair to say that science fiction and fantasy are sub-genres of spec fiction. They fall within the super genre’s framework but are unique from one another. 

What is science fiction? This sub-genre typically, but not always, explores themes and concepts of space travel, time exploration, and life in the future. Science fiction literature often focuses on the human relationship with technology and, obviously, science. 

Similar to science fiction, fantasy literature takes place in a world different from our own. Rather than focusing on scientific and technological advancements, however, fantasy is heavily based on folklore and traditional myths. Fantasy contains supernatural and magical elements and is either based in the real world or an entirely made-up universe. 

Examples of Speculative Fiction

Spec Fiction Books

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • They Both Die At the End by Adam Silvera
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Spec Fiction Short Stories

  • Stories of Your Life and Others (collection) by Ted Chiang
  • The Hidden Girl and Other Stories  (collection) by Ken Liu
  • “All the Mermaid Wives” by Gwendolyn Kiste

Spec Fiction Authors

  • Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • George Orwell

Different Types and Sub-Genres of Speculative Fiction

As we’ve mentioned already, sub-genres of speculative fiction include sci-fi, fantasy—and that’s not all! Read below for other sub-genres that fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction.

Utopian

Novels considered utopian are set in idealistic worlds. Society is portrayed as peaceful, advanced, or exceptionally happy.

Dystopian

The opposite of utopian, dystopian novels are set in dark, undesirable worlds. These settings are often problematic or inflicted by illness, violence, or unjust government control. 

Apocalyptic

Apocalyptic fiction takes place before or during the apocalypse—a catastrophic, world-ending disaster. This is understandably a sub-genre of speculative fiction, as people often speculate how the world will come to an end.  

Post-Apocalyptic

Taking place after this apocalypse, post-apocalyptic fiction depicts the human spirit and struggle in the face of catastrophe. 

Supernatural

Like fantasy, supernatural novels rely on elements and themes abnormal to the natural world. Supernatural novels also tend to incorporate characters and ideas familiar to folklore, myths, and legends.  

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