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Speculative Fiction

Postby ibnjames » Sat Aug 16, 2014 8:47 am

I'm trying to get a handle on the definition of speculative fiction, but I'm having a little trouble understanding it. My main problem is that horror falls under SF, but does that include all horror or only that which has a sense of the impossible in it?

For example, a story like T.E.D. Klein's "Children of the Kingdom" that features eyeless creatures emerging from the sewers would definitely be SF, but would a story about a killer who terrorizes people be SF since it could feasibly happen?

That's where I get thrown off a bit. Likewise, would Stephen King's Misery be considered SF?
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Re: Speculative Fiction

Postby Bmat » Sun Aug 17, 2014 6:47 am

I think of speculative fiction as a broad term that includes science fiction, fantasy, and the supernatural. Another description that I like says that sf is stories that speculate about the question "what if?"
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Re: Speculative Fiction

Postby ibnjames » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:11 am

Using the term "supernatural" works better for me than "horror."

I'm still a little thrown off by the "What if?" nature of the genre. So what if a man loved his wife so much but she lost her memory due to Alzheimer's, and he tried to get her to remember by reading a diary that detailed how they fell in love. Nicholas Sparks's The Notebook. I'm trying to see where the line is drawn or is it really as blurry as it seems?
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Re: Speculative Fiction

Postby Bmat » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:14 pm

I believe that it is blurry, from what I can find anyway.

Here's hoping somebody else jumps in with thoughts. :)
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Re: Speculative Fiction

Postby Asp Zelazny » Sun Aug 17, 2014 6:17 pm

I think Bmat has done a pretty good job of laying out the broad picture ... the "what if" aspect is key. Overall, yes, the line is very fuzzy though; perhaps to clarify one can think of spec fic as "what if -- what is very unlikely to happen, DOES happen" and the more elaborate the degree of unlikely-ness, the more it falls within the genre, and the more that this speculative issue is central to the story, the clearer it becomes SpecFic. This way, the story of memory recovery that you cite (though I'm unfamiliar with The Notebook) wouldn't be spec fic since the main thrust would be the husband's love and anguish, and then his attempt to deal with his wife's affliction. If she does recover her memory as a result, it's perhaps more of a romantic fantasy or fable. But even then, I'm assuming that the major thrust of the tale is more the interaction than the "cure."

I personally don't see horror fiction as science fiction, or even spec fic especially -- the goal in horror is to play upon emotions, to titillate. The "what if" aspect is thin at best. If the story is "people running from the monsters" and how they feel and how they die, there is no "what if" that matters. The best horror, I'd think, would leave you with not "what if" thoughts, but "Auggh, when is this going to happen to me?" -- the impact being far more visceral than intellectual. (but then, I'm no fan of horror ... I don't even like roller coasters)

When it comes down to it, science fiction (and even some fantasy) is an intellectual pursuit -- "what if" X, and what follows in logical and extensive detail. The Golden Age SF writers were telling allegorical tales about current societal issues and the consequences of bad choices, and the best fantasy stories pursue at least some degree of emotional or Campbellian mythic truth.

Is there a bright line that defines the genre? No; I'm often amused when a mainstream writer does a work that is embraced by the SF community -- the mainstream critics are all agog about this Insightful New Way of Seeing, and the writer frequently ducks and covers when confronted with a question or a gush by an SF fan. Our little ghetto is an unknown entity to the uninitiated.

Now, I'm sure that this can be picked apart, and counter-examples galore exist, but that's my quarter-Pandak's worth.
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Re: Speculative Fiction

Postby Bmat » Sun Aug 17, 2014 7:53 pm

Your description, Asp, reminds me a lot of fuzzy set theory (or my understanding of it anyway, never having had formal instruction in it.) I see the theory showing up fairly often- no longer "yes or no", but a continuum of possibilities.
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Re: Speculative Fiction

Postby Asp Zelazny » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:38 pm

Then obviously you need to read The Fuzzy Papers by H Beam Piper. :mrgreen:
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Re: Speculative Fiction

Postby Bmat » Mon Aug 18, 2014 6:55 am

Heh!!! :D
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