“What does ‘speculative fiction’ mean and why do you write it?”
Basically, speculative fiction is about (or includes elements of) anything that can’t happen in our current, present day universe. It’s an umbrella term, and usually encompasses the genres of: fantasy (can’t happen because of magic), science-fiction (can’t happen because our science isn’t advanced enough), supernatural horror (again, magic), or alternate history (didn’t happen in the first place). Of course, there are lots of stories which mix these genres, or that fall in their murky outskirts, or that are still speculative without clearly belonging in any of these categories. The key is that speculative fiction could not plausibly happen in our current world.
I generally prefer to say that I write speculative fiction rather than fantasy and sci-fi, because:
1) I do write some stories which, although definitely speculative, are difficult to class as a specific genre.
2) I’ve written several stories which could arguably be fantasy or sci-fi or horror, depending on one’s opinion and what they think is the cause of the speculative elements. It’s therefore much easier for me to say that the story is simply ‘speculative’ rather than anything else.
I definitely find speculative fiction the most interesting and enjoyable type of fiction. This wasn’t always the case, particularly with fantasy, because I struggled (and still do) with a considerable amount of swords-and-sorcery type fantasy and urban fantasy, both of which dominate the mainstream perception of what ‘fantasy’ is. Thankfully, I learnt that the genre is far broader than that, and my top-3 favourite books have now been fantasy titles for a long time. Each genre and sub-genre of speculative fiction has its own rich history and features, but I think they all share a sense of awe, of exploration and uncertainty, of excitement (or fear) of the unknown. Personally, I only experience this extremely rarely with realistic fiction. The sense of wonder in speculative fiction is truly exciting and addictive.
Speculative fiction can also be entirely original in ways that are difficult for realistic fiction to achieve. Realistic fiction only has a certain amount of elements that it can play with, because all of them already exist in our world, and I’ll probably be familiar with most of them already. The best speculative fiction pieces (to me) are stories which introduce entirely new elements – technology and abilities and scenarios which I’ve never considered before, and where the stories play with these elements in innovative new ways. Basically, I want to be dazzled, and I want to be dazzled by a 6-foot-tall magical pink octopus appearing in my living room without warning.
I also write speculative fiction because imaginary worlds usually make more sense to me than the real one. Many years ago, I did try to write realistic fiction, and it was always a real struggle. Even with considerable research, I find so much of the real world illogical and ridiculous. Speculative fiction often feels more representative of my reality, despite the speculative elements. It’s wonderful to read and write fiction where I can actually see myself, my friends and family, and my general experience of life reflected back.