On Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, and Genres

A lot of blogtalk recently on the Alfar publication "Philippine Speculative Fiction" such as the use of the term "Speculative Fiction", the separation and merging of various genres, and even the need for genres as well.

It's good that people are expressing their opinions, discussing these topics, and arguing for their own points of view regarding the matter. So, rather than maintain my own silence (and fighting my desire to place bets from the sidelines), I'll throw my hat into the ring for some of the topics discussed:

1. Why the term "Speculative Fiction"? Dean himself has mentioned that it was a quicker term to use than constantly listing the various genres and sub-genres that fall underneath it. While Dean has listed Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Magical Realism, Interstitial Fiction, Slipstream and (oh crap I think there was one other one, but I'm not sure), if you want a more exhaustive list, here's one definition (yep, like Science Fiction, there are many definitions) of Speculative Fiction (that may or may not be followed by Dean) from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database:

Speculative fiction is defined to include:
science fiction, including works:
- set in a future that is now in the past
- that deal with technological advances that were futuristic at the time they were published
fantasy fiction
alternative history
utopian fiction as long as it is recognizably fiction and not a treatise
non-genre speculative fiction
magic realism
proto-science fiction, including but not limited to:
- lost world tales
- fantastic voyages
- scientific romances
- pre-historic romances
- future war stories
- the older the book, the more likely we are to include it even if it is borderline eligible. This is caused by the fact that there were relatively few Works published prior to 1800 and by the difficulties with distinguishing between speculative and non-speculative fiction (or even fiction and non-fiction) when you are dealing with pre-1800 Works
the supernatural (with an inclusionist bias), including but not limited to:
supernatural horror
ghost stories
gothic novels with supernatural elements
occult fiction

Yep, that's pretty long. And controversial to be sure. I wonder where "mundane science fiction" falls here.

Then again, one of the originators of the term Speculative Fiction (I'm referring to Heinlein here), posited it as an alternative to the term Science Fiction. Interestingly enough, Science Fiction was only one of the early terms used to name the genre, other runners-up included "Scientific Romance" (an early winner, particularly for the era of H.G. Wells, but it fell into disuse) and "SF" and "S-F" and "SciFi" (a term much reviled by true Science Fiction fans) and "Scientifiction" (coined, I believe, by Hugo Gernsback).

I seem to have digressed. Anyway, if you have a better term, go ahead and use it and see if it sticks.

2. On the opposition to the blurring of genre divisions, I just have this to say - the definitions of the big three mega-genres of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) have been debated and redefined across the years, so trying to say that something does or doesn't belong to a particular genre really depends on how well you argue and how broad or narrow your definition is... and how many people actually buy your argument and definition.

3. On the cross-polination of genres - it's already been done, and it's still being done (not just here, but internationally), and folks don't care as long as it's good. One of the earliest novels claimed by Science Fiction under its banner is also claimed by Horror. If you can guess which one that is, you win a no-prize.

Can anyone out there name any Science Fiction / Horror short stories or novels? Or Fantasy / Horror ones? Or Science Fiction / Fantasy ones? I know I can. If you don't like it, that's a matter of preference on your part -- I know certain members of the LitCritters who really hate it when Fantasy novels that they are enjoying turn out to be Science Fiction novels, but would NEVER presume to tell people not to write it.

4. On the perennial cry to dispense with any labels and just call everything fiction, I have two responses: I agree and disagree.

On the one hand, I agree with the belief that genre / sub-genre should not be a barrier to writing a good short story or a good novel. This is because I believe (as should be clear from my response to issue #3) that cross-genre stories enrich fiction rather than detract from it. This is because I believe that genres are artificial, arbitrary, and notoriously elastic categorizations.

On the other hand, being forced to read the back cover blurb of every fiction book out there just to figure out if it's the type of book I want to read can be a real pain. I already do that when I'm looking for a Science Fiction novel or a Fantasy novel or a Horror novel or a Mystery novel, and it's a major headache (especially with hardcovers, which can have a tendency not to have any sort of blurb explaining what the #$(*&!@ thing is about). If there weren't any categories, I'd probably bitch and moan and do what some people do now - go online and browse there, search using tags, filter using tags, read recommendations, and then try to find the I think I want in bookstores or online.

On the gripping hand (Science Fiction reference here, any takers?), I don't think my opinions will stop bookstores and book publishers from categorizing books any which way they feel like, so, I'll just stop right here.

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