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The World of Speculative Fiction
scifi FI

When someone mentions Science Fiction, chances are that a caricature of a science fiction fan springs to mind – a fat, socially awkward, probably white ‘nerd.’ The Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, waddling through a convention and barking Klingon at passers-by.

While this man probably does exist somewhere, debating with himself who would win in a fight between Spider Man and the Incredible Hulk, it certainly does not represent Science Fiction as a whole. In fact, I’m here writing to convince you that there is such a thing as ‘World Literature’: Speculative Fiction. I’m also going to be embedding links to some of the freely available works of the authors I mention below.

Speculative Fiction is World Literature. When I said that the caricature of the Comic Book Guy is not accurate, I meant it in every way. Ever since the end of the ‘Golden Age‘ of Science Fiction, writers have been exploring how society would deal with rapid changes in advancing technologies, rather than imposing Victorian colonialist narratives on space travel; asking how people live, rather than chronicling the adventures of a hero across the asteroid belts, rescuing damsels in distress. And the writers conducting these explorations have been changing since then as well, even if a small hard-core group of fans (the word comes from ‘fanatic’, and that seems rather apt) wants to fight the change that’s been happening since the 60s, at least. The long, boring arguments that “women can’t write science fiction” seem to never die, no matter how untrue they are. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, is considered one of the earliest works of Speculative Fiction, unless you stretch Speculative Fiction’s birth further back (and a case can be made to do so) to encompass myths, legends, and fairy tales.

Women like James Tiptree, Jr. (Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death), had to hide behind nom de plumes to get their work published and accepted in the 1960′s, and other women like Ursula K Le Guin (The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas) and Margaret Atwood (Stone Mattress) have long since proven that women can write Speculative Fiction, with their works now considered ‘classics’ of the genre, and of literature in general.

Speculative Fiction is not only an English-language genre (or collection of genres) – famous writers of Speculative Fiction come from across the globe, including such luminaries as the Austro-Hungarian Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis), the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges (The House of Asterion) and Soviet writers like the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (Roadside Picnic). China is the world’s largest Science Fiction market, and the world’s hunger for Japanese manga and anime is seemingly insatiable. This year saw the release of the latest Tom Cruise Science Fiction blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, which was based on the Japanese novel, All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka; and Japan also boasts writers like Haruki Murakami (Samsa in Love), who has won the World Fantasy Award and has had his work translated into fifty languages, including one of my favorite novels, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

In recent years (as far as I’m aware, anyway), Africa has emerged as another home of Speculative Fiction, with novelists such as the South African Lauren Beukes, (author of The Shining Girls, Zoo City, and Moxyland, which traverse themes from urban fantasy, time travel, murder and cyberpunk. Here’s a free short story, Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs), the Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okarafor (Lagoon and Who Fears Death, among others, including this short story, Amphibious Green) and another African-American writer, Sofia Samatar (Selkie Stories are for Losers). North African and Middle Eastern Speculative Fiction are also coming onto the world stage (or back onto it, depending on your definitions – are the adventures of Sindbad Speculative Fiction? The 13th Century’s Awaj bin Afaq certainly is) with novels like Ajwan, by Noura al Noman from the U.A.E, and Dr Naif Al Mutawa’s The 99. Science Fiction is especially important in North Africa and the Middle East, as the genre itself challenges the status quo, and is an important way to view modern fears and challenges, through the prism of a projected future.

The Caribbean and South America have also emerged, sharing their voices with the world, and India is renowned for its tradition of superhero fiction. With this year’s launch of Women Destroy Science Fiction, released by Lightspeed Magazine (and its enormous success – it was so successful, in fact, that the Kickstarter for the project has now spawned multiple new anthologies: Women Destroy Fantasy and Women Destroy Horror, as well as rumors of another series: Queers Destroy; Lightspeed Magazine originally asked donors for $5,000 to produce their Women Destroy Science Fiction special issue. They ended up receiving $53,000) more and more voices are adding to the chorus, creating a truly world-wide literary form. Debates about patois and dialect forms are in full flight amongst the Speculative Fiction community, and the general consensus is that the more voices we hear, the better.

Speculative Fiction is World Literature, and is no longer the domain of cosplay-wearing misogynists. They’re still here, but we’re trying to stamp them out. And you’re welcome to join in too.

The more voices the better.

What is Speculative Fiction? A Primer

It’s a question that I hear asked even among writers of Speculative Fiction, and the answers you can give can range from one sentence to intricate comparisons of genres, and arguments about where to draw the lines. I’m going to give you the short answer: Speculative Fiction is an umbrella term, embracing the ‘big three’ genres – Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror (but not Slasher) as well as a host of less well-known ones, like Alt-History, Weird Western, and Sword and Sorcery.

There’s a great breakdown of the ideas and genres behind Spec Fic on the TV Tropes website, here.

Featured image via Creative Commons

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About The Author

Chris White

Chris White is a writer (of various things, generally verbs, nouns and adjectives) who lives in Brisbane, Australia. His words can be found, not only as 1's and 0's, but also in dead-tree form. More of his words can be found on his blog: chriswhitewrites.com, and even more of them are in 140 character chunks on Twitter, @chriswhitewrite

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  • YMC

    Thanks for the extensive overview; I’ll be adding some of these works to my to-read list!

  • Pingback: Speculative Fiction is World Literature | chris white writes

  • Jeni Brett

    Lauren Beukes is fantastic! Love her works. And Margaret Atwood has long been a favorite. Thanks for the suggestions!

  • ChrisWhiteWrites

    No problems, I’m glad you liked it! You definitely should add these to the (probably ever-growing) pile of books to-read (I know what that’s like.) There’s some really great speculative fiction coming out at the moment, and I do think that it’s because of the ever-widening range of authors being welcomed into the genre.

  • ChrisWhiteWrites

    Mmm, she is a fantastic author – I just got a chance to hear her talk here in Brisbane and she was absolutely inspiring, hearing her talk about her motivations for writing what she writes. I recommend her whenever I get a chance. And as for Margaret Atwood – one of my favourites, ever! Enjoy the reading!