Am listening to Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe's podcast and thinking about the term speculative fiction, which Jonathan hates for his own reasons and I hate too though I've not quite been able to figure out why. I was tweeting about it, but honestly, this deserves an entry to hash this out.
Specfic is ostensibly a term to over all non-realist fiction, a big tent term to sum up science fiction and fantasy and horror together as one family. Without using a word like "genre" fiction which belies the TOTAL REALITY that all fiction has a genre.
Except I don't think it really is a big tent term. I've never felt it actually included fantasy--the purpose of fantasy is not speculation in the sense that science fiction speculates--SF says "what if there were rocket ships?" but I don't think the point of fantasy is "what if there was magic?" "What if?" is not the dominant question of fantasy. It's not "our world, if we had thing x." Much science fiction isn't quite that either, but when we're talking to non-geeks, the science fiction we bring up to defend ourselves is always the what if kind, the kind we can posit provides value to culture by predicting the future and our society's trajectory. It's dealing in futures, a speculators' market. I know it's meant to include fantasy, but I've never felt it really does. (erudite_ogre says it better: I think it (spec fic) operationalizes the genres and has utilitarian overtones. They now have a function: to speculate, which is usually the province of science fiction. I think it prioritizes SF and casts a pall of delegimitzation over the other fantastic genres.)
(Incidentally when telling people what I do I almost never say fantasy because your standard average person has no idea what the word means. They vaguely think I mean porn. AT BEST I can say "you know, like Lord of the Rings" which doesn't describe my work at all. But everyone knows what science fiction means.)
I feel like speculative fiction is a term meant to imply that KIND of worth. Also, it allows us to retain the initials SF, which never has to include the silent F of icky, squishy girly fantasy which doesn't tell you how you'll live in the singularity and is socially unacceptable unless written by men, about war, using a lot of profanity. Then it's mostly ok.
I feel like it's a sneaky term. And when people like Margaret Atwood use it to differentiate the SF she writes (good) from the SF everyone else writes (bad) then I just throw up my hands.
Because if you widen the meaning of the term speculative to its broadest definition (to mediate on a subject) then ALL fiction is speculative and the term has no meaning in the way of differentiating non-realism from realism (which by the way, realism is if anything less like real life than SFF) at all! It's all speculative, because to write a book is to create something non-real. Even non-fiction imposes a narrative.
I know we have to defend ourselves to non-readers of SFF, but using speculative fiction, a term I've never heard anyone use outside of writerly circles of geeks, is no help--you still have to define that word for them. So you might as well be super specific about what it is you read and write, because you're gonna have to explain it anyway.
I feel the stigma of being an SFF writer, too. Man, my old friends from straight-world academia have straight up told me my publications "don't count." I feel the limitations of genre, I feel the stink-eye. But shit, yo, I feel stink-eye INSIDE the geek community because I write my weird ornate books and stories that aren't "really" SF and maybe aren't "really" fiction. So, you know, we fight these genre wars within ourselves, too, and nobody agrees, and we police those walls with gusto.
So I guess I don't even know. I don't even know what the problem with the word "scifi" is--which of course doesn't mean fantasy either I know that. I just know that speculative fiction is an uninteresting term to me, either too broad to have meaning or narrow enough to exclude me. Word games where specfic is academically acceptable and SFF is not is capitulating to the enemy (where the enemy is closed minds who only like their favorite genres--divorce, adultery, the suburbs, and miscarriages, usually revolving around a professor--but have been allowed to imprint that taste on the university system as a whole) and allowing them to define the terms. The terms of what we write.
*makes some kind of universal gesture of uselessness*
No one wants fantastika anymore? Nobody?
Rules for Anchorites
Letters from Proxima Thule
- Speculative Fiction and YOU