I want to talk about a term that really bothers me. It’s one that has become, especially as of late, a catchphrase for many writers. Though the term has existed since the 1940s, it’s popped up in droves over the past decade or so. If you read anything, it’s impossible to ignore.
I am talking about the term, “speculative fiction.”
If you ask most speculative-fiction writers what exactly speculative-fiction is, you’ll get the following answer: “Speculative fiction is fiction that asks, ‘what if?'” Here’s my beef with that. That’s any fiction. That’s the point of fiction. That is what fiction is. Why so add the word “speculative” to it?
The exact definition for speculative fiction can be found here. “Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts.” That is literally everything. Anything you could ever write that could be described as fiction fits into speculative fiction.
What if there were these vampires that sparkled like diamonds in the sunlight, and they were battling these werewolves in this big romantic-drama storyline? Hello, Twilight.
What if there was this world where there were life and death games played by children who won some sort of lottery? The Hunger Games.
What if a mysterious gunslinger wandered into an old western town and befriended a young boy? We’ll call that one Shane. (and before anyone says, “that’s not on the list of spec-fic genres,” yes it is; if it’s history that never happened, it’s alternate history – another term that bugs the heck out of me).
What if a guy was hunting this white whale? What if there was a galaxy long ago that was far, far away? What if animals on a farm created their own government?
You get the point. Everything is speculative fiction. Garfield is speculative fiction. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is speculative fiction. Heck, fantasy football is almost speculative fiction. “What if Drew Brees could throw to Calvin Johnson?” Well, there you go.
For the life of me, I fail to see any reason to call yourself a speculative fiction writer except to call yourself a speculative fiction writer. Why not just call yourself a “writer?” Or if you’re genre-specific, be genre-specific. You write science-fiction. You write westerns. You write period romance. To me, saying that you write speculative fiction is no different from saying that you write finger-tappin’ fiction, which is fiction that happens when your fingers tap a keyboard. Does that term actually mean anything significant? Nope. But it sure sounds like it means something.
“Hey, whatcha reading?”
“Why, I just got me some finger-tappin’ fiction by Lee Stephen!”
“Well shoooo-eee and yee-haw!”
Actually…that’s not too bad. Finger-tappin’ fiction! I like the sound of that. Lee Stephen, writer of finger-tappin’ fiction! I think that can take me places.
So I guess the whole point is…be a writer of what you write. Don’t group yourself into a term that exists solely to exist. Be proud of the genre you write in, and if you write in more than one, say you write in more than one. Or just say you “write.” Look – being able to write in many different areas is a skill unto itself. Calling yourself just a writer isn’t bland, it’s a testament to your ability to be diverse. Be proud of that. Don’t feel the need to try and sound more unique or talented than you already are.