Speculative fiction, encompassing any realm of fiction that posits a world either other than or significantly altered from the one we live in, is characterized by estrangements. Some estrangements make these worlds feel impossible, but they usually reflect either a feared or desired reality. Otherwise, the stories might endeavor to explain an abstract phenomena, something that can be seen in myths and legends.
In speculative fiction, some of my favorites anyway, the best qualities aren't the estrangements alone. Science fiction can get away with the incredible crime of leaving its spectators with more to think about than to understand or figure out. The state of the worlds are meant to be accepted of a representation, possibly of someone's internal reality.
A wholly unrealistic story paired with a moral, a fable that is meant to teach, can be the same. It's no less compelling, but it's also very definite in nature. Consider Aesop's story of the fox and the crow. The crow has a piece of cheese that the fox covets, so the fox flatters the crow shamelessly, eventually getting to the crow's voice. The crow, who was holding the cheese in their beak, drops it when persuaded to sing for the fox. The moral is about falling prey to manipulation by flattery, and it is a valid one.
Definite thoughts, the distinction between right and wrong such that others and self are not harmed is important. Indefinite thoughts are also valuable because of their inherent unpredictability. Some of these paths, like people, do not need to be solved.
Oryx and Crake, for example, is very quick to acknowledge that humanity is never static. More simply, what we might think being human means today can become myth. The humans themselves, a part of that myth, might become cryptids.
None of this information is new. The unpredictability and the lack of a resolution in questions found within speculative fiction can be a thing of beauty. However, the same type of fiction in its infinite versatility can expose as much as it questions.
S.R. Toliver's "Can I Get a Witness?: Speculative Fiction as Testimony and Counterstory" is a highly recommended read. I do not aim to speak for anyone, but to highlight these voices and to encourage further reading.
Toliver states that, "to invoke an image of justice, some authors transform the real into the fantastic, grounding their stories in the imaginary because justice has not historically been, nor is it currently, defined as our social reality. In this way, some Black authors embed their truths in the make-believe, combining testimony, and counterstory in hopes that readers will bear witness and join the fight for justice" (2020).
To begin, counterstory is usually defined as simply alternative, but that's not adequate. A counterstory literally counters very dominant narratives in order to expose reality outside of what is often speculated, dismissed, or stereotyped.
In this study, Toliver focuses on a young Black author (thirteen years old) who was instructed to write a speculative fiction story. She wrote about racial injustice, specifically about unrepresented violence on the basis of race. She expanded this idea into any quality that can have visible representation.
She created a representation of herself through her story in which she started a rebellion because, in her words, she wants to be an activist and appropriately stand up for the injustice she sees.
In this article, speculative fiction serves as a testimony, a person's reality that people can bear witness to and read with an eye for how they can support and create a better world.
For a deeper exploration into what speculative fiction is becoming and accomplishing, I highly recommend reading this study. They do recommend some excellent texts for further reading as well.
Speculative fiction has continued to develop over time as we have retained the need to question the world and the phenomena that takes place within it from the physical to the abstract. It holds value whether it is definite or indefinite, and it can serve as a guide on participation in current essential conversations and a means of access not to be discounted.
Welcome this exploration of the speculative fiction genre. If you want to read the first exploration of genre directed to writers, follow Purposeful Prose on LinkedIn. There, you can read "The Errors of Mystery" where I explore three essential elements that are expectations of the mystery genre but can be applied to any writing project and can aide in planning!
If you want to see more updates from me, you can become a member of Purposeful Prose. Purposeful Prose members can comment on my posts and participate in the conversation here or can start their own conversations in my forum.
If you have any recommendations for further projects that Purposeful Prose should undertake, feel free to contact me through the chat or via email. You do not need a foundational source, just a topic that you're interested in. Your topic could be the subject of a post or series of posts.
As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Atwood, M. (2004). Oryx and Crake (The MaddAddam Trilogy) (Reprint ed.). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Toliver, S. R. (2020). Can I get a witness? Speculative fiction as testimony and counterstory. Journal of Literacy Research, 52(4), 507-529.