Genre in Depth: Speculative Fiction

Genre in Depth is a new series on Fictionally Sam where we delve into different genre and see how they began, their characteristics, and books within that genre, etc. New genre every first and last Wednesday of the month!

We began this series earlier this year with an indepth look at Science fiction and the history behind the genre, and so far we have waddled through many different genres that have incapsulated our hearts in many different ways.


What about a genre that incapsulates not only us…but other genres? In today’s installment we are going to take journey through the life and body of Speculative fiction which in more recent years has become the umbrella term for many of the world famous genres like Science Fiction and Fantasy.

So grab a seat and get comfy, cause its about to be a time!


“The History of Science Fiction” by Ward Shelley

Even though the literature within this genre date back to the ancient times. The term Speculative Fiction is fairly new. According to Oxford Research, Speculative Fiction as a term can be said to have three different historical meanings. The First meaning is as a subgenre of the beloved Science Fiction (or SF and Sci-Fi to die-hard readers) which deals with humanity rather than the focus of technological problems. The Second meaning being a genre distinct and separate entity–opposite of SF due to its exclusive nature to focus on the possible futures. Lastly, the third historical meaning being that Speculative Fiction is a super category for all genres “that deliberately depart from imitating “consensus reality” of everyday experience. In the latter sense, speculative fiction includes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but also their derivatives, hyrbids, and cognate genres like the gothic…

Speculative fiction made its world debut as another term for Science Fiction in 1947 for the editorial piece in The Saturday Evening Post by Robert A. Heinlein. In a later piece, Heinlein explicitly stated that speculative fiction did not include fantasy. Although Heinlein is considered the creator of the term, there has been discovery of previous citations where the term was used dating back to 1889.

First applied to genre studies by Brian Attebery, a fuzzy set is a category defined not by clear boundaries but by resemblance to prototypical examples and degrees of membership: from being exactly like to being somewhat or marginally like.

The blanket–or umbrella meaning came into play when the need for a term that enveloped a broad range of narratives that overthrew the post-Enlightenment mindset in the late 1990s. According to writer Marek Oziewicz, It was decided that the term needed to be one that “had long excluded from “literature” stories that departed from consensus reality or embraced a different version of reality than the empirical-materialist one.” Speculative fiction arose to this challenge and became a tool to help take down the bias of Western culture and instead raise up awareness of literary pieces that imitate reality and those that sought out to rebuild and recover the human sense of awe and wonder.

Speculative Fiction made headway in traction and awareness as becoming something other than Science Fiction with the help of Margaret Atwood and her literary works in the late 1980s and early 2000s. Atwood began using speculative fiction as a term to describe her dystopian novels, claiming that her work was not science fiction as the SF genre includes stories about events that cannot possibly happen, such as alien invasion and similar scenarios that can be seen in the works of H.G. Wells. According to Atwood, speculative fiction refers to events that could possibly take place. In Oziewicz’s analysis of the genre, he explains that “Atwood evokes the tradition of stretching from Verne to that part of her oeuvre that explores the not-yet-improbable futures of our planet.”

“We create stories to help us shape a chaotic world, to navigate inequities of power, to accept our lack of control over nature, over others, over ourselves.”
― Doug Dorst J. J. Abrams

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The possibilities are really limitless, which is perhaps why so many people get confused by the term “speculative fiction.” If you find yourself getting lost, go back to the basics: could this world really exist according to our current knowledge of reality? If the answer is yes, it probably isn’t speculative. If the answer is no, it probably is speculative. – Annie Neugebauer

One of the traits of speculative fiction that make it so hard to define is its general flexibility of non-realist genres. It groups together diverse forms of fiction that operate across different mediums and platforms for the sole purpose of mirroring and shining light on their cultural roles.

Speculative Fiction Genres:

  • Fantasy
  • Science Fiction
  • Horror
  • Thriller

Subgenres within Speculative Fiction’s Genres:

  • Alien Invasion
  • Alternate History
  • Alternate/Parallel Universe
  • Apocalyptic / Post-apocalyptic
  • AI
  • Colonization
  • Cyberpunk
  • Dying Earth
  • Dystopia
  • First Contact
  • Galactic Empire
  • Generation Ship
  • Comic Fantasy
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Erotic Fantasy
  • Fairytale Fantasy
  • Fantasy of Manners
  • Heroic Fantasy
  • High Fantasy
  • Historical Fantasy
  • Juvenile Fantasy
  • Low Fantasy
  • Magical Realism
  • Hard SF
  • Gothic
  • Mythic Fiction
  • Occult
  • Demons
  • Ghosts
  • Steampunk
  • Space Opera
  • Slipstream
  • Supernatural
  • Virtual Reality
You can find more subgenres in Speculative Fiction with their definitions here (

Themes explored within Speculative Fiction:

  • Gender / Gender roles
  • social conventions
  • Human development
  • Immortality
  • Technology (bio, chem, nano, etc.)
  • Time Travel
  • Philosophy


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What do you love about Speculative Fiction? Any Recommendations?



14 thoughts on “Genre in Depth: Speculative Fiction

  1. I read LOTS of fantasy and now I’m loving sci-fi very much! Fave sci-fi books are Skyward and Illuminae. Fave fantasy books? If I say them all we’ll be here til next year 😂

    Great post, Sam!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does! I have it listed under subgenres within spec fic as Alternate/Parallel Universe. And according to Atwood in the history section, Spec fic does include situations that could possibly exist as she defines her dystopias as such. In the context of Speculative Fiction being solely another way to describe Science Fiction–no.

      So Spec fic as a blanket/umbrella term it does in fact include both situations that can and cannot exist. Since the umbrella covers Scifi and Dystopia among other genres that uses that theme.


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