It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

I write science fiction, me

10 Comments

I don’t write speculative fiction, I don’t write fantastic fiction. I write science fiction. Occasionally, I write fantasy. I use the so-called “marketing categories” because I expect my readers to understand what I am trying to do in my short stories, and readers that will understand are more likely to read fiction labelled as “science fiction” (or “fantasy”). They have an expectation of a certain mode of fiction when they see the label; and I have an expectation that my readers will appreciate what I am trying to achieve.

Which is not to say that science fiction is opaque to non-genre readers; nor should it be. But my primary audience is pretty much those readers who like the same sort of stuff I do. And I like science fiction. I like science fiction with rigour, deep characterisation and good prose – and just because common wisdom has it the genre is incapable of those, that does not mean it needs to be relabelled with some new and entirely arbitrary term. Because all fiction, of whatever mode or genre, is essentially “speculative”. It’s only in the nature of the speculation that differences obtain. “What if?” can be asked in many diverse ways; and there are probably more answers to each variant than there are indeed variants.

The label “science fiction” is just as much a part of the compact between writer and reader as the author’s name, the blurb, even the cover-art. Science fiction as a label may have received more than its fair share of abuse in the decades since 1926, but it remains a fairly well-understood term. To replace it with something even more nebulous, something which seems to want to disinherit the genre’s history, is neither helpful nor useful.

I want to see an end to science fiction’s bad press. This will not happen by side-stepping the criticism through renaming the genre. It will happen when it is commonly acknowledged that science fiction, like all modes of fiction, encompasses both populist escapist tales and complex literary stories. Perhaps then I will not need to label my stories as science fiction. Perhaps then labels will be irrelevant. Nor do I need literary authors slumming in the genre to improve it – whether they acknowledge that they are writing sf or not. I need only write the best science fiction I can write.

And that is exactly what I do.

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10 thoughts on “I write science fiction, me

  1. I’m aware that Speculative Fiction was coined to be used instead of Science Fiction. But Today most use it as an umbrella term for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror -instead of SFF.

    There’s a discussion about this in the comments thread here: http://floor-to-ceiling-books.blogspot.com/2011/02/spec-fic-reading-challenge-february.html

    So I would say you write Speculative Fiction; sub-genre: Science Fiction.
    But as for everything else you’ve written I agree with it.

    • Some people use “speculative fiction” as a catch-all for sf, fantasy and horror; but not everybody. Many still use it as per its original meaning. Which sort of renders the whole thing pointless. “Speculative ficiotn… which means science fiction, fantasy and horror, except when it means just science fiction.”

      • I my experience many Science Fiction fans use it, or rather hate it and don’t use it, in its original meaning. Most others seem to use it to mean Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

        I usually use SFF myself, partly because I just don’t like the term “speculative” in itself. It may be because I’m Norwegian, but to me that word has a negative meaning. (The Norwegian “spekulativ” is generally a negative word, although it basically means the same as the English “speculative.)

      • I must admit that this is my understanding of the term “speculative fiction” as well; an umbrella term for these three genres.

      • Hardly anyone use it in its original meaning and it is virtually universally used to mean all fantastic fiction, inlcuding both science fiction and fantasy.

  2. Right on. Let’s call and SF an SF and relight a fire under what it means to be science fiction writers and readers. So many people in the US say they were inspired to go into sciences from the 50’s to the 70’s because of Asimov, Clarke, Star Trek and other SF. Why should the genre be reinvented when that sparked a generation to such excitement?

    • It would not be bending the truth all that much to say the US went to the Moon on the back of sf. And now look at the space industry… Enough said.

      (Not that I advocate returning to the pretty dreadful prose of past so-called grand masters of sf…)

      • Agreed that SF didn’t send people to the moon, but it inspired many to get involved in sciences. As the the prose, it was of a time and has its place.

  3. I agree. It’s glad to see someone defending the label.

    Labels like “science fiction” are often misused
    and abused (it doesn’t help that most of the planet is incapable of coping with nuance), but they do have their uses, as you explain quite well here.

  4. To me Spec Fiction means: science fiction, fantasy, horror and even graphic novels and I am loathe to admit it, even dark romance/paranormal romance.

    That is where all these things are shelved in bookshops.

    But honestly, I prefer the good old sci-fi/fantasy classification ‘cos you know where you’re at with them.

    Reinventing the name…pah. Too much time on someone’s hands, imo.

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