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.