Thoughts on Speculative Fiction

Lovecraft in the Agony of ContemplationIllustration by MirrorCradle

Lovecraft in the Agony of Contemplation
Illustration by MirrorCradle

As I was driving about town today, I started reflecting on the difference between mainstream, so-to-speak literary fiction and speculative fiction (usually defined as consisting of the science-fiction, fantasy, and horror genres).  I recall reading somewhere, years ago, in the submissions guidelines for a mainstream fiction magazine, that mainstream fiction consisted of whatever did not fit into a genre.  Then, I considered that accurate and reasonable;  now I consider it somewhat snobbish.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more short-sighted and narrow-minded that statement becomes.

Speculative fiction, including the horror genre, deals with fantastic, often surreal, situations.  Mainstream fiction, if you go by the definition above, deals with anything not fantastic, not surreal, i.e. the real, events that could happen in the real world.  It would seem to me that the truly gifted writer would be the one with the greater imagination, the one who can conjure entire civilizations and fantastic creatures out of his mind alone.  My favorite authors for many years have been, and continue to be, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, based on their styles and how their stories can touch me.  However, if had to state who had the greatest imagination out of the history of writers, Tolkien would be at the top, simply because he was able to create an entire world out of his imagination (granted most of the ideas were based in Nordic mythology) and make it and his characters believeable.  Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos would be a close second.

Reading the guidelines of horror publications, I find that many of them do not want werewolf/vampire/zombie (w/v/z)stories.  They want something different, original.   That is a difficult challenge.   I could dream up w/v/z stories all day long, but creating something out of thin air, like Stephen King or Clive Barker does,  and to do it consistenly, is truly admirable. I have written one or two stories along the w/v/z line, but now I am taking up the challenge of writing something truly imaginative.    I have no good ideas just yet, but I am examining how horror authors of the past came up with ideas and what were their inspirations.

So now here is a question of the night:  if you are trying to write material outside the w/v/z tradition, how are you coming up with ideas?  Have you put any new slant on horror?  Do your inspirations come from dreams or from looking at real-world object and then allowing yourself to explore the possibities if something about that scene was just a little bit different?

Thoughts?  Comments?




2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Speculative Fiction

  1. Thanks for this. As a writer who enjoys trying to be imaginative (though not entire world-conjuring, just dreams and non-vampire supernatural) it gets tiresome to be told all the time that my writing is a problem because it’s too fantastic to fit in a marketable genre. In my humble opinion, its imaginative qualities are its strongest appeal and set it apart from ordinary everyday fiction. I also get tired of fantasy being only high fantasy, which is another way of saying Tolkien fan fiction, and of sci-fi being all space wars (we can’t come up with any other fiction based on futuristic science?). World builders and paradigm shifters of any variety are badly needed these days, IMHO.


    • Excellent points, especially what you say about world builders and paradigm shifters being badly needed. I think that in the long run, say over the next few decades, the world will take a much different view about science fiction as we expand into space. Already we are passing milestones I never seriously expected to see when I was younger (rovers on Mars, serious talk of the first humans on Mars, space telescopes seeing galaxies billions of light-years away, and so on). Experience has shown us that what can be dreamed in science fiction can become reality. Star Trek provides some examples in the way of tricorders reminiscent of today’s cell phones and computers that recognize voice commands. I have even read articles about current experiments in teleportation. As humanity expands into space, there will be no rational way for us to anticipate what we find there based on past experience and therefore the only way to plan for contingencies will be to use our imaginations–imaginations that will find their first voice in the unrestrained literary world of science fiction. IMHO, just because your fiction may not be marketable now, does not mean it will not be appreciated in the future. Lovecraft’s works were not appreciated until some years after his death. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. You may just be ahead of the game and it may take the world some time to recognize this.


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