What Is Speculative Fiction?

I read a lot as a kid. I don’t remember what I read in primary school. Still, I do remember bringing the Weekly Reader home every week with at least ten books that I wanted already filled out in the order form. Inevitably, my mom would say “no” to most of them, and I’d have to settle on one or maybe two depending on how far $1 went.

As I advanced into elementary school and junior high, the library was one of my favorite places to browse for a new place to escape. I thought I was in heaven when I saw the high school library. The selection available made my eyes bug out—and it wasn’t even that big of a library. It was here that I found some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels.
I had already read some of Robert A. Heinlein’s juvenile science fiction series, but my high school library also had Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

As I was browsing the stacks for a new escape, I read the blurb on the back of one book that grabbed me hard. The exact wording escapes me, but one of the questions it posed was, “What if Columbus had never reached the Americas? What if his crew mutinied against him and sailed back to Spain before they sighted land?” That was the first book I read that was not marketed as “science fiction” or “fantasy,” but rather as “speculative fiction.”

The book to which I refer is The Gate of Worlds by Robert Silverberg. The story is set in an alternative Europe that never fully recovered from the Black Plague. The narrator is a young man from England looking for fame and fortune in the Aztec Empire of the Americas. After reading that book, I not only read more Silverberg and looked for more novels that asked the “What if” question. To some, all fiction is “speculative fiction” (or “spec-fic”), and depending on how broadly you define “speculation,” this could be true. As a genre, though, spec-fic covers the science fiction and fantasy realm in addition to categories like horror, utopian/dystopian, and historical fiction, among others.

My latest work looks at a “What if” question: What if someone found a “rift” or gateway that allowed passage from one parallel reality to another? That is a question that every writer can throw at their protagonist: “What if?”

Here’s a brief list of some spec-fic that I’ve read over the years. The Lord of the Rings https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lord_of_the_Rings Dune https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dune(franchise)
The Handmaid’s Tale https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Handmaid%27s_Tale
The Man in the High Castle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_in_the_High_Castle
On the Beach https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Beach_(novel)
The Stand https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stand

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