Speculative fiction is defined as a genre which encompasses many subgenres of fiction, where the authors included unrealistic or magical elements in the fictions. Speculative fiction is any fiction in which the “laws” of that world (explicit or implied) are different than ours (Neugebauer, 2014). Neugebauer also stated that the term ‘world-building’ usually goes hand in hand with speculative fiction.
The clear subgenre example of speculative fiction is fantasy where everything is speculated by the author including the plot and setting.
Few subgenres of speculative fiction :
- Fantasy: A genre that uses unrealistic elements or magics as a main element for the fiction. It is a genre where magic and supernaturals are common.
- Apocalypse: A fiction that takes place before and during a disaster which affects a half or a number of the world’s population. In this fiction, the author speculated about how the world ends or how it might end.
- Science Fiction: A fiction which deals with futuristic concepts with advanced science and technology. But If the book was written in the 19th century, and the futuristic concept has come into existence today, then the work would not be considered speculative.
- Alternate history: According to Collins English Dictionary, it is ‘a genre of fiction in which the author speculates on how the course of history might have been altered if a particular historical event had had a different outcome.’ There is also a ‘historical fantasy’ where the author includes supernatural elements to the fiction such as a scene where elves fighting each other.
Robert A. Heinlein
The term was coined by Robert Heinlein (an American Sci-Fi author) in 1947. In the late 20th century, science fiction was a widely-read genre that contains speculative elements. So the term ‘speculative fiction’ was widely associated with it. However in the 21st century, the term expended and encompasses more subgenres rather than only science fiction.
Describes speculative fiction as literature that deals with possibilities in a society which have not yet happened but could.
Now for instance, Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s tale is set in the future where both men and women live under strict rules under a political crisis. Margaret argues that her book isn’t science fiction but is speculative fiction in fact. That’s because she says that speculative fictions are books set on earth, which so happens to be the case for this one. It is fiction because some of the things mentioned haven’t happened but it is also speculative because they are things that can happen, which are latent in today’s time. For example, The United States of America is no longer known as that but is called “Gilead” instead. This isn’t something that is real but nothing is impossible, the name changing could be a possibility.
It lies in the realm of the possible. Another example that can fit into this could be Mother Ocean. It’s a short-story that falls under Margaret Atwood’s description of speculative fiction.
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
A novella published in 2005 in Japan under the original Japanese title, “Fushigi na toshokan” and was later translated into English by Ted Goossen in 2014 with special illustrations by Chip Kidd.
Haruki Murakami is a well-known Japanese author and translator born in 1949 and owned a jazz bar with his wife before he had an ‘epiphany’ to start writing a novel. (Haruki Murakami, n.d.).
Murakami is an internationally acclaimed writer with many prestigious awards including almost receiving the Nobel Literature Prize in 2018 before he withdrew his name and was named one of the greatest living novelists by The Guardian (Flood, 2018). Murakami had also landed a spot on TIME 100’s most influential people list in 2015 and received an honorary degree award from Princeton University in 2008 (Dienst, 2008).
A story from the perspective of a boy who went to his town’s public library to borrow books about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire and was led to a secret room in the library where he met an old, creepy and crippling librarian called The Old Man, who imprisoned him in a strange basement of the library and forced him to memorize three books on the Ottoman Empire for a month. During his imprisonment, he met a man wearing sheepskin, called Sheep Man, who informed him of The Old Man’s true intentions, to eat the boy’s brain after he stocked up knowledge. There, he also met a strange girl who is unable to talk and possess an ability to slip through door cracks. Together with the Sheep Man and the strange girl, the narrator planned his escape from the strange library to return home to his waiting mother.
Why is it Speculative Fiction
It has magical realism and horror elements in which a library may exist in the normal world but the library in Murakami’s story is not normal because it is guarded by an old man who eats people’s brains and a huge maze-like basement with jail cells where the narrator was locked in. “It was too weird-how could our city library have such an enormous labyrinth in its basement?” (The Strange Library, p. 12). “Because brains packed with knowledge are yummy, that’s why. They’re nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time.” (The Strange Library, p. 25)
A half-invisible girl who claims she’s from an alternate dimension and can speak from her hands. “The sheep man has his world. I have mine. And you have yours, too.” (The Strange Library, p. 37). “The girl turned and spoke to me with her hands: ” (The Strange Library, p. 31).
Events that can only occur in a fantasy such as the narrator being able to read Turkish despite not knowing the language. “The book was written in classical Turkish; yet, strangely, I found it easy to understand.” (The Strange Library, p. 33). Furthermore, the narrator’s pet starling was possessed by the strange girl’s spirit who helped them escape the library. “ said the starling. It was the voice of the girl.” (The Strange Library, p. 65).
Why is it popular? Speculative-fiction has become popular for many reasons. For instance, for the authors, their imaginations are limitless and they can get to explore many things that are improbable in our world to their contentment without it being wrong.
Readers enjoy reading it because they can get to explore new things that they don’t see everyday. It could be like a sense of escapism from reality because it goes beyond their everyday lives and takes the reader to a world of science, magic and fantasy which can be thrilling and exciting.
- Dienst, K, (2008). ‘Princeton awards five honorary degrees’. Princeton University, 3 June, accessed December 2019 from https://www.princeton.edu/news/2008/06/03/princeton-awards-five-honorary-degrees?section=topstories
- Flood, A, (2018). “Haruki Murakami withdraws from alternative Nobel prize”. The Guardian, 17 September, accessed December 2019 from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/17/haruki-murakami-withdraws-from-alternative-nobel-prize
- Haruki Murakami, (n.d). Retrieved from: http://www.harukimurakami.com/author
- MasterClass (2019, July 2). What Is Speculative Fiction? Defining and Understanding the Different Genres of Speculative Fiction. Retrieved from: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-speculative-fiction-defining-and-understanding-the-different-genres-of-speculative-fiction#quiz-0
- Murakami, H. (2014). The Strange Library. Random House.
- Neugebauer, A. (2014, March 24). What is Speculative Fiction? Retrieved from https://annieneugebauer.com/2014/03/24/what-is-speculative-fiction/
- Playle, S. (2016, June 16). What is Speculative Fiction? Retrieved from https://www.liminalpages.com/what-is-speculative-fiction
- Shveta Thakrar, (nd). Retrieved from https://www.shvetathakrar.com/
- Shveta Thakrar, (2016). The Hanging Garden “Hungry by shveta Thakrar” Retrieved from: https://hanginggardenstories.tumblr.com/post/147750455420/hungry-by-shveta-thakrar-for-karuna-riazi-an