I Don’t Read SCIFI. I Read Speculative Literature.
(Or How to Recruit Others Into the Club.)
If you have ever experienced the disdainful, vaguely bored glance that follows when you mention you favorite science fiction or fantasy story, I have the ultimate recruiting pitch. No doubt, if you are reading this you are already a fan. Star Trek is a popular outlet for many fans of this mode of storytelling, but it is only a start. Any true fan knows that science fiction and fantasy contain all types of stories, whether it is the traditional stories of Middle Earth, or the tales of Bradbury’s Mars, or even the more obscure selections of Kelly Link. The genres (I use the plural, because we all know they are two SEPARATE genres that happen to be bunched together as a stupid marketing ploy which doesn’t really make sense when you think about it, but oh well that’s the way it was made…) have something for everyone. And yet, you still get the LOOK. Usually, it happens during a conversation like this:
“So, what kind of books do you like to read?”
“Oh, I like science fiction/fantasy/horror.”
Pause. (Insert LOOK.) “Oh, I never got into that stuff. I like more serious literature.”
Ouch! That was you personality they just slammed! What do you do?
Well, don’t call it science fiction/fantasy/horror. Call it speculative literature. It’s a fancy title for the same thing. I learned that (along with many others) from reading Margaret Atwood. When people called her book The Handmaiden’s Tale science fiction, she turned it around and called it “speculative literature.” It sounds classy and sophisticated. Best of all most people don’t really know what it means.
There are some who are now raising their fist at the computer screen and saying, “There is nothing wrong with calling my favorite stuff scifi! I like it just the way it is and if I met someone who doesn’t understand, then too bad. No one is going to change me.”
I guess I agree to a point. The term is ingrained into our vocabulary and I’m not suggesting we get rid of it completely. But if we don’t offer the olive branch, or at least an alternative that provokes interest (because it doesn’t have a gut reaction when heard), how will there ever be any tolerance? We can’t get rid of the LOOK until those who give it understand that scifi is not fluff.
I like the term speculative literature mainly because it covers a wide variety of styles of writing. So many people are writing in different aspects of scifi that we need a better term. There are tons of others like “new wave fabulist”, “new weird”, and my personal favorite “slipstream”. And while they all take up their own space, “speculative literature” seems to be the most inclusive. It’s any story where there is some sort of speculation involved, whether that is picturing a future (good or bad) of mankind, an alternate reality, or next door neighbors that happen to be vampires. It also includes a lot of stories that are not typical, like The Handmaid’s Tale, or 1984. It’s hard for someone to give the LOOK to Frankenstein.
And once people start to understand that, they’ve been recruited onto your side.
Maybe they will never read Robert J. Sawyer, rush out to see the next movie about Kirk and Spock, or know the storyline of the next graphic novel series, but there will be a little more respect. They’ll understand that there is a history, a tradition, that has been going on for a while. These genres are not just about slapping a sword and an elf together in a forest, or what Earthlings will be like in five hundred years.
It’s about the same things that drive all other stories. Our hopes and our fears create this stuff. They mold and shape stories that incorporates the fantastic or science into something so far ranging that it takes us out of reality. But it is sophisticated enough to leave clues as to how we can see ourselves.
I, for one, think more people should realize this and I’m a recruiting fool.
That’s why I read (and write) speculative literature.
**Originally written for and published by roddenberry.com in August 2007.**