What Is Speculative Fiction?

Fiction is all about exploring ideas, themes, and worlds beyond that of our own.

While contemporary fiction tends to explore within the confines of our reality, but with characters not a part of our reality, there are many genres of fiction that go far beyond this and create whole universes that exist in complete separation from what we perceive in our day to day.

What Is Speculative Fiction?

This makes fiction one of the most imaginative ways in which humanity can create, and each book that is published in the genre is a testament to that creative ability.

However, sometimes it can be hard to define some aspects of fiction, especially that which is very far removed from our own worlds.

With that in mind, we decided to create an article exploring speculative fiction and what exactly it is in relation to other fiction works(see also: 12 Best Works Of Hispanic Fiction).

What Is Speculative Fiction?

Most people will sort fiction categories into a couple of different genres. These can be titles such as drama, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary, Historical, and many more, and while these categorize fiction works into smaller and more precise categories, they do nothing for the overall view of what defines certain genres.

These require broad, super categories, of which speculative fiction is one. This is a category of fiction that defines fiction works that encompass themes and elements that do not currently exist in reality, nature, recorded history, or at any point in the present universe.

These can be as massive as entire imagined realms like the Arrakis of Dune or Middle Earth with magic or technology far beyond our comprehension, or it could just be something that does not exist in our reality brought into our current world, like Ice-Nine in Cat’s Cradle.

Genres that are defined as speculative fiction include: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Alternative History, Dystopian and Utopian fictions, Superhero fiction, Supernatural fiction, and many more (If you like dystopian themes, check out the Maze Runner series).

What Is Speculative Fiction?

Normally, speculative fiction works are defined as ‘what if’ works, as it imagines scenarios in which something is introduced or changed.

However, this isn’t necessarily the best way to describe these works as it is too narrow, as sometimes the novum or new thing introduced is more describing a parallel in our reality that we speculate on already.

Instead, speculative fiction more encompasses all of the interrogative words: what if, how is, when is, why is, where is, who is and any variation you can think of.

Such a wide-ranging genre means that people can fully expand upon their ideas of the story they are creating.

While this can be difficult, because you have to introduce your own laws to your works – sometimes different from our own realities, sometimes similar – this can also be incredibly freeing and help you to create a unique world totally of your own design.

The History Of Speculative Fiction

As long as humans have imagined, there has been speculative fiction. In a way, we could call a lot of the old plays and stories that came out of Ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome, China, and other civilizations as speculative fiction.

Many of the works of this era talked about legends that were half-truths, with wars and conflicts being overlain by spirits and demigods appearing in the stories.

Although the people of the time may have believed in these beings appearing and affecting world events, the authors did not witness their presence, only speculated as to it being there.

This theme continues for a lot of works and tales handed down through the generations right through until the modern day.

However, there are examples of oblique speculation in fiction beyond suspected truths. Medea by Euripides, an Ancient Greek writer, speculated that Medea, in fact, killed her own children, rather than the invading Corinthians doing it.

Shakespeare also wrote speculative fiction in ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’, when he wrote scenes in which the fairies and fae of the otherworld’s constantly interacted with ours.

What Is Speculative Fiction?

Even writers like Jules Verne, writer of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, wrote vast stories about a submarine pirate in a time when the thought of a submarine would be scoffed at.

While these are all speculative fiction pieces, the term itself did not exist for quite some time.

It was coined by writer Robert A. Heinlein in 1947, even though he may not have been the first to use it, he was the first to bring it wholly into the public eye.

His definition made it synonymous with Science Fiction as a whole and excluded fantasy, but the public and people moved beyond this to make it a more broad term.

While use of the term waxed and waned until the 70s, where it disappeared from public use, it was rediscovered in the 2000s.

Since that time it has been used in abundance and far more frequently. However, there are some writers who place a more specific definition on it – for example, Margaret Atwood states that it is a type of science fiction that ‘could really happen’ (no Martians or things like that).

Why Writers And Readers Love The Term In The Modern Day?

It may seem strange that many people prefer this broad term to others, but there is a good reason. Many people do not like being pigeonholed into a certain category, especially as a writer.

Once people know you for one thing, that’s it, you can’t get away from that and many writers find this frustrating as a lot of the time they don’t write for one specific genre wholly.

Having a broad term like speculative fiction gives them room to maneuver without being worried about being caught in a pigeonhole trap.

It also means that a lot more people would be willing to read their books, as their books would no longer be out of their comfort zone and in a genre they have traditionally disliked.


Speculative fiction is a super genre of fiction that defines fiction that encompasses elements outside the realms of current reality, nature, recorded history, or the present universe in general. It covers so many different genres and types of fiction that it is very difficult to define, and that makes it great.

Sophie Andrea