Entry updated 15 September 2017. Tagged: Theme.
Item of Terminology used by some writers and critics in place of "science fiction". Its first known use is by the reviewer M F Egan in "Book-Talk" (October 1899 Lippincott's Monthly Magazine), which describes Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888) as "speculative fiction". In the symposium published as Of Worlds Beyond: The Science of Science Fiction Writing (anth 1947) edited by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, Robert A Heinlein proposed the term to describe a subset of sf involving extrapolation from known science and Technology "to produce a new situation, a new framework for human action". Michael Moorcock, considering ways forward for sf in his fanzine article "Blast Off 1960" (August 1960 Bastion #1 ed Eric Bentcliffe), drew a distinction between adventure fiction in the mode of E C Tubb and "speculative fiction" in the mode of Brian W Aldiss.
Judith Merril borrowed the term in 1966, spelling out her version of "speculative fiction" in rather more detail (see Definitions of SF) in such a way as to de-emphasize the science component of sf (which acronym can equally stand for "speculative fiction") while keeping the idea of extrapolation – in other words, Merril's use of the term was useful for that kind of sociological sf which concentrates on social change without necessarily any great emphasis on science or Technology. Since then the term has generally appealed to writers and readers who are as interested in Soft SF as in Hard SF. Though this designation has proved attractive to many, especially perhaps academics who find it more respectable-sounding than "science fiction" and perhaps lacking the Pulp-magazine associations, nobody's definition of "speculative fiction" has as yet demonstrated any formal rigour, though the term has come to be used with a very wide application (as by Samuel R Delany in his Original-Anthology series QUARK/), as if science fiction were a subset of speculative fiction rather than vice versa. Because "speculative fiction", as now most often used, does not clearly define any generic boundary, it has come to include not only soft and hard sf but also Fantasy as a whole. Many critics do not find it a consistently helpful term but, as Gary K Wolfe points out in Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy (1986), critics tend to worry more about the demarcation of genres than writers do, and, as a propaganda weapon, the term has been useful precisely because it allows the blurring of boundaries, which in turn permits a greater auctorial freedom from genre constraints and "rules". [PN/DRL]
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