For those of you already familiar with the term "speculative
fiction," you should know this post won't be breaking any new ground.
Rather I'm going to define "spec fic" for anyone who doesn't know
what it means. I think of "speculative fiction" as part of our
society's vocabulary now, but frequent conversations remind me that isn't the
case. So for anyone befuddled whenever they hear this term or - gasp! -
thinking as they read this post, "I've never heard that term before,"
here's a definition:
Speculative Fiction: an umbrella term for the more fantastical fiction genres. This, of course, includes both science fiction and fantasy, but speculative fiction also encompasses everything that slips through the cracks.
Consider The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. The story's told through a dog's perspective. Not fantasy. Not science fiction. However, Stein does explore past human experience and tiptoe away from reality with his anthropomorphized dog. Thus, speculative fiction. The term also works well for The City & the City by China Mieville. There's no doubt that's an unusually constructed world, but Mieville leaves the exact workings open to reader interpretation and I came up with many possible theories, some which might put the book in fantasy and others in science fiction. Therefore, speculative fiction might be a better word, because it implies the fantastical without specifying magic or technology roots. Along these lines, Justine Larbalestier's book Liar might be fantasy, but also remains open to interpretation. The protagonist's a self-declared compulsive liar, so the fantasy twist could be nothing more than another lie. Calling the book fantasy might be misleading to anyone who doesn't buy her fantastical claim, but speculative fiction addresses the possibility of a supernatural element.
It's also nice for everyone who lumps science fiction and fantasy together in
conversations. Those two genres are very, very different, opposite ends of a
spectrum really, but if you're making a point about SF&F as a whole,
consider inserting "speculative fiction!"
Feel free to add onto my definition! Or list other examples of books that are neither science fiction nor fantasy, but could be considered speculative fiction.