Is Your Story Science Fiction, Fantasy or Speculative Fiction?

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As I’m working on my science fiction novel, I’m seeking out more science fiction to read. In the past, I’ve read more fantasy than science fiction. Still I would sometimes come across the term speculative fiction. Which is which and how do you tell which you are writing?

Science Fiction

For the most part, science fiction is based on . . . science. There are technologies based on what we see today but re-imagined to include new discoveries and breakthroughs. Think the tranporter beams and communicators of Star Trek.

Many people describe science fiction as possible and based on the laws of the universe. Sounds a bit smug, yes?


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If science fiction is based on the possible, than fantasy must be based on the impossible or at least the improbable. It is about magic and fairies and pretend. (Imagine a science fiction enthusiast shuddering at the thought.)

Whether you think it is equal to or less impressive than science fiction, it involves magic. I remember reading Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books thinking I was in a fantasy world only to discover that the dragons were a result of genetic engineering. Oh, the horror! If the books had been fantasy, there would have been no genetic engineering involved.

Speculative Fiction

Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees on how to define speculative fiction. I most often define speculative fiction as any story set in something other than the real world.

Some people use the term to describe where science fiction and fantasy overlap. A story that has both science and magic? Speculative fiction.

Other people see speculative fiction as a term that encompasses science fiction and fantasy entirely.

What about Your Story?

So what does this mean for your story? Can you check the science box but not the magic box? Then you’re writing science fiction. You might also be writing speculative fiction but science fiction is a safe term.

Can you check the magic box but not the science box? Then you’re writing fantasy. Again, you might be writing speculative fiction but fantasy is a safe term.

Can you check both science and fantasy? That’s speculative fiction.

I have to admit that I’m happy my book is straight up science fiction. For now. My characters may still have some surprises in store for me.