Saturday, March 05, 2016

Science-Fiction vs. Speculative Fiction

People argue about the distinction between science-fiction and speculative fiction. For me, science-fiction is situated within a scientific or technological culture; story-settings embedded within a context which makes sense to anyone with the appropriate background. A technical setting may be complex, unusual or even baroque ... but it will possess a logical coherence which informs or drives the narrative.

Speculative fiction, I suggest, is written by humanities people  - who have not had a scientific or technical formation, who have not been immersed within that culture.

When they need unusual ideas for their setting or plot device, they seem to find candidates in the increasingly strange worlds of modern science, technology and engineering. But in the hands of the speculative fiction writer, these borrowed concepts are merely bangles plucked from a mighty Christmas tree. You can tell that they've just taken stuff from popularisations; ideas as mood music: shallow, disposable and frequently misunderstood - not at all integral to the texture of their story.

Claire North, you know who you are!


I suppose I should, for younger readers, make an obligatory reference here to C. P. Snow's famous "Two Cultures".

I'll also mention - again! - the dwarves-elves distinction due to SF writer Stanislaw Lem.

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