The term speculative fiction refers to any fiction story that includes elements, settings and characters whose features are created out of human imagination and speculation rather than based on attested reality and everyday life. Notable genres of speculative fiction, including science fiction, fantasy and horror, typically feature fictional beings, such as mythical creatures and supernatural entities, and technologies that do not exist in real life, like time machines and interstellar spaceships.
The popularity of the term is sometimes attributed to Robert Heinlein, who referenced it in 1947 in an editorial essay, although there are prior mentions of speculative fiction, or its variant "speculative literature".
Speculative fiction as a category ranges from ancient works to both cutting edge, paradigm-changing and neotraditional works of the 21st century.〔Barry Baldwin, Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Calgary, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, "Ancient Science Fiction", Shattercolors Literary Review〕〔(【引用サイトリンク】title=逆援助紹介PARADOX! )〕 Speculative fiction can be recognized in works whose authors' intentions or the social contexts of the versions of stories they portrayed is now known, since ancient Greek dramatists such as Euripides (ca. 480–406 BCE) whose play ''Medea'' seems to have offended Athenian audiences when he fictionally speculated that shamaness Medea killed her own children instead of their being killed by other Corinthians after her departure,〔This theory of Euripides' invention has gained wide acceptance. See (e.g.) McDermott 1989, 12; Powell 1990, 35; Sommerstein 2002, 16; Griffiths, 2006 81; Ewans 2007, 55.〕 and whose Hippolytus, narratively introduced by Aphrodite, Goddess of Love in person, is suspected to have displeased his contemporary audiences because he portrayed Phaedra as too lusty.〔See, e.g., Barrett 1964; McDermott 2000.〕
In historiography, what is now called speculative fiction has previously been termed "historical invention", "historical fiction", and similar names. It is extensively noted in literary criticism of the works of William Shakespeare〔Martha Tuck Rozett, "Creating a Context for Shakespeare with Historical Fiction", Shakespeare Quarterly
Vol. 46, No. 2 (Summer, 1995), pp. 220-227〕 as when he co-locates Athenian Duke Theseus and Amazonian Queen Hippolyta, English fairy Puck, and Roman god Cupid across time and space in the Fairyland of its Merovingian Germanic sovereign Oberon in ''A Midsummer Night's Dream.''〔Dorothea Kehler, A midsummer night's dream: critical essays, 2001〕
In mythography the concept of speculative fiction has been termed "mythopoesis" or mythopoeia, "fictional speculation", the creative design and generation of lore, regarding such works as J.R.R. Tolkien's ''The Lord of the Rings''.〔Adcox, John, "Can Fantasy be Myth? Mythopoeia and The Lord of the Rings" in "The Newsletter of the Mythic Imagination Institute, September/October, 2003"〕 Such supernatural, alternate history and sexuality themes continue in works produced within the modern speculative fiction genre.〔Eric Garber, Lyn Paleo Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, 2nd Edition, G K Hall: 1990 ISBN 978-0-8161-1832-8〕
The creation of speculative fiction in its general sense of hypothetical history, explanation, or ahistorical storytelling has also been attributed to authors in ostensibly non-fiction mode since as early as Herodotus of Halicarnassus, (fl. 5th century BCE) in his Histories,〔Herodotus and Myth Conference, Christ Church, Oxford, 2003〕〔John M. Marincola, Introduction and Notes, The Histories by Herodotus, tr. Aubrey De Sélincourt, 2007〕 and was already both practiced and edited out by early encyclopaedic writers like Sima Qian (ca. 145 or 135 BCE–86 BCE), author of Shiji.〔Stephen W. Durrant, The cloudy mirror: tension and conflict in the writings of Sima Qian, 1995〕〔Craig A. Lockard, Societies, Networks, and Transitions: A Global History: To 1500, 2007, p 133〕
This suggests the caveat that while many works now considered to be intentional or unintentional speculative fiction existed before the coining of the genre term, its concept in its broadest sense captures both a conscious and unconscious aspect of human psychology in making sense of the world, reacting to it, and creating imaginary, inventive, and artistic expressions, some of which underlie practical progress through interpersonal influences, social and cultural movements, scientific research and advances, and philosophy of science.〔Heather Urbanski, Plagues, apocalypses and bug-eyed monsters: how speculative fiction shows us our nightmares, 2007, pp 127〕〔Sonu Shamdasani, Cult Fictions: C.G. Jung and the Founding of Analytical Psychology, 1998〕〔Relativity, The Special and the General Theory by Albert Einstein (1920), with an introduction by Niger Calder, 2006〕
In its English language usage in arts and literature since 20th century, "speculative fiction" as a genre term is often attributed to Robert A. Heinlein. In his first known use of the term, in editorial material at the front of the 2/8/1947 issue of ''The Saturday Evening Post'', Heinlein used it specifically as a synonym for "science fiction"; in a later piece, he explicitly stated that his use of the term did not include fantasy.
However, though Heinlein may have come up with the term on his own, there are earlier citations: a piece in ''Lippincott's Monthly Magazine'' in 1889 used the term in reference to Edward Bellamy's ''Looking Backward: 2000–1887'' and other works; and one in the May, 1900 issue of ''The Bookman'' said that John Uri Lloyd's ''Etidorhpa, The End of the Earth'' had "created a great deal of discussion among people interested in speculative fiction". A variation on this term is "speculative literature".
The use of "speculative fiction" in the sense of expressing dissatisfaction with traditional or establishment science fiction was popularized in the 1960s and early 1970s by Judith Merril and other writers and editors, in connection with the New Wave movement. It fell into disuse around the mid-1970s.
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database contains a broad list of different subtypes.
In the 2000s, the term came into wider use as a convenient collective term for a set of genres. However, some writers, such as Margaret Atwood, continue to maintain a distinction between "speculative fiction" as a "no Martians" type of science fiction, "about things that really could happen."
Academic journals which publish essays on speculative fiction include ''Extrapolation'', and ''Foundation''.
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