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What Is "Speculative Fiction"?

Updated on August 13, 2008

The Fantastic "What if?" Genre

Speculative Fiction, or "SpecFic", is hard to define. It's "What If?" - the fantastic in a fictional setting. Sound vague? Read on.

"Speculative literature is a catch-all term meant to inclusively span the breadth of fantastic literature, encompassing literature ranging from hard science fiction to epic fantasy to ghost stories to horror to folk and fairy tales to slipstream to magical realism to modern myth-making -- and more."

Speculative Literature Foundation

What Literary Genres & Subgenres Are Considered Speculative Fiction? - © J. Golden

This list may be used with permission and attribution (© JaNell Golden). Please link back to this lens, my lensmaster page, or

Additions may be made as long as it's clear what's mine and what's yours.

  • Alternate History

    Alternate History poses questions about different outcomes to historic events, and how that would alter our known world.

  • Apocalypse/Holocaust

    Apocalypse/Holocaust is set in a reality where The World As We Know It ends or has ended.

  • Coming of Age (as a species)

    Coming of Age stories redefine what it means to be human when we make an evolutionary leap as a species.

  • Contemporary Fantasy

    Contemporary Fantasy has a realistic modern world setting with elements of supernatural forces such as magic or mythological deities occurring through access to another world, realm, or plane.

  • Cyberpunk

    Cyberpunk is actually one of the more likely SF genres, with virtual reality & technology inundating every level of society, most of which still have a low quality of life.

  • Dystopian

    Dystopian literature is set in dysfunctional utopias.

  • Fairy Tales

    Fairy Tales tell a lesson story via human-like beings (fairies, elves), animals with human traits (goblins, trolls), and enchantments and charms, set in a rustic setting.

  • Fantasy

    Fantasy is set in medieval or low technology environments with strong dependence on magic and other supernatural elements.

  • First Contact

    First Contact stories are about how we react as a species when confronted with other intelligent life for the first time.

  • Horror/Dark Fantasy

    Horror/Dark Fantasy develops from supernatural evil or human evil/mental disorder encroaching on ordinary people's lives.

  • Magical Realism

    Magical Realism is set in a realistic modern world with the addition of magical elements.

  • Science Fiction

    Science Fiction explores potential (far) future developments in technology, space exploration, and human evolution.

  • Slipstream

    Slipstream is set in our world ~ almost. There are slight, uneasy making distortions in our reality or else the protagonist has fallen out of the consensual reality but is not insane in any way.

  • Steampunk

    Steampunk gives the Victorian era modern technology.

SpecFic Guestbook

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    • colgrym profile image


      6 years ago

      Hope you don't mind JaZilla, I've included a link on my first lens, "Top 5 Books on Writing Horror" to your excellent lens for anyone interested in seeing the connections.

    • colgrym profile image


      6 years ago

      What a great lens and so informative. Especially like your list of genres and sub-genres. Thank you

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Whoops! The name of the new website that concentrates on genre dropped out. It's

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The new website concentrates on genres. It lists several subgenres under science fiction. One of them is dystopian/utopian. Shouldn't it add ecotopian?

    • ggalea profile image

      Gilberto Galea 

      7 years ago from Willemstad

      Nice lens!, and good info.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Where in the above list of genres and subgenres would you put Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake? I'd say they fit equally well in Apocalypse/Holocaust and Dystopian. But what about books that, like Dystopian literature, take place in realistic future worlds (not space opera) with natural (not supernatural) characters, only the world is ecotopian? Maybe there's a subgenre that includes both dystopian and ecotopian worlds. Let's call it This-Earth, Real-People Future Fiction.

    • Brookelorren LM profile image

      Brookelorren LM 

      8 years ago

      I didn't know that there were so many types of speculative fiction.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Love it-trying to get my SF discussion group to get on board with it-I think it's a great way to attract new readers, by showing the breadth of SF & I've asked them to help with titles that "fit" those sub-headings if that's okay-I want to bring in new readers and show them some "homes" they'd like.


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