Arts and Entertainment

What on Earth is speculative fiction?

Eagle Harbor Bookstore manager, and leader of the Speculative Fiction Writers
Eagle Harbor Bookstore manager, and leader of the Speculative Fiction Writers' Cooperative, Paul Hanson.
— image credit: courtesy photo

Actually, many stories in speculative fiction aren’t of this Earth as we know it.

Elements are and must be based in reality for writers to capture the reader and create a relatable story but the core of a speculative fiction story is in the envisioned “what if?”

The question of just how much truth and reality is necessary will be the upcoming conversation point of the next Field’s End writers’ workshop — 7 p.m., Feb. 19 at the Bainbridge public library, 1270 Madison Ave.

Paul Hanson, manager of Eagle Harbor bookstore, president of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association and a bit of a speculative fiction author himself, will mediate the discussion along with Vicki Saunders, local author and publicity chair of the Battle Point Astronomers.

“What defines (speculative fiction) is its twist on reality,” Hanson said. “But it’s got a responsibility to be true and ring true or else risk alienating humanity and the reader.”

The term “speculative fiction” is an umbrella term on which authors and intellectuals have longtime disagreed. It essentially eliminates the need for separation between science fiction, fantasy and horror genres and the tangle of sub-genres that coincide. According to the speculative fiction school of thought, all of these genres which carry a fantastical or fiction-based-on-reality element are all different forms of the same thing.

Hanson came across a personalization of that thinking within Eagle Harbor’s Speculative Fiction Writing Cooperative, formerly known as the Science Fiction Writers’ Group.

“The term ‘science fiction’ came with it’s own baggage,” Hanson said, noting the typical alien invaders, Starship Enterprise stereotype. “We found that it didn’t fit for us, as far as identifying ourselves and defining our writing styles.”

Writing styles in the group ranged from typical sci-fi stuff to fantasy journeys to post-apocolyptic tales and other types of horror. The commonality between them were the fantastic, fictional and hypothetic elements.

In speculative fiction, the action of a story can take place in a culture that never, or hasn’t yet existed, another world which we know nothing of, or a world on Earth which might have been or might be — any setting that is contrary to known reality. But the story must in some way be tethered to the world we know.

For example, Robert O’Brien’s book “Z for Zachariah” which takes place in an imagined future, written in diary form by a girl who has survived a nuclear holocaust and finds herself seemingly the last person on Earth.

The reader can empathize with the fantastical predicament of “what if you were the last person on Earth?” because they know what it is like to be one of 6 billion.

On the other end of the future/past spectrum, the novel “The Guns of the South,” written by Harry Turtledove, a famed alternate history author, is set in the past “reality” of the American Civil War. A group of time-traveling white supremacists from the year 2014 travel back in time to alter the course of the war and further their own futuristic causes by giving the South’s army AK-47s. Once again the true history of the Civil War is what sets the stage for the imaginative “what if?”

The Feb. 19 Field’s End Writer’s Roundtable discussion is open to writers of all ages and experience levels. For more info on the Bainbridge Island writing community, visit www.fieldsend.org.

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