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Speculative Fiction
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Alternate history

Fantasy Fiction

Horror Fiction

Science Fiction


Speculative fiction is a fiction genre speculating about worlds that are unlike the real world in various important ways. In these contexts, it generally overlaps one or more of the following: science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history.

The term is used this way in academic and ideological criticism of these genres, as well as by some readers, writers, and editors of these genres.



The 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. Heinlein may have come up with the term himself, but 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." "Speculative fiction" is sometimes abbreviated "spec-fic," "specfic," "S-F," "SF," or "sf." The last three abbreviations are also used to refer to "science fiction," so they can lead to confusion.

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 has come into wider use as a convenient collective term for a set of genres. Academic journals which publish essays on speculative fiction include Extrapolation, and Foundation.

The term has been used to express dissatisfaction with what some people consider the limitations of science fiction per se. For example, in Harlan Ellison's writing, the term may signal a wish not to be pigeonholed as a science fiction writer, and a desire to break out of science fiction's genre conventions in a literary and modernist direction; or to escape the prejudice with which science fiction is often met by mainstream critics[1][2]. Some readers and writers of science fiction see the term as insulting towards science fiction, and therefore as having negative connotations.


  1. ^ Watts, Peter. "Margaret Atwood and the Hierarchy of Contempt." On Spec 15(2) (Summer 2003); pp. 3-5.
  2. ^ Davies, Philip. "Review [untitled; reviewed work(s): Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching by Patrick Parrinder; Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers by Martin Greenberg; Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction by H. Bruce Franklin; Bridges to Science Fiction by George E. Slusser, George R. Guffey, Mark Rose]. Journal of American Studies Vol. 16, No. 1 (Apr., 1982). pp. 157-159.

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