A day after my post on Speculative Fiction vs. Science Fiction, Catherynne M. Valente wrote a post on the same topic and she has a lot of good and interesting things to say about this. One thing I really didn’t talk about in my post is what I see as a taxonomy problem. Personally, I think genre is useful because it helps me to find what I am looking for when I go into a bookstore (brick and mortar or virtual). We can debate what we mean by “science fiction” or “fantasy” or “paranormal romance” but the fact it that they fill descriptive buckets that helps guide the consumer to what they want.
Genre, therefore, defines the major class the work falls into. Individual pieces can have elements that cross genres.
To say a piece is speculative is equivalent, in my mind, to saying a piece is humorous. That is, they are both aspects of the individual piece of fiction and not an attribute of the genre as a whole. You can have a funny fantasy story. You can have a literary science fiction story (see just about anything by Barry N. Malzberg). You can have a speculative paranormal romance. Sure you can. The key, for me, is that the terms “speculative”, “literary”, “funny” are attributes of a work within a genre, not the genre itself. In a similar vain, YA is not a genre as much as an attribute of an individual work. You can have YA science fiction or YA horror or YA romance. Heck you can have a humorous, literary YA paranormal romance if you wanted to try.
I still think “speculative” was chosen to take the imagined stink off science fiction–and as Cat Valente points out in her post, it maintains the same initials: s.f. But I think it was an even poorer choice when you look at the taxonomical implications I’ve just discussed.
And what of “literary” fiction. There’s no such thing, I don’t think. There is a “literary” aspect to a work of fiction, just like there can be humor or speculation. But “literary” is an adjective that describes something that pertains to the nature of books and writing, especially literature. And what is literature, but “writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.” I prefer “mainstream” fiction because it is the fiction of the masses, as opposed to the more narrowcasted genres like science fiction, romance, fantasy, horror, mystery, etc.
Let’s be honest with ourselves and with our readers, let’s call things what they are. Science fiction has a noble and important history in American letters, and more recently, around the world. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We should be proud of our body of work, it reflects well on us. In the general sense, we are Writers, but in that more special sense, we are Science Fiction writers; of Fantasy writers; or authors of Paranormal Romance.
Flaunt it, love it, shout it from the hilltops so that everyone can hear.