What Is Speculative Fiction?

Speculative fiction invites readers to imagine possibilities that challenge and expand their understanding of the world. 

Some define speculative fiction with a negative—any fiction not based in the so-called “real world”—but that relies heavily on a consensus reality that may not be universally agreed upon. At Clarion West, we’re not here to gatekeep. Secondary world fantasy? Love it. Hard science fiction? Bring on the AI overlords. Portals, time travel, supernatural beings, assorted weird stuff? Yes, yes, forever yes. Horrors both eldritch and mundane? You’re giving us chills. Stories so ambiguous that they need their own shelf? Those are some of our favorites.

We could list sub-genres until the mutant cows came home, but such a list would necessarily leave something out. There are as many definitions for speculative fiction as there are authors working under its broad umbrella.

Here’s what a few of our board members have to say about it:

“Speculative fiction creates worlds that couldn’t (yet?) be real, but that authors and readers wish, hope, and/or fear could be.”

Gordon B. White
Author of As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions

Betsy Aoki
“Speculative writing requires the imagination of a crucial, literal difference between the world of the writing and the world we live in.
“That could be broad, like epic fantasy or science fiction where the planet/society/universe obeys different laws, or ‘just like our world, but with that one little tweak’ that makes you realize you are not home and in fact this is an eldritch horror that has eaten your house.”

Betsy Aoki
Winner of the 2021 Patricia Bibby First Book Award for her poetry manuscript, Breakpoint

“Speculative fiction is a community rather than an aesthetic. It ain’t what you do, and it ain’t even the way you do it. It’s who you do it for and with.”

Nisi Shawl
Author of Everfair and editor of the award-winning New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color

Huw Evans
“Speculative fiction exceeds our universe’s knowable rules or known limits to provide a read experience that cannot be literally lived.”

M. Huw Evans
Co-editor of Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer