Monday, July 11, 2011

Defining Speculative Fiction and its Sub-Genres

Critical to any debate is mutual understanding of terms. One thing I have found very confusing in the Speculative Fiction world is defining sub-genres. Granted, this is sort of pointless considering very few, if any, novels neatly fit into a specific sub-genre. But, it does provide a starting point to my readers to understand why I use these specific terms and assist in avoiding confusion.

So, in this post I will define all of the Speculative sub-genres I use both in novel descriptions and blog post tags. This will be a living document that I will update as needed. It is also to be understood that these definitions are intended to describe written media and not other forms of creative media even though it is possible to do so. Since this blog is focused on books, I will narrow my term definitions correspondingly.

Speculative Fiction - literature based on conjecture and not fact. An umbrella term for many fiction genres such as alternative history, science fiction, horror and fantasy. I do not include literary fiction under this umbrella. While literary fiction is not based solely on fact, its central focus is a literary portrayal of fact-based or fact-derived events. Literary fiction is not based on conjecture or re-imagining of events.

Fantasy - literature including elements not explainable via science or religion. Often this can be described supernatural but I think that is a sloppy definition due to conflicts with religious understanding. Science and religion are the two primary means of knowledge. Both are considered “truth.”

High Fantasy - Fantasy set in a unique world(s) separated from the current world as we understand it. These worlds often have unique natural laws and origins. Parallel worlds and pocket dimensions constitute high fantasy. Also included are stories set on our current world but in the far past or far future with unique natural laws and radically altered geography.

Low Fantasy - Fantasy set in our current world with fantasic elements. The current world can be in the near future or past. The critical element is that it is recognizable to the reader.

Contemporary Fantasy - A sub-genre of Low Fantasy. Fantasy set in the modern world.

Dark Fantasy - Fantasy incorporating horror elements.

Epic Fantasy - Fantasy focused on world altering events, e.g. the end of known existence. Story scope covers multiple locations and character points of view. The narrative is often polarized into an ‘us versus them’ structure. Traditionally a series of books, e.g. a trilogy.

Heroic Fantasy - Fantasy focused on a single character with events and scope tied to a specific region. Primary chraracter(s) are often reluctant with binding ties to a specific region and motivated by something other than self interest.

Historical Fantasy - Fantasy based on the re-imagining of the past with fantastic elements.

Paranormal Fantasy - Fantasy with ghosts, cryptids and extraterrestrials. Cryptids are beings not explainable via science, e.g. vampires, werewolves, etc. Typically in a low/contemporary fantasy setting.

Paranormal Romance - a sub-genre of paranormal fantasy but with romantic narrative focus.

Sci-Fantasy - Fantasy with both science fiction and fantasy elements. Typically set in the future. Since fantasy tends to be mutually exclusive with science fiction, this is a fantasy sub-genre.

Sword & Sorcery - A sub-genre to heroic fantasy. Key distinction is that the primary characters are outsiders generally motivated by self interest.

Urban Fantasy - A sub-genre of contemporary fantasy. Fantasy set in the city.

Young Adult - Fantasy in which the subject matter and composition is structured to be suitable for a young adult target market.

Science Fiction - literature with speculative but scientifically plausible elements.

UPDATE: 28 Feb 2012 - I no longer link this document on my Goals page as honestly, I am giving up trying to tag things.  Its a major hassle and I am splitting hairs causing things to be inconsistent.  I would rather rely on the "search blog" feature at this point.

Image Source: Scanned Cover

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