Speculative fiction (was Re: DWJones mystery book)

Jon Noble jon_p_noble at yahoo.com
Sat Aug 2 09:07:22 EDT 2003

--- Melissa Proffitt <Melissa at Proffitt.com> wrote:
> On Fri, 01 Aug 2003 23:54:43 -0600, Robyn Starkey
> wrote:
> >>I've never seen historical fiction listed as
> >>"speculative fiction", although alternative
> histories
> >>are,.. And also historical fiction involving
> >>time-travel as a plot device is sometimes
> included.
> >
> >Interesting. I've seen authors like Dorothy Dunnett
> described as 
> >speculative fiction; 

I'd be interested to know where, and why?

> I've never heard that about Dorothy Dunnett--I was
> just entering the Lymond
> books into the database and thinking about the bits
> that are history and the
> bits that aren't.  There's definitely a grey area
> because of the
> interpolation of fiction into history, but for me, I
> think I'd draw the line
> at significant alterations of history. 
....................If we're talking about alternate
history as
> you describe it above,
> then I would call that speculative fiction.  But
> that's just my own opinion.
> What does one call the Diana Gabaldon series about a
> WWII nurse drawn back
> in time to the Scotland of Bonnie Prince Charlie,
> for example?  I've seen
> the Outlander books in SF, Romance, and straight
> fiction.  For myself, I'd
> say speculative fiction: though the time travel
> device serves mainly as a
> vehicle to convey the main character (and others)
> into the past, it's the
> presence of a "modern" woman in the 18th century,
> with all her medical and
> historical knowledge, that makes it SF.

I'm inclined to agree here, for Historical Fiction to
qualify as speculative it must have some Non Realistic
element, such as time travel (and there is quite a bit
of historical fiction in which present day characters
go to the past and witness events without using any
present day knowledge or changing history - but I'd
still say they qualify as Spec Fic solely on acount of
that plot device) or some known, and significant, 
contradiction of well established facts (such as
Milton going to America instead of writing Paradise
Lost). One author who writes on both sides of this
divide is Paul Doherty who writes historical mysteries
in several series under several names, most is
straight historical fiction, some is definitely
speculative as it includes fantasy elements such as
vampires or demons, and some is in a grey area in
between as inludes legendary elements like the Holy
Grail while treating it in a fairly historically
plausable manner.
With regards to Gabaldon, I'd say her books belong in
all three genres - historical SF and romance, although
as SF i'd say they were marginal at least.
Another genre that often qualifies as Speculative
Fiction, but which I'd place on the margins, is the
Techno-Thriller which speculate on political or
technological developments. Some critics would argue
that those that posit some future war are part of a
long established sub-genre of Science Fiction that has
been around for at least a century.


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