Speculative fiction is a blanket term that relates to several different subgenres of fictional media. In layman’s terms, stories set within the speculative fiction genre take place in a setting where the accepted laws that govern its internal reality are radically different from that of the real world. This includes material that may reflect an individual’s spiritual and/or religious beliefs. Speculative fiction may be broken down into several key subgenres, the most noted of which is science fiction, which itself can be sub-categorized into any number of different mini-genres. Other forms of speculative fiction include stories with elements of horror, stories with elements of fantasy, superhero fiction, alternative history and any combinations thereof. The science fiction genre can include several sub-classifications, blending elements of other genres such as,
- Alien fiction
- Dystopic future
- Sci-fi horror
- Space opera
- Superhero fantasy
These too may be combined with one another to form any number of colorful storytelling settings.
Alien fiction relates to stories involving extraterrestrials. They may take place in any time era, but are usually found in the modern era or in a future reality. Modern-era extraterrestrial tales often involve plotlines relating to alien visitation and/or abduction, First Contact scenarios, government conspiracies to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials and alien invasions.
Cyberpunk relates to postmodern science fiction, which generally takes place in a near future reality and involves advanced technology and how it relates to the human condition. Cyberpunk stories often feature advanced computer technology, computer hacking, development of artificial intelligences and the consequences of what happens when any of these aspects are abused. Author William Gibson is often regarded as the father of the Cyberpunk subgenre.
Dystopic future stories take place in the near or far future and include a setting where civilization is in societal and/or technology decline. They are tales of a postmodern Dark Ages where the world as we would otherwise know it has suffered great hardship, usually as a result of a global conflict or extraterrestrial interference and showcases the daily struggles of those trying to survive in such an environment. These stories have also been labeled as Post-Apocalyptic.
Horror fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction that strikes at the very core of the human condition, eliciting the basest of all emotions – fear. Horror stories present one or more key characters and trap them in a situation where their livelihood or that of those they love is threatened by a force beyond their control. As it relates to science fiction, horror stories often employ monstrous entities, otherworldly creatures or science gone awry. Some of the more notable blendings of the science fiction and horror genres are presented in the Aliens film series, where a predatory race of xenomorphs stalk unsuspecting humans and kill them. Another example includes the companion franchise Predator, which operates off a similar structure but with a wholly different race of alien.
The Fantasy genre is its own unique and colorful array of storytelling devices, relying mostly on supernatural and/or mystical conventions and an otherworldly setting that is generally bereft of modern technology. The settings featured in a Fantasy story may take place in the distant past, or on an imaginary world or “realm” that is completely separate from that of any tangible reality that normal humans have access to. Fantasy stories involve magical creatures and races ranging from dwarves to dragons. In popular culture, the fantasy genre is predominantly of the medievalist form, especially since the worldwide success of The Lord of the Rings and related books by J. R. R. Tolkien. In its broadest sense, however, fantasy comprises works by many writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians, from ancient myths and legends to many recent works embraced by a wide audience today. The umbrella of the Fantasy genre can be broken down into traditional medievalist fantasy to sci-fi fantasy, swords & sorcery (sometimes referred to as sword and sandal), adventure and superhero fantasy.
Superhero fantasy is its own breed of speculative fiction. As its name implies, it relates to characters who take on a heroic demeanor and are usually gifted with any number of enhancements that aid them in crime-fighting. These enhancements can range from gifted physical prowess, an elevated intellect, access to hi-tech weaponry and equipment or the development of superhuman abilities such as super-strength, telekinesis or flight. Superheroes often adopt a colorful costume to conceal their features and evoke a striking image before their adversaries or onlookers. They also often refer to themselves by a code name, which again, is used to help conceal their true identities from their villains. Superhero fantasy branches all mediums, but is most prominent in comic books, manga and anime.