The Quiddity of Speculation

  • Alternate History: Alternate history or alternative history is a sub-genre of speculative fiction (or some would say of science fiction) that is set in a world in which history has diverged from history as it is generally known; more simply put, alternate history asks the question, "What if history had developed differently?" Most works in this genre are set in real historical contexts, yet feature social, geopolitical or industrial circumstances that developed differently or at a different pace from our own. While to some extent all fiction can be described as alternate history, the sub-genre proper comprises fiction in which a change or point of divergence happens that causes history to diverge from our own. -OR- A retelling of historical events where magic or other elements of fantasy are involved.

  • Alternate/Parallel Reality: Parallel universe or alternate reality in science fiction and fantasy is a self-contained separate reality coexisting with our own. This separate reality can range in size from a small geographic region to an entire new universe, or several universes forming a multiverse. While the terms "Parallel universe" and "alternate reality" are generally synonymous and can be used interchangeably in most cases, there is sometimes an additional connotation implied with the term "alternate reality" that implies that the reality is a variant of our own. The term "parallel universe" is more general, without any connotations implying a relationship (or lack thereof) with our own universe.

  • Apocalyptic Fiction: Apocalyptic science fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction that is concerned with the end of civilization, through nuclear war, plague, or some other general disaster.

  • Contemporary Fantasy: This sub-genre is also known as modern-day or indigenous fantasy. These terms are used to describe stories set in the "real world" (often referred to as consensus reality) in contemporary times, in which, it is revealed, magic and magical creatures secretly exist, either living in the interstices of our world or leaking over from alternate worlds. It thus has much in common with, and sometimes overlaps with, the "secret history," a work of fantasy in which the magic could not remain secret does not fit into this sub-genre. Occasionally certain contemporary fantasy novels will also make reference to pop culture. J.K. Rowling's works are good examples, with their backdrop setting of modern-day England.

  • Cyberpunk: Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, noted for its focus on "high tech and low life" and taking its name from the combination of cybernetics and punk. It featured advanced technology such as computers or information technology coupled with some degree of breakdown in the social order. "Classic cyberpunk characters were marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body."

  • Dark Fantasy: Stories that focus on elements usually found in the horror genre but which take place in a setting more alike sword and sorcery or high fantasy.

  • Dystopian: Dystopian fiction is the opposite of Utopian: creation of a nightmare world, sometimes also described as "the victory of forces of reason over forces of kindness."

  • Epic or High Fantasy: The term high fantasy (also epic fantasy) generally refers to fantasy that depicts an epic struggle between good and evil in a fantasy world, whether independent of or parallel to ours. The moral concepts in such tales take on objective status, and are not relative to the one making the judgement.

  • Fairytales: Fairytale Fantasy is distinguished from other sub-genres by the works' heavy use of motifs, and often plots, from folklore. They sometimes ignore the standards of world-building common to fantasy as blithely as the tales from which they derive, though not always; stories that use a high fantasy, contemporary, or historical setting, with the world-building thus entailed, may also be considered part of those genres.

    Sometimes Fairytale Fantasy borders on the Horror side of speculative fiction. In early versions of the stories, the Pied Piper led the children to drown, Red Riding Hood was devoured and digested, and the Little Mermaid died in the sea. Not all fairy tales are for kids. Also stories of little, winged fairies who are not pleased with human company.

  • Gothic Fiction: The early precursor to the Horror genre, the Gothic novel tells tales of mysteries, forbidden loves, ruined castles, moral decay, fallen aristocracies, madmen, and various sorts of spirits.

  • Hard Science Fiction: Hard science fiction, or hard SF, is a sub-genre of science fiction characterized by an interest in scientific detail or accuracy, being the opposite of soft science fiction. It is one of several science fiction themes.

    There is a great deal of disagreement among readers and writers over what exactly constitutes an interest in scientific detail. Many hard SF stories focus on the natural sciences and technological developments, but many others leave technology in the background. Others contend that if the technology is left in the background it is an example of soft science fiction. Another distinction within the genre revolves around portrayals of the human condition. Some authors seek to reflect technical accuracy within an advanced, nearly utopian society in which mankind has attained victory over most human ills; others seek to portray the impact of technology on the human race with human defects still firmly in place and sometimes even magnified.

  • Historical Fantasy: This sub-genre is very similar to the "Alternate History" sub-genre. It is a sub-genre in which stories are set in a specified historical period but with some element of fantasy added to the world, such as magic or a mythical creatures or characters. Often the magic retreats from the world so as to allow history to continue unaltered. When the plot alters history, as it were, the story moves into the Alternate History sub-genre.

  • Horror: Horror alone can be broken into several different sub-genres, but for the sake of this blog, we are going to use the all inclusive umbrella. Horror fiction also Horror fantasy is a genre of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, scare or startle viewers/readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. It creates an eerie and frightening atmosphere. Horror can be either supernatural or non-supernatural. The genre has ancient origins which were reformulated in the eighteenth century as Gothic horror.

    Supernatural horror has its roots in folklore and religious traditions, focusing on death, the afterlife, evil, the demonic, and the principle of evil embodied in the Devil. These were manifested in stories of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, and demonic pacts.

  • Juvenile or Young Adult Fantasy: The juvenile fantasy sub-genre is a fantasy story written for a younger audience, with appropriately younger characters, i.e. children or teens who have unique abilities, gifts, possessions or even allies. The classic example of the sub-genre is C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. In the earlier part of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis noted that fantasy was more accepted in juvenile literature, and therefore a writer interested in fantasy often wrote in it to find an audience.

  • Magical Realism: Magical Realism presents fantastic and mundane elements side-by-side as if there is no conflict between the two. It is often used to punctuate the hidden meaning of mundane realities by means of the fantastic "magical" elements. This sub-genre has close ties to Surrealism and Post-Modernism.

  • Militaristic Science Fiction: These are science fiction stories that deal with war and military story lines. A great example would be Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

  • Mythic Fiction: The sub-sub-genre of mythic fiction refers to titles rooted in fables or mythology. The works are, ultimately, inspired by, or that in some way draws from the tropes, themes and symbolism of myth, folklore, and fairy tales. These could be pantheon-based characterizations, or retellings of famous mythological journeys in fantasy settings.

  • Paranormal Romance: These are stories that include any phenomena that lie outside the range of what is normal in our world, and perhaps the most popular within the paranormal realm are Paranormal Romance novels such as Twilight. Some examples of paranormal elements are vampires, shape-shifters, ghosts, time travel, psychics, telekinesis, aliens, and any kind of cryptids (Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster).

  • Post-Apocalyptic Fiction: Post-apocalyptic science fiction is set in a world or civilization after such a disaster. The time frame may be immediately after the catastrophe, focusing on the travails or psychology of survivors, or considerably later, often including the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten or mythologized. Post-apocalyptic stories often take place in an agrarian, non-technological future world, or a world where only scattered elements of technology remain.

    There is a considerable degree of blurring between this form of science fiction and that which deals with false utopias or dystopic societies. A work of apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic fiction might also be called a ruined Earth story, or dying Earth if the apocalypse is sufficiently dire.

  • Science Fantasy: This sub-genre is a fusion between the two main genres. It represents works that use main elements of both to create a story that is (for example) futuristic and technical in tone, with fantastical sub-plots and characters. Arthur C. Clarke once said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", which might make the sub-genre easier to identify! Some would argue that there are even "sub-genres for the sub-genre" in this category, but for our purposes we will stick with the high-level definition given here. Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels are good examples of this sub- genre.

  • Science Fiction: In a true science fiction story, the majority of the action takes place in our world and universe. It may or may not happen in a futuristic setting. But science fiction always deals with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology and does not violate the laws of nature. Everything is plausible. It could happen. And the reader is drawn into the “what if” of the story by knowing that this scenario could happen. Some great examples of science fiction novels are Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Dune by Frank Herbert, and A Star Curiously Singing by Kerry Nietz.

  • Space Opera: A space opera is usually set in outer space or on a distant planet. In most cases, to keep the story fast moving, a spaceship can fly almost unlimited distances in a short time, and can turn on a dime, without the boring necessity of decelerating. The planets usually have Earth-like atmospheres (Earth's moon is an exception) and exotic life forms. Aliens usually speak English, sometimes with an accent. The machinery of space opera often includes (in addition to spaceships) ray-guns, robots, and flying cars.

    Space opera backgrounds may vary considerably in scientific plausibility. Most space operas conveniently violate the known laws of physics by positing some form of faster-than-light travel. Many space operas diverge even more from known physical reality, and not uncommonly invoke paranormal forces, or vast powers capable of destroying whole planets, stars, or galaxies.

  • Steampunk: Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that refers to works set in an era where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England—but with technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. Steampunk contains alternate history-style elements of past technologies like dirigibles or mechanical computers combined with futuristic technologies like multi-function goggles, giant robots and ray guns.

  • Superhero Fantasy: Where does the fantasy story start, and the comic book end? As with many of these sub-genres, this category has more than its share of grey area. The Superhero Fantasy has, at its heart, characters with super powers and/ or unusual abilities. The heroes and villains act out many of the same roles as you'd find in a comic book story line, only in a fantasy setting. George R.R. Martin's "Wildcards" series is a good example of this sub-genre.

  • Supernatural or Occult Fiction: These types of stories remove all elements that fall under fantasy and horror, and embrace supernatural elements that are considered commonplace in the natural world. Things like angels, demons, ghosts, God, and Satan. Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness is a great example of a supernatural fantasy novel.

  • Sword and Sorcery: This sub-genre is the bread and butter, some would say, of the Fantasy genre itself. And examples surely abound of award-winning novels replete with the hack and slash/ spells-a-flying plot lines. These types of stories usually include (with notable exceptions) sword-play, magic, and a modicum of medieval-brand adventure. One does not have to look far to find outstanding examples of this type of story, with authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, and Robert E. Howard.

  • Time Travel: Time travel is the concept of moving backward or forward to different points in time, in a manner analogous to moving through space. Additionally, some interpretations of time travel suggest the possibility of travel between parallel realities or universes.

  • Urban Fantasy: Stories that take place on our earth at the current time and have an urban setting, meaning that they take place in a city. This is a very popular genre in young adult literature. Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series is a good example of urban fantasy.

  • Utopian: Stories that envision an ideal society, often including a metaphor for how the choices humanity makes determines such a possible future. Examples of utopian stories are harder to find, but Lost Horizon by James Hilton is said to be an example of this.
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