A non-definitive history of: Speculative Fiction

According to Wikipedia: Speculative fiction is a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements. This genre is usually attributed to Robert Heinlein, who coined it in 1947 in an editorial essay. Although there are instances of speculative fiction, or its variant ‘speculative literature’ being used before him, Robert Heinlein is, for a number of reasons, hailed as the father of speculative fiction.

robert heinlein

I would go so far as to add, words that make you think about your world and a myriad of possibilities. This extra step encompasses alternative and hidden histories as well as lesser known belief systems, cultural “oddities”, and varied gender roles (and rules).

I’m not quite sure what fans of Lewis Carol and J.R.R. Tolkien feel about Robert Heinlein being the “father of speculative fiction” or of their work being put in the “instances of” box. I suppose it depends on your interpretation of the term. The Hobbit and all similar are generally labelled as high fantasy.

the hobbit

So what’s the difference you might ask? Speculative fiction is the umbrella term into which science fiction, fantasy (high or low), and horror sit. Robert Heinlein was mainly a science fiction writer, J.R.R. Tolkien was fantasy, and Stephen King is in the horror camp.

Annie Neugebauer has explored the term thoroughly in her blog post of the same name What is speculative fiction?

Each of the above categories come with their own sub-categories. For instance, low fantasy covers stories that are set in the real world but have “fantastical” elements (My novel, The Ouroboros Key fits this description) whereas high fantasy stories are set in completely fictional worlds and are dominated by the “fantastical” (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and so on).

lord of the rings book covers

Game of Thrones belongs to the epic fantasy sub-genre, which includes real world settings with lots of high fantasy elements thrown in. To be classed as epic, the story must be complex and contain multiple plot lines (and lots of characters, and really really long).

game of thrones book covers

Other fantasy sub-genres include alternate history and sword and sorcery. There’s an interesting exploration of the sub-genres on the Fantasy Faction website, and links to even more sub-genres (Steampunk, anyone?).

Science Fiction and Horror have their own ever-growing list of sub-genres as well. In Horror there is dark fantasy, supernatural, scifi horror, psychological, suspense/thriller… And in Science Fiction you can look forward to alien, space exploration, dystopia, utopia, alternate universe, and cyberpunk…

There is just not enough hours in the day, days in the year, or years in our lives to read all of the speculative fiction available!

Related links:










“Keep it secret. Keep it safe” | Plot ideas and where to find them.

One of the classic questions that authors are often asked is where they get their ideas.

There is no automatic teller machine waiting to dish out ideas once you’ve put in your secret code and most people know this. Still, the origin of stories, ideas, twists and turns, character traits, indeed whole worlds, is mystifying. How do these people think up this stuff?

Following are five of places that I’ve found the odd idea, plot twist, and scene.

1. The reserve between my house and the local corner store. Strolling through the reserve one morning on the way to purchase a much needed bottle of milk and somewhere between an Ironbark and a Scribbly Gum, a great death scene popped out from the bushes and hit me square in the head. I had to repeat it to myself all the way to the shop and back so I wouldn’t forget before I could write it down. Thank goodness for smart phones! I carry mine everywhere so now I can jot these quickie ideas down without having to rely on on brain cells still waiting for their morning kickstart.

My local reserve aspires to this Ironbark Forest. Image: http://ianluntresearch.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/ironbark-forest-1.jpg?w=1200

My local reserve aspires to this Ironbark Forest. Image: http://ianluntresearch.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/ironbark-forest-1.jpg?w=1200


2. Someone else’s book. I read a lot of non fiction and find many ideas and storylines waiting to be discovered between the facts. I once wrote a prize winning short story on the death of Captain James Cook inspired by a few lines from Into the Blue by Tony Horwitz (an excellent book). Into the Blue told me what happened but I wanted to know how the crew of Cook’s ship felt at the time so I delved further, researched the main crew members, and what happened after Cook was killed. It usually starts with wanting to more of the story behind what history, and it’s writers, tell me.

into the blue

3. The shower. Hot water pelting down, no one around to hear me sing, and a head covered in shampoo bubbles. This is the opportune time to let your brain relax from daily humdrum and make space for a few ideas – quite often ideas associated with water but not always. I find this a good time to imagine what characters look like and how they might react, physically and verbally, to a situation. Yes, I do tend to take long showers… another good place for quiet contemplation is sitting on the loo and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

image from dreamstime.com

image from dreamstime.com

4. Dreams. Sometimes I have some doozies and occasionally I’ve used them in stories. If you’ve read The Ouroboros Key, you’ll know that the main character, Dan, has visions and bad dreams. None of those started off as dreams from my subconscious. However, I did use the haphazard timelines, random occurrences, and the surreal feeling you can get from dreams (not to forget the fear from nightmares) to show how Dan felt and coped with what he was experiencing.

clipart from canstockphoto.com

clipart from canstockphoto.com

5. Newspapers and current affairs. The stories I’m currently researching come directly from newspaper articles I read. I’d love to tell you more but it’s early days and I don’t want to be gazumped. Let’s just say that my response was, “I didn’t know that!” followed by, “Ooh, that’s a mystery. I want to know more.” When the manuscripts are written and contracted, I’ll tell you all about them!

image from onlinereferencecentre.ca

image from onlinereferencecentre.ca


Train rides, especially long trips when you’ve got nothing better to do than listen, watch, and imagine. This is a great place to pick up phrases, descriptions for clothes and hair, and mannerisms. Remember to look out the window too! There are some great streets, street names, parks, and buildings out there just waiting to be in your next story.

Hogwarts Express? Image from 100trains.com

Hogwarts Express?
Image from 100trains.com

If you do happen to know where an ATM for story ideas resides, keep it secret (after you’ve told me, that is!).

If only...

If only…

Related links: Here’s another article on where ideas come from that you might like. It’s also where I picked up the arrows coming out of the head image I’ve used in my “ideas card” above.

Starting from the beginning where do your story ideas come from. An interview with Ernest Dickerson by Tambay A. Obenson


Final tip – Always remember, ideas are precious…


Why did you set your novel there? Choosing the right location for your stories.

I’ve been asked a few times why I chose to set The Ouroboros Key in the USA when I live in Australia.

After all, Australia has mountains, rivers, caves, and mystery. Yes, it does. I love visiting the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Jenolan Caves are amazing, kayaking on any of our rivers is always a day well spent, and there are plenty of mysteries and strange stories set locally that I could share. I agree.

The only trouble was that I wanted to set this particular story on a Snake River – a real one – and I couldn’t find any Snake River’s in Australia. I could find one in America and as it so happened, not too far from an area I had visited several times in Colorado. From there it was easy. The Rocky Mountains also outstrip our Great Dividing Range in height and the weather is wilder.

Little Snake River

Little Snake River runs through Wyoming and Colorado

Naturally, when I wanted mystical, I headed south of Colorado and into New Mexico. Specifically, the Ancient Pueblo cultures where so many ruins remain studded throughout the landscape. Another reason for choosing this area is that the Pueobloan’s used underground rooms. A purveying theme (location wise) in The Ouroboros Key is “underground”.

The town of Smiggin’s Rest is completely fictional. The description is loosely based on Warrandyte in Victoria, Australia, which is on the steep banks of the Yarra River.

I wanted to mix the real with the unreal on multiple levels of the story and in finding locations that exist and melding them with those that don’t, I felt I achieved that.

Related posts: Chaco Canyon – April 2014