Contemporary Speculative Fiction

Mark P. Williams

What do we mean by this odd subject, Speculative Fiction? If we’re dealing with extrapolative fictions, expressly concerned with imagining alternate futures, presents and pasts, when does now begin and end? When we trace back to identify the points of origin of Speculative Fictions from the blending or breaching of Science Fiction and Fantasy, to Surrealism, to the Gothic, we trace or retrace a history as an argument. I tend to imagine the period since 1980 as marking a clear boundary shift across different cultural fields because of historical, political and theoretical shifts, but of course this is misleading. As Cathryn Merla-Watson’s contribution to this special issue of Alluvium illustrates, an apparent recent critical move towards the recognition of an aesthetic, such as Latin@futurism, may actually be decades behind the actual cultural producers because of all the forces of heteropatriarchy and whiteness ranged against not acknowledging or misrecognising aesthetics which do not support them. 

Speculative fiction and world making

 [Image by Flickr GôDiNô under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License]

The term Speculative Fiction is, I believe, a usefully fuzzy term for designating a whole range of possible ways of making narrative. In part it seems imprecise because it moves away somewhat from the distinctions between Science Fiction and Fantasy that defined the establishment of the study of Science Fiction, and there are times when the clarity and precision of separation are extremely useful. But I think the relative imprecision. Or rather, the flexibility, of the term can also enable a higher level grasp of what we are dealing with: fictions which, above all, negate the present conditions of social expectation and the limitations of what can be expected to make sense. Speculative Fiction, in its breadth, says that we can make sense of the stories of wildly unlike events which do not seem to bear direct relation to our present times and concerns, and that those meanings can be powerful, significant and valuable to us. 

Speculative fiction and its meaningful, but ‘unlike’, events

[Image by Flickr GôDiNô under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License]

Speculative Fiction might convey the urgency of imagining better utopian worlds or simply the need to imagine alternatives for a brief respite, an escape from the daily grind to win back that bit of energy it took that you know you’ll need for dealing with what comes tomorrow. To that end, what is presented here is a range of approaches to conceiving of the social function of speculative fiction and diverse source texts to engage with. In her article “The Altermundos of Latin@futurism,” Cathryn Merla-Watson gives a virtuoso survey of the richness of Latin@futurism. She details how the aesthetic and theoretical history of Latin@futurism draws together intersections with Science Fiction and the Gothic, while articulating its distinctness as a field and its sheer cultural breadth and diversity. Sébastien Doubinsky explores Jordan Krall’s use of 9/11 as a setting for Speculative Fiction in “Jordan Krall’s Speculative Fiction.” In this article, Doubinsky links Krall’s engagement with post-9/11 America with various avant-garde and speculative pre-texts – from William Burroughs and J. G. Ballard to Zamyatin and Bulgakov – examining the ways this distinctly politicised aesthetic of representation functions. This is followed by Martyn Colebrook’s article “Martin MacInnes and Celtic SF,” which examines MacInnes’ Celtic speculative fiction. Colebrook situates MacInnes’ text in light of his precursors in both the Tartan Noir subgenre and more broadly in Scottish fiction and science fiction, particularly the work of Iain Banks, Irvine Welsh and Alasdair Gray to formulate a clear set of confluences with this distinctly Scottish tradition. Finally, the special issue concludes with my own essay “Speculative Resistance in Lost Girls.” Here I consider Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls in order to examine the intersections between that polemical text and Moore’s narrative poem celebrating gay love and homosexual culture in history, The Mirror of Love

Between these diverse contexts what emerges is a sense of Speculative Fiction as an extension of political engagement and as a political engagement in itself. The links between speculative fictions and identity are clear, as are the ways in which the distancing effects afforded by fantastical and science fictional techniques provide an opportunity for forceful political ideas. What every Speculative Fiction has in common is its assertion, explicit or implicit, of its own self-definition: this imaginary world is worth sharing in because it means something to me and it can mean something to you too

Let’s speculate together. 

CITATION: Mark P.  Williams, “Contemporary Speculative Fiction,” Alluvium, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2017): n. pag. Web. 15 March 2017,

Dr Mark P. Williams is currently a Teaching Fellow at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany, where he has worked since 2014. He previously taught at the University of East Anglia (UK) and Victoria University of Wellington (Aotearoa New Zealand), and has also been a political reporter for Scoop Independent Media in the NZ Parliamentary Press Gallery. His PhD, Radical Fantasy: A Study of Left Radical Politics in the Fantasy Writing of Michael Moorcock, Angela Carter, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and China Miéville, was awarded from the University of East Anglia.

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