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About this book

In this engaging and accessible guide, Eugen Bacon explores writing speculative fiction as a creative practice, drawing from her own work, and the work of other writers and theorists, to interrogate its various subgenres. Through analysis of writers such as Stephen King, J.R.R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling, this book scrutinises the characteristics of speculative fiction, considers the potential of writing cross genre and covers the challenges of targeting young adults. It connects critical and cultural theories to the practice of creative writing, examining how they might apply to the process of writing speculative fiction. Both practical and critical in its evaluative gaze, it also looks at e-publishing as a promising publishing medium for speculative fiction.

This is essential reading for undergraduate and postgraduate students of Creative Writing, looking to develop a critical awareness of, and practical skills for, the writing of speculative fiction. It is also a valuable resource for creators, commentators and consumers of contemporary speculative fiction.

Table of Contents

1. The non-introduction

Abstract
He had a daughter named Lunar. She was a velvet-eyed bear hug who approached and put her arms around you for three heartbeats, and your ribs burned a boatload of heartbeats later. The bear entered those arms the very moment the girl’s mother died from wasp bite as the tot on her breast suckled. Tusk pulled the bub from his wife’s cold body and it clutched him until he passed out. The poison in the milk did nothing to harm the child and, story had it, it became a charm that protected Lunar from whichever harm.
Eugen Bacon

2. There’s a story in you

Abstract
Creating imaginary worlds is essential in all forms of speculative fiction, whether you are writing a novel or short story. The works of Le Guin and Tolkien showcase richly invented worlds, made-up languages and imaginative presentations that invite us to what Richard Mathews termed ‘infinite possibility’ in his book Fantasy: the Liberation of Imagination(2002). There is a large presence of language and sophistication in the created worlds inside the fictional realms of Le Guin’s Earthseabooks and Tolkien’s Lord of the Ringsseries. Both authors love languages, where Le Guin applies it as power in the Earthseabooks, and knowledge of the language of magic, the language of dragons, the language of nature, the language of creation … is power. To philologist Tolkien, the culture and linguistics of Middle-earth are part of his investment in world building that compounds the credibility of his fantasy works as literature classics.
Eugen Bacon

3. Vogler’s hero/ine’s journey

Abstract
Graeme Harper, in an editorial on ‘the sound’ of creative writing in New Writing, the International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, used the metaphor of a dodo to interrogate the nature of signification, of words as signifiers, where signifying is a mental concept, an imaginative conjecture that has personal and shared communal meaning. Harper questioned what it is that we seek in writing, or reading, whether our quest is not so much for an exchange of information as to advance our human understanding, to immerse ourselves into a realm of exploration—a quest in which we ask what is or is not, how it is or is not, and why the particular story is worthy of our attention. Writing is a constant choice in a process where we mentally wrangle with what to tell, what not to tell, how to tell it and why.
Eugen Bacon

4. The speculative: A problem with definitions

Abstract
In a war of words with Ursula Le Guin, literary author Margaret Atwood hurled the term ‘speculative fiction’ rather than science fiction to label those of her works with a genre slant. These include her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale(1985) that draws attention to gender, religion and power, and the apocalyptic Oryx and Crake(2003), part of the MaddAddam trilogy, selling on Amazon under the label of science fiction (genetic engineering)
Eugen Bacon

5. Genres and subgenres of speculative fiction

Abstract
Speculative fiction is birthed from what author Richard Mathews called a ‘vivid mode of human consciousness’ where, unlike realistic fiction, speculative fiction comes along with a freedom to abandon reality and immerse oneself in an invented realm. The author (who is also the work’s first reader) fabulates (invention of story) that which they hope the reader will find immersion in. In Aurealismagazine, speculative fiction writer Michael Pryor explained why he loves fantasy and science fiction: while fantasy and science fiction writers must achieve everything else that a writer must in the act of good storytelling, for example robust characters, convincing plots, and appealing text, they must additionally ‘incorporate all the imaginative elements that are the hallmark of fantasy and science fiction’. Contrary to perception, genres and subgenres of speculative fiction are not different ends of a spectrum, but rather overlap.
Eugen Bacon

6. Fantasy

Abstract
The imaginary, world building, mythology and language play a big role in fantasy. Author Richard Mathew’s perception of fantasy as the liberation of imagination is vivid in the works of Tolkien, Rowling, Le Guin and Martin in the fascinating worlds they have created, the creatures, languages, races and laws, in the history, backstory and languages they have shaped. Rowling’s language of spells in the Harry Potter series borrows from classical myth and rhetoric and her study of Latin (patronus and expelliarmus spells) in university. A common theme of good versus evil prevails in all these works where the hero/ine narrative involves a journey or transformation curve. Fantasy, and the imaginary world it often explores, lends itself to creative play in its writing.
Eugen Bacon

7. Science fiction

Abstract
Science fiction is generally anchored in science and technology, or ‘the alternate’—using the term loosely to represent soft science fiction where science or technology is not central to the plot or story. Soft science fiction is more concerned with people and relationships than science, and may bear philosophical, alternate history or social science themes. Subgenres of science fiction include gothic, cyberpunk, utopia, dystopia, alternate history and steampunk, where publishers of the genre or subgenre generally come along with their own definitions.
Eugen Bacon

8. Horror and the paranormal

Abstract
You think horror, you think Bram Stoker, Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, M. Night Shyamalan, Dean Koontz, Steven King, Eleanor Lewis, H. P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Mark Danielewski, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Anne Rice, Poppy Brite … Guy de Maupassant who wrote across many genres. In his book Danse Macabre, King paid homage to Jorge Luis Borges and Ray Bradbury in his list of ‘six great writers of the macabre’.
As far as storytelling goes, horror can be an exhausted genre, and artists and producers are continually hunting ways to tap into audience curiosity by reinventing it. Horror films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho(1960) and Wes Craven’s Scream(1996) typecast horror, and copycat stories emerged, exhausting fans with parodic slasher narratives, blood and gore, until zombies burst into the spotlight; the appetite for them has stayed rich.
Eugen Bacon

9. Cross genre

Abstract
Crossing genre means deconstructing traditional modes of fiction, as theorist Hans Bertens would have it. Crossing yields a type of writing that breaks ‘boundaries between different discourses’, in the words of theorist David Carter.
Eugen Bacon

10. Literary speculative fiction

Abstract
This chapter extends the discussion of cross genre fiction, and considers how literary writing might contribute to the quality of speculative fiction. Earlier chapters reveal Atwood’s and Golding’s works as snapping literary awards, where the ‘literary’ here is not about a grouping of books on a shelf.
Eugen Bacon

11. Short story

Abstract
This chapter considers the unique features of the short story, and its potential in speculative fiction because of the market and opportunities that continue to welcome this form.
Eugen Bacon

12. Targeting young adults and new adults

Abstract
Speculative fiction tends to be popular in readerships classified as young adults (YA) or mature young adults, perhaps because of the novelty of its extraordinary stories or the ease of its accessibility in bite-size fictions across cyber and technological channels and devices that certain age groups are particularly adept with. It could be that the developing mind is inherently more curious and less rigid on reading preferences, or that young adults—unencumbered by all those things (like careers) that occupy adults—are better able to make time for escapist stories in fantastical worlds
Eugen Bacon

13. Critical and cultural theories

Abstract
This is not a book about literary theory. There are many books on critical and cultural theories, including Nigel Krauth and Tess Brady’s edited collection of essays Creative Writing: Theory Beyond Practice(2006), a divergent collection that speaks to frameworks that shape creative writing in the 21st century; Dani Cavallaro’s Critical and Cultural Theory: Thematic Variations(2001), a radical book on key concepts, issues and debates; David Carter’s Literary Theory(2006), that offers insight to ideas behind postmodernism, queer theory, feminism, intertextuality, deconstruction and literary theorists like Baudrillard, Althusser, Foucault, Freud and Jung; and Hans Bertens’ Literary Theory: The Basics(2013), a comprehensive analysis and historical capture of methods and issues in poststructuralism, Marxism and new criticism. This is not such a book.
Eugen Bacon

14. E-publishing

Abstract
Electronic publishing, also termed e-publishing or epublishing, is about producing, storing and distributing books, journals and magazine electronically rather than in print. This type of publishing is a promising and intuitive way of exploiting technology and offers immeasurable platforms for speculative fiction. Electronic publishing empowers authors and publishers, with cheaper and faster ways to package and market digital books, also termed e-books, ebooks or electronic books.
Eugen Bacon
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