Speculation, speculation, speculation

Good morning (or evening depending on which hemisphere you’re in), and welcome back to my blog. Today I thought I’d delve into my favourite genre of fiction, and one many people don’t fully understand or perhaps haven’t even heard of – speculative fiction.

Broadly speaking, speculative fiction deals with what might be, or what could have been, and encompasses a wide range of genres including science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural and dystopian, as well as alternate histories.

Speculative fiction has been around for centuries, but it’s still often dismissed as ‘genre fiction’. Genre fiction is also known as ‘popular fiction’, and tends to refer to plot-driven books written to fit a particular genre and attract readers who are already familiar with and fans of that specific genre. It’s most common in crime, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, horror and westerns.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with genre fiction, it serves to provide readers with content they want to read, entertainment and escapism, and that’s no bad thing. It’s more or less the opposite of literary fiction, which tends to be less easy to pigeonhole as one genre or another, and provides a means to better understand the real world via direct references, rather than using metaphors and allegories. Some high-brow literary fiction fans turn their nose up at genre fiction, but it boasts just as many brilliant authors (think Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin) and just as many, if not more sales.

But, not all speculative fiction falls into the category of genre fiction.

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Let’s have a look at a few examples of speculative fiction novels and how they fit into the genre:

Science Fiction

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for decades, you’ve definitely heard of Jurassic Park, whether that’s due to the blockbuster movies or Michael Crichton’s original novel. The basic premise is “what if dinosaurs could be scientifically engineered today?” and the results are, well, catastrophic to say the least. But the science is credible, Crichton has really put some thought into his story, and that makes the books even scarier and more gripping.


Fantasy

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone JK Rowling Lyndsey's Book Blog

Another one you’ve undoubtedly come across, again possibly because of the movies, but the source material is much deeper and more detailed than the on-screen version. Rowling started with the question “what if magic was real?” and really ran with it, imagining every possible creature, spell and magical object and combining them in an elegant allegory about good and evil.


Horror

MARY: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

MARY The Summoning

We’ve all heard some version of the Blood Mary story, you might even have played the game as a teenager, saying her name into the mirror, scaring yourselves silly for a good laugh. Monahan’s dark YA novel asks “what if the legend of Bloody Mary was real?”. Who was Mary, and why is she out for revenge against teenage girls?


Dystopian

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

Dystopian novels often look at a potential, but far-fetched future, focusing on the current day issues we face and asking, ‘what’s the absolute worst case scenario if we continue down this road?’. Atwood’s popular novel has recently been adapted into a brilliantly close-to-the-bone TV series, updated to reflect today’s reality (the original novel was published almost thirty years ago in 1985). The question Atwood focused on is “what if religious fundamentalists took control of the country?”, and her conclusion is equally credible and horrifying.


Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

1984

Written in 1948, Orwell’s novel speculated about a communist future for Britain, setting the story in 1984 (he literally just swapped the digits round to get his time period) and getting so many things scarily right. Whilst he might be partly to blame for Big Brother, his vision of a future dominated by television and surveillance/visibility is shockingly prescient.


Alternate History

And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken

White’s YA historical fantasy novel asks the question, “what if Vlad the Impaler had been female?”, and how would the gender swap impact on the legend we all know? The story highlights the inequalities between men and women in the Ottoman Empire, and imagines what would have happened if a bold, empowered woman like Lada had been the daughter of the Wallachian king.


Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf

Probably one of the most interesting ‘what ifs’ possible: “what if the Nazis had won World War Two?”. Graudin’s novel has Hitler surviving and the combined powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan winning the war. With some fantastical elements thrown in, this is a fascinating glimpse of what might have been if the Allies had lost and Nazism survived.


Supernatural

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones

If you haven’t read the books or seen the 2013 movie with Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower, you might have seen the TV series Shadowhunters with Katherine McNamara and Dominic Sherwood. With the sheer number of supernatural creatures involved, and the vastness of Clare’s fictional world, spanning both space and time over the three series so far (with a fourth in the pipeline I believe), the question The Mortal Instruments centres around is, “what if all the myths and legends were true?”. Mixing urban fantasy with classic supernatural elements, Clare looks at the possibilities in a world where demons, angels, vampires, werewolves, faeries, warlocks, and everything in between, exist.


Speculative fiction isn’t reserved for these genres, if your story looks at what could be, what might have been, or what would happen if, then it might just be a piece of speculative fiction.

Lyndsey

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Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Raise your hand if you’re years behind the curve and have only just gotten to the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer? *Raises hand*

I buddy-read Cinder with one of my Goodreads groups back in July and I actually burned through it way quicker than I should have and skipped ahead of the rest of the group. Sorry guys! But it’s a really great read if you love fairy tale retellings with a twist. Sci-fi isn’t usually my first choice, but I enjoyed this fresh take on a much-loved classic.

TL;DR Cinder, a cyborg, lives in New Beijing and works on a market stall as a mechanic. One day, the prince drops by with an android he needs her to take a look at, but a plague breakout shuts down the market. Cinder’s evil step-mother sells her to a medical study which is testing the plague on cyborgs and looking for a cure. There she discovers the truth about herself and the moon-residing beings called Lunars…

Cinder by Marissa Meyer Lyndsey's Book Blog

3.5 stars

Cinder is set in a futuristic, fantasy version of China, and the Moon is now home to a colony of humanoid creatures called Lunars who possess the ability to manipulate Earthans. A deadly plague has killed thousands of people, and a medical study has been set up to test potential cures on cyborgs – people who are part human, part robot.

“I’m sure I’ll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on.”

As a cyborg, Cinder is treated like a second class citizen, not least by her step-mother, Adri, who blames her for the death of her father years earlier. After an outbreak of plague at a nearby stall forces Cinder to flee the market, and her sweet but spoilt step-sister Peony falls ill, Adri sells Cinder to the medical study out of spite. Desperate to help save her sister’s life, Cinder goes willingly and works with the doctors to discover why she didn’t become infected, but was able to pass the disease on to Peony.

“Imagine there was a cure, but finding it would cost you everything. It would completely ruin your life. What would you do?”

In the meantime, Cinder keeps bumping into the handsome and charming Prince Kai, whose android needs fixing after crashing in possession of an important message. Unfortunately, she’s a little busy being a test subject and trying to hide the fact she’s a cyborg from him to actually fix the robot. That is, until the Lunar Queen decides to make a rare visit to Earth, and specifically to New Beijing, to talk potential marriage plans with the King.

“Prince Kai! Check my fan, I think I’m overheating.”

And, what would any Cinderella retelling be without a ball? Prince Kai convinces Cinder to join him at the ball thrown in honour of the Lunar delegation’s visit, but with no dress and an old, ill-fitting robot foot, how can she possibly accompany the most eligible bachelor in the whole of the Eastern Commonwealth to the biggest party in decades?

“She was a cyborg, and she would never go to a ball.”

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As fairy tale retellings go, Cinder is an incredibly inventive and fresh take on an old classic. There are just enough familiar elements to keep it in line with the original, and plenty of new twists to make it a fun read for fairy tale fans (the robot foot instead of a glass slipper is a cool update!).

I gave Cinder 3.5 stars, because whilst I enjoyed it I wasn’t gripped like I hoped. Usually fairy tale retellings are my jam, but sci-fi isn’t, so I didn’t love this one as much as I wanted to. I still plan to carry on reading the rest of the series as that cliffhanger ending was a killer! And I’m hoping to enjoy each book more and more as I get accustomed to the sci-fi elements and get more invested in the characters.

Have you read the Lunar Chronicles? Did you instantly love them, or does the series get better with each book? I’m hoping to read Scarlet next year at some point, once my raging TBR starts to dwindle. Maybe I’ll love another protagonist better, I’m not sure what it was about Cinder that just didn’t click with me, so maybe me and Scarlet will get along better!

 

Lyndsey

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Cinder Marissa Meyer Lyndsey's Book Blog