I have written elsewhere about the definitions and opportunities of the genre, on the lovely hagsharlotsheroines.com website. The lazy snobbery of the literary elite only recognises spec fic if spectacular writing imposes itself. Take a bow, David Mitchell and Ursula Le Guin. For much of the time, we seem to require the fence-posts of normality to be solid in the ground. The writer may plunge into individual uncertainties of love and family, race, sexuality, poverty or age. But we want Fridays, and supermarkets, traffic jams and next season’s catwalk.
The sense of confusion that accompanies the beginning of a work of spec fic seems to deter people. The discovery of the consistent but reworked rules that govern this new actuality, the rewriting of history (bail out? What bail-out?), magical engineering and incomprehensible science, or the restructuring of familial relationships is all too much. Of course, all those links you didn’t click on are from recent news or commentary. This is our world.
In our current ferment about the job of governance, the relationship between state and people, spec fic adds value. Zamyatin’s slaves and Huxley’s breeders. Gwyneth Jones‘ bedraggled hippies holding on to cultural specificity by the skin of their bedraggled teeth. (With a fabulous soundtrack). Banks’ own riffs on the paradoxes of limitless growth. There is a complex tradition, both classic and contemporary, exploring these questions with rigour and imagination.
Spec fic can, and should, offer some help with understanding our current situation, the complexity of the choices and the interdependence of the outcomes. Reading habits that accustom us to confusion are helpful. But, and it is a big but, there is no omniscient author checking the plot for internal consistency and making sure the timeline hangs together. Reality is interactive, multivalent, non-linear. Get with the story.