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How to identify Speculative Fiction

Post by: Kabita Sonowal

When one refers to Speculative Fiction, it usually dates back to ancient Greece. It is a work of historical invention. As the phrase suggests, dramatists, poets, and authors speculated and usually caught the ire of the audience. Take the instance of Euripides’ Medea. He wrote a dramatic version of Medea where she murdered her own children in a fit of passion and avenged herself. Euripides displeased the Athenian audience with his dramatic tragedy. A lot of previous works from history and mythology were speculated and rewritten to form accounts of the speculative-fiction genre.

One of the most widely-read plays is Antigone by Sophocles. Further, it has been created and recreated time and again from the days of Sophocles to the 21st century with Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone. Antigone is a theme that’s as fresh as a day or as old as parchment. It deals with King Oedipus marrying his mother and tragedy befalls their children. Later Antigone bemoans the deaths of her brothers who fight on opposite sides in the Thebes Civil War. She wants to give a proper burial to her fallen and slain brother, Polyneices who defied King Creon and he has denied a proper burial for his nephew. In the meantime, her other brother, Eteocles, who fights on the king’s side dies too. Due to her defiance of the king’s orders in burying Polyneices, she is sealed in a cave to die. Note that it has a contemporary context: wars, killing, dishonor, fear, pogrom, Oedipus complex, and incest.

A lot of the speculative-fiction themes border on the starkness, quirkiness, and non-conformity. These themes also border on the sublime and fantasy. One such poet who created thrilling speculative-fiction poetry was Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His works: Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner juxtapose ideas and create a psychedelic delight. Kubla Khan begins with a scene in Xanadu where the Tartar king, Kubla Khan wants a ‘pleasure dome’ for himself by the river Alph that runs into a ‘sunless sea’. The land around is described with the feel of the Garden of Eden. He describes several remarkable scenes of a woman ‘wailing for her demon lover’, a haunted moon, ‘a damsel with a dulcimer’, ‘ancestral voices prophesying war’, ‘caves of ice’, and finally, a self-actualized man. 

Similarly, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge seems to have been inspired by Captain James Cook’s voyage across the South Seas and the Pacific Ocean or the stories of the Wandering Jew. This is a poem that is lyrical and runs on a setting of violence, killing, horror, repentance, fear, hardship, death, damnation, and salvation.
Speculative-fiction works might have something of the supernatural etched on them; however, the plots run on reality. It is also a base for modern literature. Several contemporary works have a trace of this genre (Heaney’s Antigone) and they have set an insight into today’s societies, views, conflicts, and psyche that we have imbibed today.


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