Full disclosure, I had to look it up when I first heard about it. I assumed that it was just another term for Science Fiction. Apparently, it encompasses Science Fiction, Fantasy, as well as Horror and other sub-genre's which typically require mysticism or magic which may or may not be explained by science.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."-Arthur C. Clarke
The realms of Fantasy and Science Fiction have always blurred at the edges. Some Fantasy works have heavy Science Fiction influences, and vice-versa.
So, that is why I have taken to calling myself a "speculative fiction" author. I love science fiction, probably more than any grown man should, but I also like to dabble in horror and fantasy as well. My collection, Covinous, has plenty of stories that do not fit neatly within traditional Science Fiction.
Of course, it doesn't end there. To speculate is to take what you know, and think ahead. To form an educated guess as to what is to come. In short, to hypothesize.
So, that is what I do. I try to ask the tough questions, try to decide where our future might lie, and tell stories about the interesting parts. There is a pitfall authors can fall into when it comes to writing speculative fiction, however. Sometimes they forget that everyone has a different idea of what the future may hold, or what it might look like.
Grab any magazine cover from the 50's, and you will no doubt come across feature articles about the "home of the future", or the "car of the future". Not all, but the majority of speculative fiction was referring to a future like the one described in "The Jetsons". Everyone gets along, and the future looks much like the 50's, only with robot housekeepers and cars that can fly. You see, in the 50's we were all busy thinking about the future, and our fiction reflected that.
Because we felt as though we had the present pretty well handled.
Fast forward to today, and most people are struggling to make ends meet. even if they have a good life, one that would have seemed magical to someone from the 50's, we fight against the gnawing uncertainty that it could all be gone tomorrow. Our speculative fiction is rife with zombies, pandemics, and dystopia. Why do you think that is? I don't claim to have all of the answers, because the answer will be likely different for everyone because I asked for your opinion, and not for a universal truth.
I expect that eventually things will swing back to a more prosperous time, and I'm sure that the stories of that era will be more pleasant. Oh well, it's nice to think about, if nothing else.
When writing speculative fiction, it's important to recognize these differences, because at some point you will have to decide what kind of future you want to build for your characters. You can take one of these two extremes off the rack, dust them off, and plant your own little twists into them, or you can take a look around.
See what makes your world tick, where it is running smoothly, and where it is coming apart at the seams. Not everything will break down completely, and not everything will be nirvana. If you can discover three or five major themes for your future, you can start to define what that world will look like.
Is society equally prosperous, or is there still class warfare? Have things devolved to a militant state, or are people generally happy? Has technology proved the godsend that we hoped it would become, or has something catastrophic caused us to revert to simpler ways? What sort of government exists? Is there even one?
These are all great questions to start with. If you know the answers to all of these, you're off to a running start. The more work you do fleshing out your world before you touch the keyboard, the more consistent and believable your world will be when you do. You don't need to have ALL of the answers, but a few major ones will save you from excessive rewrites and writers block brought on by uncertainty....well, hopefully, lol.
Personally, I don't think that the impending Zombie apocalypse will be that bad. I mean, I already have a sword, my son is stocking up on MRE's, and nobody can really say it caught us by surprise.
So, learn what you can from your present, find out what people find important to them and you will be able to draw realistic extrapolations as to where we have invested our resources for the next 10, 20, 200 years down the road.
You will not be 100% right in your predictions. Sorry, but it's just not possible. Just like those magazine covers promising flying cars and robotic housekeepers (well, we do have Roomba's, and Ferrari's, which kinda fly, so I guess you can take them as metaphors), the most amazing of your predictions may not happen in the time frame you predict. That's okay though, there are ways around this.
The first? Keep the world small. I don't mean make the actual planet smaller, just limit societies exposure to this amazing technology. Not everything has to be all "Minority Report". Back to the Future made the time machine more feasible because not everyone in the 80's version of Hill Valley knew about it, meaning that the 1980's version of America depicted in Back to the Future could reasonably coexist.
The United States in the War of the Worlds or Zombieland could not. Trust me, we'd have noticed. You can even go further, such as in the movie Primer. This is a tactic Independent films use all the time, because it allows them to both trim production costs at the same time as making their story more plausible. People need to recognize something from their world in order for the differences you make on the page to have some leverage to lift off from.
Another? Take the party somewhere private. Don't get dirty on me here (later, perhaps). Innerspace was a great Science Fiction B movie, and it was great because it created a world where the fantastic adventure could happen without broadcasting them to everyone. The Thirteenth Floor, another example of this. Neither of these movies broke into your world too forcefully, they created adventures that happened in the blind spots of society.
There are countless others, I'm sure. If you think of any, please feel free to contribute them below.
I would like to take this opportunity to observe a bit of a milestone on this site. That being that this is my 100th post. I have been averaging around 104 hits per post, and I have everyone reading this to thank. I am hard at work on the first installment of my d.o.mai.n series, and should have something to show you later this year. I really want this to be right before I release it, because it is the launching point for a whole new world. Because if yo have the time to think of your fictional world long enough (I've been working on d.o.mai.n in one form or another for over ten years), you can actually create an environment on the scale of "Minority Report".
The world I am creating is plenty recognizable, but I don't think you will be bored there, either.
Well, It is getting late, so I'll end it here. I definitely would love to hear if you have any comments regarding what I've written above, even if you want to tell me how wrong I am. Bring it!