How much fantasy speculative fiction is there out there?
December 10, 2012 11:49 PM   Subscribe

How much fantasy speculative fiction is there out there?

At least speculative fiction is I think what I'm looking for, anyway. My favorite genre is science fiction, because it often deals with the possibilities the future holds. William Gibson and Charlie Stross are good examples of what I love.

What I'm curious about is if there's traditional fantasy (swords and sorcery) that deals with the same concepts of futurosity. Modern-day settings would count - Magic Bites or the post-apocalypse Sunrise Lands. A good example would probably be the Discworld books dealing with modernizing Ankh-Morpork, though I don't know if that's cheating since it's a commentary on the present.

Is there anything like this or are the two concepts mutually exclusive?
posted by Evilspork to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
In the terminology I'm familiar with, all genre fantasy is speculative fiction. In some of it the spec.fic. aspect is basically a backdrop, rather than central, but that's true of a lot of science fiction as well.

Can you expand a little on what you're looking for in futurosity? Stories about the future of our own real world/time, or stories about any changing time and how the people living then/there react and adapt? Does it have to be about people living through a change, or can it simply be about people living in a different world with a focus on how that affects them?
posted by hattifattener at 11:57 PM on December 10, 2012

Best answer: Hmm... have you checked out China Mieville?
posted by gryftir at 3:44 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You mention Charlie Stross, so I assume you're aware of his Merchant Princes series? This is basically science fiction, but does have a lot of fantasy aspects about it.

I'm not entirely sure what you're looking for - is Ian Macleod's Light Ages the right kind of thing?
posted by siskin at 4:12 AM on December 11, 2012

Best answer: You mention Magic Bites which is part of a whole genre of urban fantasy (Urban Fantasy: Where The Men Have Trenchcoats and the Women Have Back Tattoos). I'm really partial to my Wizard Detective stories (Dresden Files, Felix Castor, Sandman Slim, Nightside, and so on) and there are a host of different series out there. The unifying premise seems to be speculation as to how magic could exist along side the modern world without changing it fundamentally. In a way, even Harry Potter could be seen as part of this genre.

Taking it a step further, there's a subgenre of fantasy that involves magic being plopped down into the 'real world' and how things develop from there. You mention Gibson, so of course I have to mention Shadowrun, which is basically cyberpunk+elves. It's mainly an RPG setting, but I think there have been some books based on it as well. There are also a bunch of historical fantasy fiction-types that are basically "Historical Event + Fantastic Element" -> Novik's Tremere (Napoleonic Wars | Dragons), Grahame-Smith's Lincoln (US History | Vampires), GRRM's Wild Cards or Moore's Watchmen (20th Century | Superheroes), Clarke's Strange/Norrell (19th century England | magic). I'm not sure these mashups get at what you're looking for, but they do sort of deal with the "times are a'changing" elements you hint at.

Finally, there's a good foundation in fantasy for the reverse - modern people/thoughts entering fantastic worlds and changing them. Burrough's John Carter, Brooks' Kingdom of Landover, Cook's Wizardry series, and so on. There are also the idea books like Gentle's GRUNTS (modern weapons and tactics in a fantastic world) and even Turtledove's Guns of the South. Like Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork, Glen Cook's Garrett series (more wizard PIs! sorta) deal with the modernization of fantastic settings.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:00 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Speculative fiction is an umbrella term that encompasses science fiction and fantasy. I think the term you are looking for is "contemporary fantasy" (sometimes the leading adjective is "modern" or "urban"). This is magic and dragons and warlocks, but all set in midtown Manhattan or South Central. Much of this is YA, if that's a turnoff.

I don't know if that's cheating since it's a commentary on the present.

You're going to have a hard time finding any good speculative fiction that doesn't comment on the present. Ursula K. LeGuin can protest all she wants, but that's a major part of what these genres do.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 5:02 AM on December 11, 2012

Best answer: The Rook is a great spy thriller + magic. Still not sure we are hitting the mark though.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:48 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hmm. You seem to be looking for urban fantasy that's set in the future or immediate future. If I'm right on about that, you might try Steven R. Boyett - Ariel and Elegy Beach - they have that post apocalyptic feel to them that most urban fantasy doesn't bother with. Galveston by Sean Stewart is another one (and much better written.) I've been reading the Iron Druid series (they're okay, not amazingly wonderful) by Kevin Hearne lately and he has set himself by the fourth book to be 12 years in the future by book number five, which I imagine will come out sometime before 2024, so that should be interesting. Unless he just ignores it completely. Note! It's out as of a couple weeks ago.

However, as robocop has mentioned, there is a LOT of urban fantasy out there. I read a lot of it as well, so let me toss in some of my favorites. The Rook, which I just finished, was excellent. China Mieville doesn't really write urban fantasy, except when he does, and I think Kraken is a blast. Kate Griffin's Midnight Mayor books are also great. Seanan McGuire is often recommended on AskMe and that's for good reason and Sergei Lukyanenko's Nightwatch books are Russian, therefore different, and really good as well.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:51 AM on December 11, 2012

Best answer: I'm not sure this is exactly what you're looking for, but the Mistborn series was a more traditional fantasy series (swords & magic), and then later, Alloy of Law was released, where the progression of technology was taken up to old-west style gunfights and trains, but without removing the magic.
posted by cschneid at 5:59 AM on December 11, 2012

Best answer: I hesitate to recommend it, but The Iron Dragon's Daughter might fall into your zone.
If you are familiar with Shadowrun (which it predates) it's like that but grimmer, in a fantasy/"steampunk" work, but more gritty.
It wasn't my thing, but it may be yours. There is a sequel.

(I enjoyed Calenture and Silverheart by Storm Constantine, but I don't think that's what you are after, but I mention them anyway, especially the latter -- which is based on a Moorcock idea).
posted by Mezentian at 6:22 AM on December 11, 2012

Best answer: More 'magic as technology' books (tongue-in-cheek prototypes):
Magic, Inc.
Operation Chaos / Operation Luna
The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump
The Lord Darcy stories and novel
The Bureau 13 novels

And see more generally the Magitek trope at TV Tropes.

More 'magic has returned, transforming our world' books (pensive, surreal prototypes):
Many novels by Sean Stewart (Resurrection Man, The Night Watch, Mockingbird, Galveston, and Perfect Circle)
Two books by Rachel Pollack--Unquenchable Fire and Temporary Agency

I enjoyed all of these and do recommend them.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:31 AM on December 11, 2012

Best answer: Oh, and it'd be a shame to leave Lev Grossman's The Magicians out of this thread, even if it is kind of an obvious answer. If you haven't already heard of it, it is maybe easily described as being Harry Potter For Grown-Ups.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:34 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So you're looking for post-industrial fantasy? (I think that's what you're saying.) Seconding "urban fantasy" as a search term in general - there have been a lot of good AskMes about it. Also seconding China Mieville - The City and the City might hit you right, and Kraken is fun even if I don't love the pacing.

Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun is on the line between science fiction and fantasy, and quite good, especially if you have a high tolerance for linguistic games. Fred Saberhagen's Empire of the East trilogy is set in a post-nuclear/magic-works-now far future, which I found interesting.

More specifics on what exactly you're looking for might help (and "speculative fiction" is the blanket term for science fiction and fantasy in general.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:26 AM on December 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for taking a really weird question and running with it, everyone. (yes, the meds helped when I was writing it)
posted by Evilspork at 3:40 PM on December 11, 2012

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