As a reader of speculative fiction, I get to discover what life is like in worlds that aren’t yet possible or can never be possible. Science fiction and fantasy are two of the main genres of speculative fiction, and while they’re both looking at life that’s different than what we know, they are very different from each other.
When looking at realism in speculative fiction, you have to think about what is possible and what is impossible. For what is possible, you’re likely looking at future technology and science that we haven’t quite figured out yet. For what is impossible, you’d be looking at magic and wildly alien life that we can’t imagine would ever exist.
In science fiction, it’s easier to rely on realism, especially if you have a solid knowledge or background in science. Or maybe you’re just really good at winging it. But for people like me, realism in science fiction is quite important. I feel like it could be real. I want silence in a vacuum, I want accurately described motion in a spacecraft, I want well-described conditions on planets. Books that screw around with the science and make it rather unrealistic turn me off. I read a book that got artificial gravity generation all wrong with a spinning space station. Unfortunately, the gravity was toward the centre of the station, rather than away from centre. It was backwards.
In fantasy, realism is less of a concern, especially when magic is a major factor. However, there are a lot fantasy novels that rely on realism, and in this case, it’s the realism of battle, tactics, politics, and human nature. There are some great books out there that do this, and as a result, they tend to be quite gritty and dark. This pulls me into the story so strongly, I feel like I am really there, can smell the air, feel the wind, and see the trees, sand, or sea. I love that level of realism.
How do you feel about realism in speculative fiction?