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Spelunking Speculative Fiction: Fantasy

Speculative Fiction. That’s a broad term, baby. It’s cavernous.

Let’s explore it, map it out just enough to be amazed.

Its scope is enormous. Spec-fic includes sci-fi elements but still falls outside the genre. Throw in your futuristic gadgets, new species and races, monsters, magical abilities, and you’re getting somewhere. Rife with peril and possibility, virtue and vulnerability, imagery and inspiration, spec-fic appeals to all kinds of people. Readers can—quite literally—get lost in another world. 

Speculative fiction = imagination.

Enough inventiveness that readers shush the nay-sayers in their heads, focus on the fantastical elements, and believe. We’ll explore it all in this series, but today, we’re starting with one of my favorites.


I’ve just finished editing an incredible fantasy novel, the first in a series. Aaron Gansky, author and world-builder extraordinaire, and I had a blast going back and forth on this one. Think Tron meets the Chronicles of Narnia.

They'd always dreamed of living in the fantasy world they designed. Now, they dream of escaping it.

Near the end of his manuscript, one of Aaron's characters causes something to happen that blew me away, and I commented with this quote by Leonard S. Marcus.

“Fantasy is storytelling with the beguiling power to transform the impossible into the imaginable, and to reveal our own 'real' world in a fresh and truth-bearing light.” 

He said, “I feel like that quote should be framed.”

I asked him to share his thoughts on it, so without further ado…

I never intended to write fantasy. I didn't grow up reading The Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time. As a literary genre, it didn't much interest me. 

Now, as the first of my fantasy novels is set to release, I find myself an avid fan.

I came to fantasy late in life, and it was really video games that sucked me in. I recall boring my sister to tears while I played Dragon Warrior for hours on end. I loved the quaint villages, the quirky monsters, the experience grind before tackling the final boss in order to save the world.

It was the love for games, then, that pulled me in. But as I began writing, it became painfully obvious I had little experience in the genre. To familiarize myself with it, I consumed fantasy in large quantities. I read The Wheel of Time; I read--dare I say it--Game of Thrones (gasp!); I read The Fellowship of the Ring and just about everything my students recommended to me.

What I found in the pages of fantasy quite surprised me. The impossible became the imaginable. But there was more to it than that.

Buried deep beneath cerulean leaves, beneath soil damp with the blood of elves and dwarves, beneath stone caverns of underground cities, our real world persisted. These elves with pointy ears, and the dwarves with their beards and axes, they were, at times, more human than many of the people I know.

So then, it takes the impossible to become imaginable in order to show us a vision of our "world in a fresh and truth-bearing light."

This is no different than fiction as a whole. Flannery O'Connor talks about this in Mystery and Manners. Sometimes, to paraphrase, we must hyperbolize the faults in our society in order to see the speck of truth we want our readers to see.

Perhaps this is why Lloyd Alexander so sublimely observes, "Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it." We've not known anyone with the terminal greed of "dragon sickness," but then, we have. We've not known anyone with the arrogance of an elf, but then, we have, haven't we? And while they're foreign to us, strange even, they are familiar and understandable.

And don't get me started on the xenophobia of the elves. Or the dwarves. Or the humans. Race discrimination? In fantasy? Really?

As a society, we recognize these. We understand the forbidden love between a human and an elf, an elf and a dwarf, even a hobbit and a human. We understand these, because they are real, because we've seen then, perhaps experienced them.

But fantasy does something else for us. We WANT to experience the world. Not only do we fall in love (or in hate, if you can fall in hate) with the characters, perhaps more than in any other genre, we fall in love with the world. We want to experience a world that is entirely strange, but comfortingly familiar. We want to fear Mordor. And pine for the Shire.

Fantasy at its heart is more than escapism. It's a familiar truth in a new, imaginative skin. It's reality with a fantastic make-up job. It's life sprinkled with pixie dust and Hollywood special effects. It's a miracle pill with a chocolate coating to go down easier. Often, it's the only reality we're willing to swallow. But swallowing it makes us all the more prepared to deal with the ugliness of life when it is upon us.

Aaron D. Gansky is a novelist, teacher, and writing mentor. He is the author of the novel The Bargain (2013, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) as well as The Hand of Adonai, a YA Fantasy series. Additionally, he’s written two short books on the craft of fiction; Firsts in Fiction: First Lines and Write to Be Heard (with Diane Sherlock). To find out more about his books, visit his book page here. And you won't want to miss his weekly Firsts in Fiction podcast either. Just have a notepad and sense of humor handy.

Now, two final things: 

1) A Giveaway. Huzzah! We're EACH giving away a free first chapter edit or--for ACFW writers--a free Genesis entry edit, up to sixteen pages. Just scroll down to our Rafflecopter giveaway and enter to win. You can choose to enter for a critique from Bethany or Erynn, or you can enter both. Click the right arrow to enter for Erynn's critique.

2) Let's do something fun. Angela Ackerman asked one of my favorite questions of all time: If destroying the One Ring were up to you, who would be in YOUR fellowship? Tell us in the comments. One caveat: No all-powerful beings allowed. Flawed characters only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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