On Speculative Forms

We’ve been talking a lot about genre as we gear up to open our themed issue of antilang. – Succinct Speculations – for submissions. But what about form? “SpecFic” is a bit of a misnomer – it suggests that speculative writing is always fiction, and that’s obviously not true.

Speculative writing is no alien to poetry. In fact, Canada’s “magazine of the fantastic,” On Spec, devotes an entire section to the form. Antilangers (as we fondly call our past contributors) Amy LeBlanc & Taylor Skaalrud have employed the gothic and the supernatural into their poetry submissions for our flash writing contests on Patreon. And Erin Emily Ann Vance has published her wonderful witchy poems with us in antilang. no. 1 & 2 and many other mags.

Another form that synchronizes splendidly with speculative writing is comics, such as Crash & Burn by Calgary-based creators Finn Lucullan & Kate Larking. And there’s always the obvious examples of superhero comics. We haven’t received any comics submissions for any of our previous issues, but we’d really love to see some this time around as the form facilitates a blending of genres, styles, and artistic/literary modes.

portrait-of-max-ernst-1939.jpg!large
Leonora Carrington’s “Portrait of Max Ernst” (1939), a visual embodiment of SpecNF (Fair Use, wikiart.org)

But what of creative non-fiction? Is there such a thing as speculative non-fic? We feel that yes, there is, and furthermore there are multiple ways one could achieve this apparent paradox. A few years back, Edmonton-based novelist and short story writer Jacqueline Baker wrote The Broken Hours, a literary ghost story about the finals days of horror icon / huge racist H.P. Lovecraft’s life. While the book is marketed as a novel, it is deeply research-based and draws heavily from Lovecraft’s personal letters found in archives. It becomes a sort of biography blended with historical fiction and supernatural horror; plus, Jacqueline told us at a recent conference that she loves the idea of speculative non-fiction, so there!

Another style of SpecNF can be found in Numenera, a table-top role-playing game by Monte Cook Games. This narrative-driven science-fantasy RPG is set in the distant future, and most of the core rulebook Discovery reads more like a very interesting encyclopedia than an instruction manual. While non-fiction suggests that the writing’s topic should be ‘real’ (whatever that means), we feel that SpecNF is as much about style and presentation. Besides, who’s to say these worlds aren’t real, floating over or alongside our own, or that they won’t become real, some day?

Guest Editor Reveal: Jaclyn Morken

Hey!

morken2019I’m Jaclyn, I’m Saskatchewan born and raised, and I don’t plan on leaving any time soon. I have an English degree from the University of Saskatchewan and now I’m working through the end of my MFA in Writing—so, I like to read and write. I mostly inhabit the fantasy genre, but I’m trying to branch out.

I’ll start off by saying what smarter people than me have already said: speculative fiction takes us into new territory. Whether it’s yesterday or three million years from now, in our own world or another one entirely, speculative fiction considers something impossible or not-yet possible. But well-written speculative fiction should make me believe it is possible, here and now.

For that, I’m looking for strong characters.

Sure, a real challenge of writing spec fic, especially in shorter pieces, is creating this believable new world without losing the reader’s attention. But a story’s concept could be stunning, its worldbuilding masterful, and it will still fall flat if its characters don’t resonate.

If I can believe that these characters are real—if they have personality and motivation, and actions that coincide with such—then I’ll believe almost anything thrown at them. And I want to believe in those impossible worlds and situations, because I want to see what these characters are made of.

My writing generally starts with a “what if” situation, and I guess, in a nutshell, that’s what speculative fiction means to me. What if the terrible, the fantastic, the impossible collides with the mundane? What if an ordinary individual interacts with the extraordinary?

Show me. I want to know what happens next.

Guest Editor Reveal: Simon Böhm

Hi there, my name is Simon and I’m from Germany, which used to be the land of poets and thinkers and is now the country of cars and beer. I came to Canada in 2016 for my MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan and decided to stay. So here I am.simon2019portrait

First off, I hate the term Speculative Fiction (isn’t the word fiction implying speculation anyway? Asking for a friend) but what can you do. To me, SpecFic includes everything with a fantastic element. Alternative history? Check. Fantasy? Check. SciFi? Check. Magical realism? Check. Horror? Mostly check.

Personally, I love everything horror – especially King, Barker, Herbert – and a lot of classic Science Fiction by the likes of Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, or Isaac Asimov. Those genres have a tendency to produce longer works and stories, which I attribute to the fact that they require a certain amount of buildup or world-building to achieve their goal. The shorter the story, the more universal and familiar the initial situation has to be in my opinion.

Why does this matter? As an editor for antilang., I’m not necessarily looking for an original genius – though if you can deliver the next archetype villain, that’s great. But you don’t need to create the next creature for Stephenie Meyer to ruin. I prefer a well-written, engaging, classic story over a messy but original one any day of the week. Effect is king, especially in horror. Scare me. Knock my socks off. Make me smile (in a sadistic, maniacal way) and go: that was awesome!

I guess that’s it. Here’s my hand. Now take me to the land of your imagination, no matter how weird or dark it is. Just a heads up: like a lizard that dismembers its own tail, I can let go of my hand. So if you turn around and I’m not there anymore, you lost me. But that won’t happen. Not with you. Right?

Here’s the Plan: Themed Issue Previews

We don’t have time for new year, new me because we’re too busy with the new ALP!

Over the course of an amazing year establishing antilang. and putting together our first three issues, we noticed contributors tend to gravitate toward certain themes and genres. So, to encourage good short writing in these areas while giving our issues more cohesion and nuance, we’ve decided that our next three issues (antilang. no. 4-6) will be themed. We’re hoping to invite guest editors to help out with each issue (we already have two on board for no. 4—stay tuned for the big reveal!) and lend broader and more diverse perspectives to our team.

“But what are the themes?” you ask. Without further adieu, here’s the plan:

antilang. no. 4: Succinct Speculations (Spring 2019)

  • SciFi, fantasy, weird, horror, alternate history/present/reality, etc.
  • Details on guest editors, their definitions of “spec fic,” and what they’re looking for in submissions coming soon!
  • Submissions open Feb. 1st
no. 4 font idea
font prototype for antilang. no. 4

antilang. no. 5: Pithy Politics (Fall 2019)

  • Bold poems, outspoken prose, and micro manifestos
  • Just in time for the Canadian federal election!
  • Submissions open June 1st

antilang. no. 6: Blunt Blogs (Winter 2020)

  • Creative writing from your blog (any genre/topic)
  • A platform for your ‘previously published’ work (because many mags don’t accept work if it’s been on a blog before)
  • Submissions open Oct. 1st

See our Submission Guidelines for full details.

A note on soundbite: our audio publication will be open for general submissions during the same windows as antilang. Contributors are welcome to send audio submissions that match antilang.’s themed issues but we’re happy to hear byte-sized readings on other topics as well.