While I do occasionally step outside of speculative fiction, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of my work falls there, from my debut novel to my flash fiction. So, what’s the draw of the genre? Or, more accurately, collection of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, horror, utopia, dystopia, alternate history, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic and superhero (according to Wikipedia).
I often joke and say that I like to write fantasy because I don’t have to do any research – I can just make it up as I go along. That actually isn’t true, though. I do quite a lot of research because I think the accuracy of the mundane details makes the magical more acceptable – it helps the reader to suspend disbelief.
The real reason I love speculative fiction so much is the sheer breadth of possibility. If you set up the world right, you can make anything at all happen; it just has to make sense in the context of the world you have built. For example, in Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson, it’s established early on that on the storm-ridden world of Roshar, the energy of the storm can be caught in gems called spheres, which are then used for light. It’s then plausible that the energy could be captured and utilised in other ways, too – and so we have characters who can use the "stormlight" to perform inhuman feats.
Of course, the flip side of this is that your world must be built well and be internally consistent. In KalaDene (the planet on which Ashael Rising is set), the Folk are a tribal people, hunter-gatherers who live in harmony with their planet. This harmony allows them to manipulate the life energy that suffuses everything. However, since the source of their magic is life force, I can’t have them running around casting spells everywhere with no limit – they can only use the energy that is available and if they take too much from one place, they are taking life itself. To have their power be unlimited would not be internally consistent.
Another thing I love about speculative fiction is the ability to take issues of importance in the real world and look at them in a different context. Issues such as racism, religious persecution, environmentalism and gender equality have all featured in speculative fiction in forms that allow them to be examined in a way that may not trigger the same level of emotion that a more "realistic" novel is likely to engender.
This can be a really useful tool and can be very eye-opening for the writer. For example, in Ashael Rising, the cams are gender-equal, with men and women both taking leadership roles and nurturing roles. No one is assigned tasks or limited in their choices because of their gender. Writing that sort of culture made me realise how gendered our use of language can be. In an early draft, I had a character dismissing something as "female intuition" without thinking about how these people would not frame intuition that way.
For me, the only downside to writing speculative fiction is that when you create another world, you have to keep track of so much information. I have files on the flora, fauna and climate of KalaDene, on the races and their cultures, on the history that brought them all to where they are now. If I had written a book set in Glasgow, a lot of the information I needed would already be known to me or would be just a Google search away. Instead I had to make everything up and then keep track of the implications of that. I’m sure my world-building files will only get bigger as I continue with the series.
Find out more about Shona, and buy Ashael Rising (The Vessel of KalaDene: Book One):
Ashael Rising is available for purchase at: http://bit.ly/ashaelrising
You can also buy the book at Unbound: https://unbound.com/books/ashael-rising