Ah, “speculative fiction”, you crazy little hard-to-pin down bastard. Horror, slipstream, dark fantasy, high fantasy, new wierd, Sword & Sorcery, and, of course, magic realism (amongst others).
We had a few (thousand) running conversation at Clarion regarding genre. It was awesome to pick these things apart, when everyone in the “real world” is like “Well, it’s either demons or rocket ships, right?” One of the trends that kept coming up was how damn hard it was to right a fantasy story (“traditonal”, i.e. forests, rogues, mages, new societies, etc.) in a short story. There were a few attempts, and some of themworked, but you’re really swimming upstream when you try it.
I think it comes down to ‘defaults”, which is what I call those little images/phrases/whatever that author’s use to trigger a range of images/phrases/whatevers in their reader. But, once you dodge the anachronisms, the overused tropes, the cliches, etc., and set out to make a world, you walk a very fine line between interesting me in a world and boring me to fucking tears.
Honestly, grab the Year’s Best, or your anthology of choice. (Dreaming Again‘s a good one, if you’re on the hunt…) Man, it takes talent to make that stuff work in a whole new place, short story-wise. It impresses me every time it works, and even when it doesn’t, I respect the guts it took to write it.
Anyway, that’s why my current story is set at my old college. 🙂 (Vikings are hard, and that story needs to kick around some more, or it’llkeep coming out as Conan-on-Ice, which I would totally pay to see, by the way…)