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New Course: Speculative Fiction


Speculative Fiction Review and Summary

Speculative Fiction is a new English course as of this school year (2021-2022) taught by Mrs. Manley. The term “speculative fiction” refers to fictional stories that deal with fantasy aspects (magic systems, mythical creatures, new planets, etc). This means that the course focuses on fictional stories and how they’re written. The course can be split into 2 parts: reading and writing.

In the first half of Speculative Fiction, you read three books: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson, Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Here you do your typical English course tasks, such as reading the book, completing homework assignments based on it, and discussing what you read in class. There’s nothing wrong with this, especially since—in my opinion—the books are interesting. The Emperor’s Soul follows a girl named Shai as she is tasked to recreate the fatally injured Emperor’s soul. With Bloodchild, you read one of the short stories where humans are living on another planet with surprisingly friendly giant worms. The Ocean at the End of the Lane focuses on a boy who meets a magic family and goes on an adventure with them. According to Mrs. Manley, she picked these books because they’re relatively short, and you can get through them all within the semester. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the longest and Bloodchild is the shortest.

Personally, my favorite was The Emperor’s Soul. Spoilers ahead! Shai was one of my favorite aspects of the book, since I’ve always had a soft spot for shapeshifters. The worldbuilding was immaculate, the characters were thoroughly developed, the motives were clear, and the magic was enchanting. And the fight scene at the end! The author perfectly conveyed the urgency and determination Shai felt as she was escaping. The relationship between Gaotona and Shai was not romantic, which was much appreciated. Ultimately, it left us with the final question: what is true art?

Homework assignments for these books are double journal entries. For those who don’t know, double journal entries involve splitting a page in half with one side labeled “Text” and the other labeled “Response.” In the “Text” column, you write quotes or summaries of the text without any added analysis; in the “Response” column, you write your opinions, reactions, or any of your other thoughts. I feel this homework style works well with the course. Everyone has their own opinion on what they think matters in a book, and there are very few strict rules about what you must include in these assignments. As for assessments, there aren’t any quizzes (currently). However, there are occasional essays about the books once we finish them. This also works really well because it keeps us writing and helps us prepare for the second half of the year. It allows us to focus on the plot and worldbuilding in these books, which will prepare us for the future.

The second part of Speculative Fiction is completely different. Using everything that you’ve learned, your next assignment is to come up with your own short story! Mrs. Manley gives us three outlines to help us develop the story before we start writing: one to brainstorm multiple plot ideas, one to construct the chosen plot, and one to develop the fantasy worldbuilding. You then have a lot of time to write your story and refine it as much as possible before submitting it at the end of the semester. It’s a relatively carefree assignment, and she gives us plenty of class time to write and ask questions. There are, of course, some requirements for your story:

  • Our story must include some sort of magic system, or otherwise it wouldn’t be speculative fiction. This could mean your characters have magical powers, or maybe there’s a portal to another world. There has to be rules to the fantasy aspects of your world, and this also ties into worldbuilding.

  • The story also requires a monster of some sort. The monster doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad guy but has to be something out of the ordinary.

  • The story must deal with a moral issue. This isn’t as much of a concern as you may think. More often than not, this ties in with the conflict. And if you are having problems, you can always ask Mrs. Manley.

  • A map. Though it’s called a map, it doesn’t have to be one. This drawing has to be something that showcases aspects of your story. You could draw a picture of an enchanted sword that your story centers around or a sketch of a magic building. Though if you are doing an alternate world story (which you’ll learn more about in the course), you will need to make an actual map.

Along with these things, you will need literary devices and vocabulary.

Speculative Fiction, overall, is a low-stress course because it’s more focused on what you find interesting. And while writing a whole story might feel stressful, Mrs. Manley makes sure we’re properly prepared. She tells us about this assignment early on, so we can start planning our plot well ahead of time. I took advantage of this extra time to refine my story and make sure it fit the given requirements. If you enjoy writing, this is definitely a worthwhile course!



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