A Happy New Decade to all regular readers and to those stumbling across this blog from wherever.

One of the projects I set myself in the year just gone was to research what exactly I mean by “speculative fiction” – a term coined in the days of New Worlds magazine in the 1960s/70s as an alternative spelling-out of the initials SF.

The idea was that the term would seek to encompass not just science fiction but any narrative that involves an element of fantasy, or to be more precise (since “fantasy” automatically conjures up for me images of elves and swords and the like, which I generally abhor) non-naturalism. The works of “literary” writers such as Franz Kafka, Bruno Schultz or Jorge Luis Borges could be defined by this.

The idea of speculation/non-naturalism is for me one of the two key elements of the kind of imaginative prose I am interested in. The other is linguistic innovation/constraint. The practices of writers of the Oulipo, such as Georges Perec or Raymond Roussel would exemplify this latter element.

Roughly, the first has to do with content and the second with form and structure. (Roussel in fact is a writer who combined linguistic constraint with fantastic content in interesting ways, or rather, used linguistic constraint to generate fantastic content.)

By a process which is too boring to elaborate, I assembled a list of eight books I had never read before (although in some cases I had read other books by the same author) and set myself to read them during 2009. They are:

Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)
G K Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
Michel Houellbecq: The Possibility of an Island (2005)
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)
Richard Jefferies: After London, or Wild England (1885)
J Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)
China Miéville: Perdido Street Station (2000)
Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)

It will be seen that the novels range in publication date over the past 150 years or so, five of them clustering over the past 25. There is no particular reason for this. Some are generally seen as “literary” novels, others as “genre” novels, and one or two have an uncertain status. Part of my project was to determine whether there is any important meaning in such classification, or whether it has to do primarily with marketing.

Over the next few weeks, I shall examine each of these novels in the order listed, one to each post, and then I’ll attempt to draw some conclusions.

Readers from among the post-avant poetry community for whom the very idea of narrative fiction is anathema, please bear with me, or skip the relevant posts (I shall be interposing them with discourses on other things).

Once again, have a productive and possibly happy 2010!