The post makes the assumption that you know what speculative fiction means. If not, then don't go to running to wikipedia. Let me make the attempt ...
As I see it, quite simply, speculative fiction deals with "speculative things" which cannot be explained by our everyday science (or at least the current version of it). Yes, I have heard of Arthur C. Clarke and his "Any sufficiently advanced technology is almost indistinguishable from magic" refrain. But that still does not make speculative fiction any less "speculative". This is indeed a broad definition, spanning science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror and maybe even the magic realism of Rushdie and Marquez.
By their very nature, all speculative fiction asks the question, what if? This is not to say that, all stories of this nature deals only with this fundamental question. Rather this question provides the actual backdrop for the story elements to interact with each other. "Lord of the Rings" may actually be a mere moral fable on the hazards of absolute power and the strength in humility, but can you actually imagine the story without its backdrop of magic and magical creatures?
So in essence, the “what if” element of speculation creates an atmosphere for the real story to be enacted without any bondage of the rules of reality or science. This effectively frees the author to give her imagination a free rein in creating her own version of reality. On the other hand, it also makes her responsible for creating a believable world which would allow the readers to willingly suspend their disbelief for some time.
The above rather pointless discourse does not get to the point of the post. Which is, why am I so hooked to it?
Its a phenomenon which began in my school days, when I used to devour anything with vague science fiction content. Yes, I managed to read all those horribly translated Russian SF also, the ones which always surprised me with their latent sexual tension. To the utter horror of my schoolmates, my favorite Indrajal Comics character used to be the red leotard clad Flash Jordan, as compared to the more “with it” Phantom or the “ethnic” Bahadur.
Horror came from the rather comic stories of Leela Majumder and Premendra Mitra and of course some chilling short stories of Satyajit Ray. Somehow, I never took too much to it. I mean, staying awake through the night after reading a rather scary one still happened, but those instances were few and far between.
Fantasy is something I discovered only in college life. You may argue that the Ramayan / Mahabharat / Thakumar Jhuli which I read in the ages between 5 and 10 are actually fantasy, but they never sounded right, maybe because they stretched the imagination too far. The real “Sword and Sorcery” stuff were consumed during various Vector Algebra classes. It looked rather childish at that time. It still does. But that hasn’t stopped me from becoming a junkie.
Rather than pontificating on my literary travails let me now try to summarise why I think I am hooked.
1. Escapism - The sense of the extraordinary rather than the mundane with less side-effects than grass or hash.
2. Wonder - The sheer genius of imagination. Hyperion, anyone?
3. (Ahem!) The Story - The characters helping the reader to make sense of an alien landscape, which is otherwise incomprehensible.
4. Fatalism - The whole shit of prophecies and all. Does anybody do anything without an deep underlying purpose in these stories?
5. Naivete - Only a kid can believe some of the situations presented to the reader. Then again kids are always smarter than their parents.
Hmmm .... in trying to analyse my addiction it seems I have done a character analysis of myself. Now, if only it was true and not "speculative" !!!