There’s a particular subgenre of speculative fiction that scratches an itch for me like no other. It’s where you find yourself in a world very much like our own, except one thing is slightly… off. Perhaps there’s a movie theater that plays only memories, or the story centers on a child who learns the language of cats. Or in this familiar-yet-unfamiliar world, everyone wears electronic bracelets that monitor their moods.
These stories place the fantastic alongside the mundane, yet their speculative elements feel subtle compared to other works classified as fantasy or science fiction. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, for example, has a contemporary setting that features one distinct speculative element: the titular midnight library, which is a manifestation of purgatory that allows the main character to travel along alternate life paths.
It’s a fantasy novel, certainly, but to group it with the fantasy worlds of Brandon Sanderson or Robin Hobb feels akin to calling cereal a soup. They’re related but distinct categories.