Victoria A. Jeffrey's authorly doings. . .

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Science Fiction? Why Fantasy?

Art by Ted Nasmith

I ask this question because I love both and always have. I've encountered many people who dislike or simply hate science fiction and fantasy entertainment, yet it has seemed to gain an increasing part of the entertainment market. This makes me happy. So I ask the question, why? Well, science fiction and fantasy are excellent framing devices for important and even controversial ideas.

Why do I personally enjoy science fiction and fantasy? Because of the otherworldly elements. The fantastic elements in each genre are what fascinate me. They take you to imaginative places that are very different from our real world, include characters with powers and abilities that are impossible or improbable in this world and yet through the fantastic they can explore issues we face and deal with every bit as effectively as shows that more closely reflect the real world. Star Trek did this through nearly all of its incarnations, my favorites being TNG, TOS and DS9. They also examine timeless storytelling tropes and archetypes we recognize and gravitate towards which can serve to uplift and inspire heroism in ourselves. The story can teach us important things about our own culture and even make us examine morality and ethics. They make us examine culture, society and Self, if we allow them to. The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire and Star Wars are a few that come to my mind. One, Star Wars, deals with simple and clear Good and Bad, Light and Dark sides, while the other two deal with these same issues but are further along on the continuum between Black and White and gray areas. It is obvious that Martin's work deals with lots of gray area issues but there are still identifiable heroes and peoples with good qualities in his ASoIaF series. Many people mistake Tolkien's work as simple. It is simple in ways and yet very complex. It is a gross misunderstanding of his work that has caused this problem and is an issue for another post. I find that I learn things from all three stories.

One unfortunate thing I've encountered are people who seem to have moral issues with fantasy or science fiction. They explain their dislike of them in moral terms - and in turn judge those who do love the genres as being bad or immoral or intellectually stunted. I really have encountered this. Not very often, but I have dealt with it and it is baffling. often it comes from people who are extremely rigid in their views of anything they deem out of the ordinary. The sad thing about it is that many of the issues raised in the very stories they despise could teach them much about how to think differently, how to embrace the other and to examine the world around them.

In some creative writing classes I took many years ago, especially as I got older, these kinds of stories were not encouraged. They were looked down on as childish, as not being real literature. Do you think kids in school are taught English and Great Literature by reading science fiction or fantasy? Not a chance! It's unfortunate because I think there are so many science fiction and fantasy stories have a lot to say about important themes and can say them just as potently as the Great American Novel or the Great Russian Classic. Farenheit 451, Animal Farm, Ender's Game, Dune, The Lord of the Rings, 1984, A Wrinkle In Time, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, A Scanner Darkly, The Divine Invasion, there are so many excellent works out there that I can't name them all here; I know there are many that I am missing. My point is that in the minds of some people entire genres should be dismissed out of hand as infantile, childish entertainment when in many cases the very opposite is true..

So why? After all, important themes can be explored in more so-called realistic genres and often are with great skill but I think that Otherness of science fiction and fantasy is what draws me to it. The real world on paper with its drudgery, its horrors and sameness does not capture my imagination and attention the same way science fiction and fantasy do. Mind bending, imagination and things that cannot or should not exist do exist which can remove one from the real world  and we find another world to escape to. Why should we want to escape? Is it necessary? No and is mostly a matter of style and taste in entertainment but in the escape I think that important issues can be explored without the feeling that one is being preached at or converted or beaten over the head - though it must be said in the hands of less skillful creators this problem is still evident - You can explore unpopular, sticky, controversial issues, even things that may be forbidden by society in such a way that are far enough removed to engage the reader/viewer long enough that he or she may be willing to think about issues that conflict with his own beliefs and attitudes. An excellent article somewhat related to this issue was written by author Bryan Schmidt.

Does this always work? No it doesn't but I do think that this is the key strength of science fiction and fantasy. Besides that, elements of the Other appeals to those of us who love things that are different, mystical, mysterious, original, out of the ordinary or even those attracted to fringe ideas, unpopular ideas or the radical, whether radically liberal or conservative. I think certain personality types can be drawn to these genres for that reason.

So that is why science fiction and why fantasy. Ok, not a work of great intellect but that's my humble opinion. What do you think, readers? Do you enjoy one of these two genres or both? Why? What are your reasons for why you like science fiction and or fantasy?

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