Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Why I read and write Speculative Fiction
Rather fortuitously, I have discovered that the week in which I starting my writer’s blog has turned out to be NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging week. It seems then a perfect opportunity to begin with a summary of why I love reading Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. That’s not to say that I unreservedly love all books of a speculative genre, or indeed that I read this type to the exclusion of other genres. I, like most people, tend to read books that I enjoy: books that are compelling, evocative and thought-provoking. Books that are, in short, good stories. Good stories are good stories irrespective of whether they are set on Earth, Middle Earth, or some distant galaxy. A good story will remain captivating no matter when it occurs; present day, Revolutionary France or the year 2458. Like most, if not all, writers I started out and remain to this day a passionate reader. Reading is, I believe, a fundamental component of living and enjoying life to its fullest. Without reading we are bound in our own experiences; without literature we would be captives in our lives, sentenced to never think or feel beyond our own perspective of the small fraction of the world we live in. I have heard people use the term ‘escapist’ fiction as pejorative. I cannot understand this. The ability to escape from one’s own daily existence and vicariously experience the triumphs and failures of the characters on the page is I think not only immeasurable enjoyable but necessary to our understanding of the common trials and tribulations of all humanity. If reading takes us out of ourselves, it does so only to enrich our understanding of what it is to live and the myriad of emotions, relationships, conflicts, motivations and thoughts that drive us all. If reading may allow us to ‘escape’ ourselves for a brief time but it also returns us back as wiser, happier, more interesting, inquisitive and empathetic versions of ourselves. I was staggered when during a Parent-Teacher evening during one of my first years as an English teacher, a concerned mother of one of my bright young students asked me how she could get him to start reading ‘real’ books. I asked for clarification and it turned out that she was worried because all he appeared to read was fantasy novels (which she referred to as big ‘fairy stories’ for boys). I knew from some of the student’s book reports that he had been reading David Gemmell and Raymond E. Feist – I was rather impressed with his reading preferences actually and found the conversation awkward. I asserted as I always do that reading is wonderful and it really doesn’t matter what young people are reading, so long as they read. But later I felt guilty. I am a passionate fan of Speculative fiction. Why had I not be able to clearly express how great these books are and that she should be proud and thankful that her son was probably discovering a life-long love of great literature? I suppose largely it was because was not fully aware that the prejudice existed. I grew up in a home where fantasy, SF and horror books were greatly loved and appreciated but I think more importantly there was a tolerance towards all books. Even when I went through my phase of devouring all the teen girl high school romance drama books that were popular at that stage, I was never judged or discouraged. However, it didn’t take long for my thirst for the magical, the macabre and the amazing to return. Living in a house where such books lined the shelves, it would have been hard to resist the temptation. When reading has the power to transport readers to anywhere the writer can imagine, there comes a time when you want to travel beyond borders the familiar territory to far-off, exciting new worlds. When people wonder why people want to read speculative fiction it can indeed seem like an inexplicable question to those of us fully immersed in the genre. When such wondrous and amazing stories exist, when vast and extraordinary worlds have been created for us to explore, why would we not? If you could fly amongst the stars at night, would you really keep your feet on the ground? Speculative fiction stretches towards the upper limits of our imaginations. The human capacity to conjure up breath-taking new worlds for us to visit, to travel through unattainable distances through time and space to places we can never hope to reach in our own lives, to dream up unspeakable horrors that lie sleeping beneath the Earth, is an amazing gift that should be celebrated, not overlooked or dismissed. There is rich history of literature that was magical and wondrous stretching far back to times before terms like Speculative fiction were used. Heroes defeated dragons; gods loved, fought and schemed like the mortals; ghosts and witches roamed among us. The myths, folk tales and fairy tales from centuries ago that are enjoyed today happily included a healthy dose of the supernatural. When we write Speculative fiction we are not just following in the proud traditional of storytelling and folk legend but also a genre that has included Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Wells, Asimov, Tolkien and many, many others. To write speculative fiction is to stand on the shoulders of giants, and when we start on such exulted ground, the heights to which we can aspire are limitless. If you want spread the joy of NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging Week, go to Pterodaustro Dreams' blog for more information. I also recommend reading the other posts listed there - there's lots of great and interesting stuff.