Musings

Why science fiction and fantasy?

One thing I’m struck by the few times I’ve sold books at local markets is the number of women over a certain age who, when presented with a sci-fi or fantasy book – respond with ‘oh no, I don’t read that stuff’. I don’t know if this is a gender thing or an age thing, and those are probably waters too deep for me to navigate. All I know is, as someone who was assigned female at birth (I think AFAB is the acronym for the cool kids) and who still identifies as such, I’ve always read sci-fi and fantasy more than any other genres, and it was only natural that I write it.

I often put my affinity for the broader genre down to my mom’s affinity for it — she read us Narnia and the Hobbit as bedtime stories — but maybe there’s more to it. I’ve been thinking lately about why it’s great, and here are my reasons from the small and personal to the societal.

Sci-fi and fantasy together by one of my favourite artists

It’s fun

Escapism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Getting away from the stress and pressures of life, getting to a place where all that can churn away in the background, can be a good thing.

Nota bene: I started drafting this post a few months ago, well before we found ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Escape is sometimes a good thing.

One of the reasons I do yoga, why I garden and why I choose to run outside even when it’s raining is because of that feeling of my entire body inhaling and exhaling (and why, so far, I’m still doing my morning “walk to work” even though I’m working from home for a while). It’s like a bath for my brain or my soul or my [insert self thingy here]. Finishing a good, romping story is the same.

It’s magical

Yes, even science fiction — even hard science fiction — is, for most of us, a little magical. And again, that’s not a bad thing.

You know that tingly feeling you get when you see a clever octopus, a fantastic sunrise, or a picture of resplendent Jupiter? To me, that’s magic.

That flutter in your gut when you enter into a hushed clearing in the woods, an empty church or temple, or onto a stage before the audience arrives? That’s magic.

And I would hazard to say we don’t experience that much these day. But maybe we just need to train our magic senses. Maybe try practicing wonder and awe and amazement. Watch the next rover landing and consider that modern humans have only existed for ~200,000 of the Earth’s 4.5 billion years. We didn’t have a full view of our own solar system until roughly 300 years ago. And now at least two artificial objects have passed the heliopause and left the solar system. It gives me goosebumps.

Now onto the things that aren’t about me…at least not directly.

It inspires invention

This one is more about the scifi, I guess, but maybe you have ideas about how fantasy inspires invention…beyond the addition of second breakfast to the list of meals.

You might have heard how the flip phone was inspired by the original tricorder; we can now 3D print food, which is kind of like a replicator; and you might have read about the recent success of teleportation.

It inspires social change

Both sci-fi and fantasy — but especially sci-fi — are agents of social change.

Take Star Trek. Over the years, in all its iterations, the show has addressed social issues, either head-on or indirectly. Some examples:

  • Fighting racism with Uhura and Kirk’s kiss
  • Constantly humanizing the “other”…even when they’re an alien (think Quark becoming a trusted ally, and obviously the development of the Klingons from caricatures to a complex society). But more importantly, when they’re not alien — having Chekov on the bridge during the Cold War.
  • For a — somewhat — more recent example, I bring to mind the TNG episode **Subverting gender norms – neuter

I think because sci-fi and fantasy takes place in an unreal world, people don’t feel their world view threatened by it. But sci-fi especially often presents itself as a real potential future. And a show life Star Trek that presents overall a very positive, fair, just version of the future.

**This post was actually inspired by watching an interview with Stephen Fry.

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