Saturday, February 23, 2013
3 Ways to Read Science Fiction and Fantasy
In college, I had a writing professor who basically forbade us from writing sci-fi/ fantasy. His logic (and as I've grown as a reader and writer, I've come to appreciate it more and more) was that unless we had a story worth telling, it was too easy to try to hide it by dressing it up with the trappings of fantasy. Descriptions of elves and space ships have their place, so long as they push forward a story that couldn't be told any other way.
The easiest sci-fi/ fantasy comes in the escapist vein. The light sci-fi, like beach reads, is meant to distract us. I've read a lot of that in my life, and fear of the lightness, fear of using my precious reading hours on a book without any real meat is one of the reasons I've grown very cautious of accepting sci-fi suggestions from my friends. I'm looking at you Hunger Games, and also at you, un-ending string of RA Salvatore sequels (and yes, I'm still reading those relics of my middle school self).
There are books that show us the best we can be: I think of The Lord of the Rings this way. For me, the moral climax of the book is not Frodo's final surrender to the Ring (prevented only by Gollum's paralleling surrender, his greedy and ecstatic seizing of the Ring and plummet to death); the moral climax of the trilogy is when Aragorn and Gandalf lead the doomed armies of men in an assault on the Black Gate in hopes of distracting Sauron from Frodo and Sam. To fight for the things you believe in, even in the face of defeat, is the lesson.
And then there are books like The Year of the Flood, like Brave New World or Ender's Game, that show us the worst we can be. They suggest that even at our worst, there are still glimmers of hope.