Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why do YOU read speculative fiction? - Discussion

I'm going to start toying with a (potentially) once-a-week "discussion" type post, wherein readers can read and share ideas about certain topics. This is my first post of that nature. This will be fairly experimental while I see how it takes off. If it works, I'll keep doing it. If it belly flops, I'll drop it. 

So here it is.

My mom can't ever get her head wrapped around why I enjoy fantasy and science fiction so much. My father's answer is, "your mother has no imagination." However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that my mother's wonder about the genre and why people are attracted to it is probably fairly normal among readers. Speculative Fiction, while attracting tons of readers, seems to be the genre that quite a few people can't understand. Why would anyone want to read about something that's not real? Magic? Dragons? Please. 

Two of my brothers actually turned me onto fantasy when I was in high school. I thought I'd hate it at first but I fell in love with it. At the time it was probably as much to connect with my brothers as the fact that I actually enjoyed the books themselves. However, the more I read, the more I liked it. This time, when my mother asked me why I read such weird things, I actually gave it some serious thought. Here's what I came up with. 

I enjoy speculative fiction so much because the authors become the gods of their own worlds. They create and destroy and everything in between. They have clean, white canvasses to work with and they can do whatever they want with it. Literally. The laws of physics and science of our world, our social  constrictions don't have to play in their world(s). That fascinates me, because only with what doesn't exist can you take such incredible liberties with your creation. When authors have that much freedom with their work, I tend to think that their books are (often times, but not always) deeper. That really attracts me, and that's what keeps me reading speculative fiction. I like to see what people can create when they become gods. 

So what about you? Why do YOU read speculative fiction? 

10 comments:

  1. Fantasy and science fiction were my first reading loves, the very first story I can remember reading was a picture book title something like "Little Bear Goes to the Moon". I stuck with those genres through most of my teens years, then drifted off into mainstream fiction for a couple of decaces, but just recently rediscovered my interest for fantastic literature.

    For me, I think it's mainly two things, depending on what it I'm reading, and what I'm reading for. f I'm just looking for some fun and entertainment, then it's the escapism that draws me in, the wild flights of fancy, the exotic sceneries, colourful locales and bizarre characters. I like my fantastic literature reads to be truly fantastic and inventive, the more over the top and the farther removed from experienced reality, the better.

    Then, once in a while, you come across something that isn't just light reading, but that grips you in unexpected ways and involves you more deeply than just on a surface entertainment level. In science fiction, the works of Samuel Delany or Cordwainer Smith never fail to so (to name just my two favourites), in fantasy it's the novels of Sarah Monette or Jo Walton (to name just two recent favourites). As those works tend to be highly individualistic, it's a bit harder to say why they get to me like that, it might not be a function of their genre at all (I have enjoyed everything by Delany I've read, for example, even his non-genre work). If I were to speculate a bit, I'd say that while I still enjoy the exotic, flight-of-fancy aspect of those works, they manage to transcend it towards something different, where the fantastic isn't just self-contained but rings with echoes of real life and true emotions, but all strangely and wonderfully transformed and distorted, and maybe by virtue of just that made recognisable in a way and at a level that mimetic literature can't achieve.

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  2. There are a few reasons why I enjoy speculative fiction and fantasy more than anything else. For one thing, I'm a total nerd when it comes to building new worlds or reshaping old ones, and SFF authors do this constantly. It thrills me, seeing new cultures and languages and little changes to familiar things that turn them into something new and different. It requires thought and planning and a creative brain, and I can appreciate that.

    I admit, there's also a bit of the "anywhere but here" attitude going into it. My own life is... less than appealing in some ways, and I enjoy the chance to escape into a new world for a little while. I like being able to step away from my life and problems and deal with somebody else's. I like the chance that it brings, and often reading books like that let me come back to my own life with a feeling of refreshment, like I've just had a little holiday from myself and am ready to tackle my problems anew.

    Other than that, maybe it's just the way my mind is bent, but ever since I read my first fantasy novel, I haven't been able to stop!

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  3. I read it for the Orcs.

    The tasty tasty Orcs.

    Wait wha?

    LOL

    Basically I read it because I don't want to read books about the real world, or the contemporary or modern. I was to read a story that is fantastic or strange. Thus genre fiction.

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  4. Why would one read specfic? Why do I? Thoughtful questions.

    I suppose it boils down to two things, for me in any case.

    1) Pure unadulterated escapism. There's no dayjob in specfic, no monthly bills. There's adventure and story and excitement.
    2) There are authors out there that use specfic as a sort of social commentary, a vehicle to interpret their worldviews. It is these explorations that make it so interesting.

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  5. The simple explanation is that I spend all day in the real world and when I want to relax...I want something different.

    That aside, I really don't understand why people don't 'get' fantasy. How much literary fiction is actually REAL to the people who read it? Is reading about Victorian London, the American West, or East Asia any less fantastic when you have zero experience with those cultures/time-periods? I think not. So people who read to "...travel the world..." or some such are just as addicted to the fantastic to the rest of it...just the fantastic based on rules they understand. I sort of view it as swimming on the margins of the fantastic lake...with water wings.

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  6. I think science fiction and fantasy excels in the history department. I like history, and a good SF/F book usually has a sense of history behind it. Something more than just the story you are reading. There are hints of other times or places, a sense that there is something yet to be discovered.

    It is the sense of discovery, of threading new ground. -Something that fiction set in our world just does not have.

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  7. Honestly, it is a product of complete access of imagination. From day one i've had an imagination that drives not only me, but everyone else up the wall. I can't stand books much like the life i know. Now, i know a lot of people who read fantasy and sci fi simply for a break (or escape), and while i read it for that sometimes too (i'm sure everyone does), I read it almost exclusively because the consumer in me and my imagination get more out of it then, say, a mystery set in new york right now.

    Or a thriller set in Europe today.

    The farther away from the life i know the better, and i can stand some stuff in countries with much different cultures in today time period, or a different time period.

    But people like Brandon Sanderson, Steven Erikson, and Terry pratchett who create enormous settings that aren't simply earth tweaked and named differently, but have different physics and physical characteristics, and cultural differences that are glaring, and even different races (Minotaur, ork, elf or whatever), always keep my attention better then something with an overly familiar setting.

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  8. Forgive me if this shows up twice. I'm not familiar with posting at this site and I didn't see my first attempt, even after refreshing the page. This is Julie from FFF.

    I have always read a lot of different genres, including horror, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, crime thriller, spy thriller, regular old family drama fiction, and non-fiction. But I do tend to lean more heavily on the fantasy/sci-fi side of things. I think of most horror, mystery, thriller stuff as 'light reading' and use those genres as filler when I want a little break from fantasy. But I guess that's because most of the fantasy that I gravitate toward is...heavy. (haha) I like the philosophy and reflection on real history/politics/religion that I find in weightier fantasy. I love good world building and creative magic systems, but what I really love is the freedom that fantasy and science fiction writers have to show a reader how xenophobia and religions and various cultural mores look from a complete outsider's perspective.

    It's the kind of teaching platform that is represented by fables at the most basic level. The reader is presented with a situation so far removed from his or her own reality and yet parallel, that it allows one to look at his or her own preconceptions from a new angle without getting massively worked up about it. Good fantasy can really make you think about and question things.

    My mother could never understand my attraction to fantasy either. She didn't like "all the foreign words." *lol* Yet she loved Roald Dahl and read me the Wind in the Willows when I was six. She might have liked Harry Potter if she'd ever tried it.

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  9. I'm a huge fan of mythology and folklore, and how people can create the most fantastic of things based on the most mundane elements of their world. Speculative fiction is essentially modern mythology. Also, most fantasy tropes have their roots deep in human cultural perception e.g vampire, werewolf, demon. The earliest stories weren't about people. The earliest stories were of gods and monsters.

    Stories outside the genre like romance and crime thrillers are limited by the boundaries of the human condition. Fantasy and sci-fi allows us to go beyond that, and there are no limits.

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  10. I live in this world most of the time. Why should I read about it too, when speculative fiction gives me the option to live for a while in others instead?

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