Editor’s Geeble – Issue #129
Using speculative fiction to escape from today’s challenges
No matter which band of the political spectrum you call your own, there’s no denying we’re living in troubled times. Social media conversations, even between friends and family, often degenerate into arguments. Many people feel marginalized, helpless, threatened, and rejected. It’s hard not to pay attention to every news item, yet overwhelming when you do.
While escaping into fiction isn’t a magical cure-all, I heartily recommend it as an alternative to the scathing real-world reports with which we’re inundated daily. When reality is overwhelming and we feel hopeless to change it, that’s when readers can find inspiration as well as escapism, and authors can imagine more functional, positive worlds while presenting ideas on how to make this one better.
Write your way out
Although this line from the musical hit Hamilton refers to the titular hero writing his way out of poverty and to tremendous political success, it can be applied to fiction writing, too. Are you furious with someone with whom you vehemently disagree? Instead of blowing up a familial or otherwise friendly relationship, create a character based on your opponent. Send them to another world or alternate history and make them experience the point they refuse to yield from a different perspective. Take them on a journey of understanding that satisfies you as the “god” of their fictional fate – have them reach an epiphany that mirrors the one you wish they’d have in real life.
Alternately, if you’re dealing with a troll online, make them the villain or victim of your piece. Send them into a horror story where their bad or foolish behavior makes them a dangerous enemy — serial killer, demonic forces, what-have-you. Inflict misery and suffering on their fictional avatar rather than wasting time and effort ranting at them in a friend’s comment thread. In the end you’ll have gotten out your aggression in a harmless way and created a story that will give readers a chance to escape their own aggravations.
A book, too, can be a star…
“…explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” For me, this quote from Madeleine L’ Engle expertly sums up the power of fiction and its effect on the reader, especially in troubling times. Speculative fiction provides inspiration as well as escapism. When we join a small hobbit on his journey and watch him prevail against his far more powerful foes, we start to think that maybe we can, too. Or when we see enemies from different planets forced to get along in order to survive actually learn from one another, shed their biases, and reach a point of genuine respect and even friendship, we might begin rethinking the “us versus them” mentality that permeates modern culture. And when we laugh at the exploits of fantastic beings living on a flat world carried by four elephants riding a turtle, we enjoy a temporary reprieve from serious political situations and are reminded of the absurdity of it all instead.
What’s the takeaway? Writers have control over entire worlds, people, and political systems. The power they might lack in real life they can wield supreme in their fiction, and thus express their views while providing welcoming alternative, if temporary, realities for world-weary readers to enjoy. Authors can offer perspective, hope and inspiration in their stories or provide a good old revenge fantasy.
Meanwhile, readers who feel like they’re under constant assault in reality can find stories that reinforce their beliefs and satisfy their unmet desires. Or they may read a tale that challenge their world views and make them see their lives (and those of others) in new ways. Beyond the comfort of escapism speculative fiction can spark genuine change, if only in how we think and respond to real world concerns.
Thanks to Meryl Stenhouse and Vonnie Winslow Crist for helping inspire the topic of this edition’s Geeble. You can find a list of Meryl’s work at her website: merylstenhouse.com or follow her on Twitter @merylstenhouse. You can find out more about Vonnie’s work on her website: vonniewinslowcrist.com, and her books are available from Amazon and elsewhere.