Last weekend, a good friend (during one of his frequent diatribes) looked me in the eye and said, “I’d prefer to read a good biography, because novels in the end are just fantasy, they’re not real and they don’t offer anything helpful.” In the context of his diatribe, he meant that fiction does no one any good except to switch their brain off for a while (as if that wasn’t worth something in itself). To be fair to my friend, he’d obviously forgotten what I write — he wasn’t attacking me, he was just being … honest … and a little oblivious…
Back in February, during coffee with another close mate of mine, he politely asked me how my writing was going and with glazed eyes and fixed smile he endured a couple of minutes of me telling him. It’s been obvious for several years that he just doesn’t “get” why I’m pursuing writing fiction. When I mentioned that I’d once tried to write a self-help book, he perked up and said, “Yeah? Would you concentrate on something worthwhile like that?”
Worthwhile, huh? Sigh…
So. Of course I’m a little irritated. But I’m also stirred to think through what good is speculative fiction? Am I wasting my time by the hours I spend writing it? Reading it? (Watching it?)
Ian Welke (author of The Whisperer in Dissonance) recently wrote:
John Shirley has been one of my favorites ever since his “Song Called Youth” trilogy came out in the 80s. “A Song Called Youth,” helped save me from depression then. Before I read it, I was depressed and angry. After I read it, I was still pretty much depressed and angry, but I at least felt like someone saw things the same way, and felt not so alone.
I want to say here that this nails one of the major “advantages” great sf/fantasy/horror (fiction) has over self-help or biographies — namely that teenagers actually read it!
Many many people have said similar things to me over the past few decades, about how a story has improved the quality of their life, gotten them through a hard time, helped them see the universe in a different light. Ian’s written comment here (used with permission) puts it beautifully.
Fiction also fleshes out values, concepts, ethical dilemmas, life stage issues and so on and so on. In ways that enable the reader to engage at a wholistic (right brain) level. And yes, I added a “w” to “holistic” — I meant to.
In fiction, people get to do things we don’t have time to do in real life, namely focus 100% on the problem that’s confronting them. This can be enormously helpful to process our own painful feelings, tough decisions and general stresses.
Fiction can inspire the positive in us. Star Wars A New Hope inspired me at 11 years old to make my life significant, to affect the world. Grandiose at 11, sure. Thirty-whatever years later, I find I’ve worked hard to be of service to others and to refine myself to be the best me I can be. This yearning was captured and inspired by a “religious conversion” at 16, but it started at age 11 with a science-fantasy epic…and I believe God was behind me watching that movie too.
Rant over. Final word: fiction rocks.
…Maybe I should have written this as a story…