Yes! I get it! I finally get it!I’ve been on a sci-fi/fantasy kick lately, my reading list heavy with both classic and contemporary tomes (and when it comes to Mr. George R. R. Martin, I do mean tomes, as the man makes Charles Dickens look like a minimalist). This is not the first time I’ve done this, though the last time I immersed myself so fully in such worlds of monsters and magic, I was a nerdy little freckle-faced kid. Now I’m a nerdy big freckle-faced adult with bills to pay, meds to take, and a sinking feeling that once-open doors of potential are being closed and locked with deadbolts all around me. Ah well. At least those dragon eggs are about to hatch.
The appeal of these kinds of books is obvious: they’re fun. Yeah, there are also a lot of serious, weighty issues embedded within, and some of them push questionable politics or simplistic moral equations. After a lifetime of literary analysis, it’s impossible for me to ignore these things, to put on lit theory blinders and simply enjoy the cool robots without wondering what they’re saying about technology’s role in a hegemonic society. But that’s OK, because it still doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of steering that rocketship into space from the comfort of my living room sofa. I’ve traveled Middle Earth, Earthsea, Railsea, and Chicago. I’ve met everything from wisecracking wizards to White Walkers. I’ve gone to wizard school (no, not that wizard school) and gone mad over a ring (yes, that ring). I’ve fought dragons, werewolves, really old women and really big bugs. A girl’s gotta do something to keep herself busy in between marathons.As a writer I’ll admit I’m often screamingly jealous of the authors I’ve been reading. The ability to create whole words, whole universes, multiple universes if you’re Neal Stephenson—the mind capable of all that would be one big damn party I’d kill to attend for even just an hour. Unfortunately my writer’s mind doesn’t work like that; I’m lucky if I can handle more than two characters in a scene. One recent attempt of mine, a novella titled Redwood, has been serialized in the literary journal Necessary Fiction (shameless plug alert), and while I had a lot of fun writing it, I’m not going to go preparing my Hugo Award acceptance speech any time soon.
And yet I did have fun writing it. Why shouldn’t writing be fun? Certainly reading should be. Maybe that’s escapism, but I prefer instead to think of these books as addressing the question that is central to all fiction: What if? It’s a question that’s central to being human as well. What if I fed this moldy bread to a sick person? What if I drank the liquid bubbling from those spoiled grapes? Partially digested cow’s milk is disgusting, but what if it tasted really amazing? I like to think we evolved simply out of curiosity to see what it would be like. Sure, I could stay like this forever, but what if I started a whole new species? What the hell, it’s worth a shot. Maybe someday someone can write a book about it.