I stumbled across a debate yesterday on the topic of escapism, worldbuilding, and speculative fiction. I had initially intended to contribute my own thoughts to this discussion, but after having perused a number of _other_ opinions on various websites and blogs, I doubt very highly that there is anything I could add that hasn’t already been said a dozen different ways already. So, allow me a moment to rabbit trail from that discussion and go in a slightly different, but related, direction.
One of the claims often made about speculative fiction is that people immerse themselves in it as a way to escape from the realities of life for a little while. I’m comfortable with the notion that at least _some_ people who read speculative fiction do, indeed, read it for this exact purpose. But I’d like to explore the question of why _do_ people read this genre. Surely not everyone who enjoys speculative fiction seeks to escape real life, right? Because wouldn’t that mean that people were so ill-adjusted to real life that they can’t cope with reality?
An anecdote to provide a counter-example:
I’ve always enjoyed speculative fiction. I remember that some of my first real writing assignments in grade school were typically science fictional in nature. I also remember that most of my peers really enjoyed those stories, so I would often read them aloud in front of the whole class.
In writing those stories, I wasn’t trying to escape real life – I simply had a very active imagination. I spent hours with some of my best friends re-enacting episodes from the cartoons _Silverhawks_ and _Thundercats_. I loved anything that involved advanced technology and travel through space, new worlds, alien races. I even had, for a while, an imaginary world of mice and cats, where the mice had very fast vehicles that raced through tunnels and where the cats constantly tried to capture the mice when and where they periodically emerged from one tunnel section to speed toward the next. I would tear through the neighborhood on my bike, imagining myself as one of these mice who was continually able to outwit the cats, albeit always by a slim margin. It wasn’t escapism – it was merely an imaginative kid having fun.
As I’ve grown up, though, my imagination has gotten no less active. I still find advanced technologies and magic to be endlessly fascinating. I think it revolves around natural human curiosity and ambition to see new things and do even more than we can currently. To some extent, I almost think that a fascination with speculative fiction encompasses the hopes and dreams of a better, more productive future. Could be I’m all wet, too, but I think I’m at least partially right.
Sure, I suppose there’s a bit of escapism involved in even _my_ interest in speculative fiction, but it’s certainly not my primary attraction to the genre (I don’t even think it’s particularly high on the list). Mostly, for me, it’s just fun and enjoyable and brings the kid in me out to the surface – and I suspect I’m not alone in this.
So, what is it about speculative fiction that most attracts _you_ to the genre? What do you love about it? And is there anything you hate about it?