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3 September, 2004

Escape from reality

As Neil Gaiman noticed, the first paragraph of this review in the Village Voice is rather odd, suggesting that British authors are good at writing fantasy novels because the UK is horrible, whereas US authors write good sci-fi because the USA is wonderful.  As my mother would say I'd say: "yeah, right".

The Mumpsimus makes another good point about the same paragraph, questioning the underlying assumption that fantasy (and presumably sci-fi) is, by definition, escapist:

... fantasy equals escape from 'the real world', as if reading fantasy is a wimpy alternative to using LSD.

Of course, some - many - maybe even most - novels marketed as 'fantasy' are, indeed, escapist, in that the writer's desire is merely to create something entertaining and the reader's desire is merely to be entertained, to pass some time.

But there can be, and these days more and more often there is, something more going on. As storytellers from the dawn of human history have known, fantasy is a powerful way to make an audience think about their own world and lives while at the same time being entertained.

Speaking for myself, that latter type is the one I go for (in sci-fi, anyway; the 'fantasy' genre just isn't to my taste). Whilst I enjoy 'cyberpunk' novels featuring realistic people interacting with a realistic environment in a credible way, interstellar travel and aliens aren't my thing. Yet the best of even that class of novel often approaches real-world issues by metaphor. For example, racism or xenophobia applies whether interracial or interspecies. There are many books (and in particular TV series) I mightn't enjoy, but I wouldn't dismiss them so casually (thoughtlessly?) as the Village Voice article suggests.

I may have digressed from Matthew's real point, so read his posting for yourself.

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