Polar Bears and Reality

So, in a reply to Thursday’s post, Sumit said

“I’m growing increasingly entrenched in my position that the real genre distinction is between “hard” and “soft” fiction. There are those who write to capture the world, and there are those who write to escape it.”

Which, frankly, I thought was fascinating enough to be the subject of it’s own post.


Because it’s a goddam beautiful paradox, that’s why.

If you want to escape the world, it’s a whole lot easier to capture it first. (It’s a bit like a polar bear that way).

Utterly Gratuitous Polar Bear Pic








Consider this argument: the more wacky and cock-a-hoop your SF concept is, the more real your characters need to be to get readers to suspend your disbelief. Whether your story is set in Middle Earth, Kronos, or Hackney, verisimillitude works.

But there’s another, more interesting take on this theory.

I reckon that the genre I write in, Urban Fantasy, is escapism par-excellence. I love it for that. Nothing is more escapist than magic in your home town. (I wrote a whole thing on it here wingsmith.livejournal.com/20826.html )

There has to be a reason, and I think it’s this: These are escapist stories that constitute what is to be escaped. There’s a kind of psychological flight response that grips me when I read the first chapter of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s stone.
The blank grey tedium of suburbia in the book chimes with my experience, I want to get away from it, and when the magic opens up, I dive right in. It’s the feint before the counter-punch. The stick before the carrot. The cuddly bear before the not-so-cuddly bear. The ordinary makes me want the extraordinary more, and embrace it harder. It makes the book work better.

If escapism’s about getting away from the world, then representing the world makes it easier to know which way to run.

(There is another deeper reason. I’m the kind of person who deep down, really wants to believe in magic. And in the rich undersoil of the psyche, desire and belief aren’t too far apart. Hence, when I read fantasy, its not just escapism, it captures some way I think the world is, that isn’t given to me by my everyday experience)
Just for kicks, lets see if the paradox is symmetrical. Can you represent the world without escaping it? Not in fiction, surely. Because all fiction is escape. All fiction says. ‘Here is something that didn’t happen’ Something that isn’t in the world. It reaches beyond the world. That’s why I love it.

So, I guess I conclude that all stories both capture, and evade reality. In a kind of spiralling, intricate waltz. Which when you get right down to it, is pretty awesome for ink and paper.

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