Recently, a friend and I were discussing trends in storytelling. We were talking about how, for a while, zombies were the “it” thing to write or make shows and movies about. She argued that now, the “it” thing was exemplified by shows like Westworld. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched Westworld yet, but I’ll take her word for it that the core question of this show is about what it means to be human. She argued that that was the new hot thing to question and interrogate in story, especially in stories in science fiction/fantasy or SFF.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why I write SFF in the past few days, and about what makes a good story in this grab-bag of a genre. I think that my friend has hit on something here. To me, a good SFF story does one thing especially: it pushes boundaries. It stretches our understanding of the world. One could argue that this is what makes a good story in general, actually, but as I am a reader and writer predominantly of speculative fiction in all of its stripes, this is where I feel safest offering an opinion.
Arguably, this pushing boundaries is easiest in SFF, or at least in the science fiction half of the equation, because the genre requires you to think inventively. Take, for example, the prospect of life on new worlds – an eternal question among those who look to the stars. People will be looking for life in the cosmos until they find it or they cease to exist. You can argue we have been looking forever – angels and demons are certainly otherworldly beings, and some creatures from the heavens appear in most major mythologies across the globe in some fashion or another. Yet, the questions that arise when life is found are the most interesting, and can only be asked through speculative fiction. What will it look like? How will we respond to that life? Will we be kind?
The answers to these questions are not just important because they satisfy our curiosity. They tell us something deeply important about ourselves as human beings. The answers to these questions reveal the heart of our nature.
They are most certainly answers that we are already being provided, every day, through our interactions with other beings on our earth, including with one another. And yet, they are not always satisfying either in story or in life. Perhaps this is the other half of what draws me to SFF, that it may be possible to imagine a world that is brighter than ours on the days when it feels dark. If senselessness might make sense, if we could rise beyond ourselves and the bounds of random chance – that world is the world of story, and sometimes the world of life. Those are the stories I most like to read.
You see this clarity, this neatness to life reflected most often in the fantasy side of the SFF genre. There are dangers in the ease of those narratives, but at the same time there are comforts. These narratives offer an answer to our questions of our own nature and worth in a way that is positive, and I think that positive answer can be very important as a way to move forward as individuals and as a society.
The reason I write speculative fiction in all of its stripes is to explore human nature, the essence of what it is to be human in all of its forms. It is my greatest joy to do so. I hope that you, reader, enjoy it, too.
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