My mom didn't love Harry Potter.
I know. This is one area where we differ. My mom was much more a fan of books like The Secret Life of Bees, or The Glass Castle. She prefers stuff like memoir.
Now, I don't particularly love memoir, but I love the gritty realism type of thing that she loves. As a child she gave me books like Summer of the Monkeys and A Long Way From Chicago. which I absolutely loved. Some of our favorite movies of recent years are Dan In Real Life and The Way, Way Back. Such incredible movies.
Now enter my roommates. When I went to college I got introduced to a plethora of things I probably wouldn't have been introduced to otherwise, and for which I'm very grateful. Things like Dr. Who and Firefly and Star Trek. Stuff I also absolutely, thoroughly love.
And my roommates basically all hated Dan In Real Life.
Which seemed to suggest that these genres are polar opposites, but I'm starting to see how that is false. I'm starting to see how genre is more of a venn diagram, and it's the overlapping area between these two categories that most intrigues me.
One of my favorite books that perfectly exemplifies this overlap area is The Green Mile by Stephen King. It's set on death row in the Depression era. You don't get more gritty realism then that. And the book deals in large part with hard themes like racism. But then you get this sort of mystical element--a gigantic black man with healing powers. The guards various reactions to this discovery are absolutely fascinating. The main character's faith in general is tested, then strengthened, and he has to make some tough and hard choices about what to do. He does his best, and is open to learning and change through his relationship with this man. Another guard is so manipulative, prissy, and crazy that he can't remotely be trusted with the secret.
In other words, this story enables us to explore humanity, at its best, worst, and most complex, in ways we could not have without that little bit of magic. Speculative fiction enables us to explore what it is to be human by testing us in superhuman scenarios.
One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek is in the first few seasons of TNG. Data is put on trial to determine if an android has the freedom to refuse tests, or make their own choices. In other words, if he is to be granted the same rights as his human (well, organic might be a more appropriate term) shipmates. Picard is charged with defending Data, and his final statements give me shivers just thinking about it. The entire episode is about how it is our treatment of subordinates and those less powerful or different that says the most about who we are as humans.
And they couldn't have framed that as dramatically and starkly as they did without an android in the defendants seat.
It is often said that one can explain a thing best by explaining what it is not, and perhaps speculative fiction is what gives us the opportunity to do that with humanity. It's a hobbit's stubbornness, a dwarf's sense of pride, these familiar characteristics that resonate with us, and frame this human qualities in fresh, interesting, and memorable ways.
Of course all genres have value, and serve their own legitimate purpose. But for myself as a writer, it's this overlap area that really intrigues me. I very rarely write hard core sci-fi or fantasy, but I also have a hard time writing anything without some element of the weird and supernatural.
What about you? What is your favorite part about speculate fiction, or the genre that you write?
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