Yup, that’s right, we’re back to the genre discussion!
There’s a lot I could say about genre. Like, a lot. But there is one point among the hundreds that I really want to make, and then I can finally let this go.
I’ve mentioned before (many, many times) that I believe that the role of the speculative element in Half-Man is essentially that of supporting cast, not the lead. This is a story about people, first and foremost, and the technology and space travel and aliens and all that is intended to serve as a backdrop for a character-centered narrative. If the “science fiction” element starts taking the foreground of the story, starts drawing attention away from the human element, then I’m doing something wrong.
So if that’s the case, why make this story science fiction at all? And I’m not talking about the science fiction/fantasy distinction I explored before. I mean why write genre fiction in the first place?
Because I believe that taking the characters out of a familiar setting actually helps the reader identify more strongly with their experience.
When we read a story that takes place in our own world, surrounded by familiar landmarks and existing political issues, we can’t help but project our own experiences and opinions onto the characters. If we are reading about someone who is encountering a situation that we could realistically encounter ourselves at some point, or even have encountered in the past, then we aren’t thinking about the character anymore, we’re thinking about ourselves, about what we would do or did do in that situation. That’s just human nature, and there’s nothing self-obsessed about it.
But, if we see a character in a situation that we ourselves could never be in, we stay focused on what the character does and why. It is easier to maintain empathy, and as a result we start thinking about what it would be like to be someone else. We imagine a more diverse range of human experience, and really think about ways to be human other then our own.
This is why I believe science fiction is important. It expands our imagination, increases our capacity for empathy and compassion, and challenges our codified ways of thinking. I really believe that reading science fiction (and fantasy, and horror, and all the other genres of the impossible) makes us better people. That’s just my thoughts on the topic, I’m sure some people will disagree with me, but there it is.
I really like the phrase “genres of the impossible.” Quick, trademark it!
But all joking (and modesty) aside, I think this is a really important idea. Empathy isn’t just an inherent trait that people either have or they don’t. It’s a skill. It needs to be exercised if it’s to be developed. And fiction is one of the primary ways we have to exercise this skill.
If I need to explain to you why the world would be a better place if people had more empathy skills, then there’s something wrong with you.
So yes, I think sci-fi makes the world a better place. It’s amazing the claims some people will make in the safety of not having a comments section, huh? Guess you’ll have to email me if you think I’m full of crap.