I’m coming out as a fan girl. I love graphic novels, horror and science fiction, but my real passion is for fantasy, especially epic fantasy.
I think there are a lot of us out there, but maybe we’re afraid we won’t be taken seriously if people find out we spent our vacation at a sci-fi and fantasy convention.
When you look at the numbers, it’s clear that a lot of people are reading fantasy. Why is it so popular? Maybe because it tackles some really big issues that sometimes get ignored by realistic literature.
One of them is that perennial biggie, the meaning of life. Most modern literature talks about life, but you’re on your own as far as the meaning goes.
Fantasy asks questions like, what really makes someone a hero? Is there meaning to be found in risking everything for community or your country? What’s really the most important – loyalty to the people that matter to you or being true to an ideal.
Every person has to tackle these questions. The nihilism of modern literature is, frankly, not very satisfying to some people, and judging from the popularity of fantasy, maybe to a lot of people.
Science fiction may at first seem very different from fantasy. Isn’t it supposed to be all about technology as opposed to squishy ideas like honor and heroism?
Sci-fi does tackle scientific questions and that’s part of the fun, but the best sci-fi is also asking these same fundamental questions. Sci-fi and horror fiction, as well as fantasy, is “what if” fiction.
Whether it’s what if there were elves and dragons, or what if we met an alien species, or what if there were evil monsters living in the sewers underneath a town in Maine, it’s all about what if things were different from the way they are.
Why is this so compelling? First, it gives space to ask those heavy questions outside the specific parameters of everyday life. Aliens and elves are both “other,” not human and this gives a context to talk about what it means to be human.
For example, let’s look at vampires. Not only are they not quite human, they’re potentially immortal. The problem of death and how to come to terms with it and whether it’s somehow necessary for life to make sense are important questions.
We can get some perspective on this through characters that don’t die. With science expanding the length of human life, these questions may become more pressing for society as a whole as well as compelling for individuals.
Epic fantasy is my favorite genre for a number of reasons. It usually takes place in a pre-industrial society. There’s more scope for the individual to do great things in this simpler world.
Fantasy creates a past that didn’t exist. People in the real past had just as many, if not more constraints than modern people, but there was also the potential to travel to a totally unknown place, have adventures, prove yourself and maybe discover something truly amazing and wonderful.
This might be terrifying but it’s also exciting. That sense of wonder is harder to get in the modern world. And I think we miss it.
Then there’s aesthetics. Fantasy writers fill their worlds with swords and goblets and gowns and wood harps — with handmade things that really mean something to the people who own them.
You just can’t get that by going to Walmart. The trappings of modern life often don’t seem as satisfying.
The main reason people read this stuff is, of course, because it’s fun. You get to visit fabulous places you’ll never see outside your imagination. So for your next vacation, try Middle Earth or Westeros or Green Mars or even the sewers of that Maine town created by Steven King.
If you want to try out fantasy, try George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. It’s also a great mini-series on HBO, but I encourage you to read the books.
We have another terrific fantasy writer working right here in Los Alamos at LANL. He’s Ian Tregillis. Try out his novel “Bitter Seeds.”
“What if” fans get a lot of contact with their favorite writers via conventions and websites. My favorite fantasy writer, George R. R. Martin, lives in Santa Fe and I get to talk to him once a year at the Albuquerque fantasy and sci-fi convention, Bubonicon.
Conventions are really fun. It’s great to get to talk about something I’m passionate about with other people who love it, too. It’s also fun to be a member of a community. I love being a fan girl and I love my fellow fans. When we get together, we talk about important stuff and we throw a great party.