Certain Blessings

At least in western European cultures, we have entered the holidays, and much has been written about how the time has changed from a period of spiritual rejoicing to unbridled materialism, if a materialism leavened by those who still endeavor to do good and by that small minority that always do their best, regardless of season.

In that mixed light, I’d like to reflect on speculative fiction. Although I can scarcely claim to be impartial, given my occupation, I do believe that speculative fiction, certainly at its best, and even at its worst, does convey some blessings upon this troubled world, and, if more people read it, would convey even greater blessings. Am I saying I like all that’s printed in the field? Heaven forbid. I’m not certain I even like or agree with the majority of it. But what speculative fiction does that no other form of literature or entertainment [for the most part] does is speculate on cultures, ideas, likes, dislikes, prejudices, technologies, governments, sexuality and its variations, and much, much more. By doing so, the field offers readers the chance to think about things before they happen. Admittedly, most of what appears in print won’t happen, and much of it couldn’t happen, for various reasons. But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the ideas and the reactions and actions of characters to those ideas and places and events give readers not only an intellectual view of them, but a view with emotional overtones.

The emotional overtones are especially important because, for most people, an idea or a possibility has no sense of reality without an emotional component involving a feeling of how it impacts people. What speculative fiction does at its best is to involve readers with new ideas and settings in a context that evokes a range of feelings.

So often, when people or nations are confronted with a perceived danger, fear reigns, and thoughtful consideration is overwhelmed, if not submerged. And unscrupulous leaders and demagogues prey on that fear to enhance their own power and prestige. The most deadly fear is fear of the unknown. Speculative fiction explores the unknown, and the more people who read it and understand it, the smaller that sphere of the unknown becomes, and the less prone to political manipulation those readers become. To some degree, this is true of all fiction, but it is more true of speculative fiction.

And that is, I believe, one of the blessings the genre conveys, and one of which we who write it should always be mindful.