Escaping Into Speculative Fiction
People read science fiction and fantasy novels and watch the latest superhero and scifi movies for myriad reasons. In a future post, I’d like to look at the various purposes of science fiction and fantasy, but for now, let’s just focus on one of the big reasons people read speculative fiction — for entertainment and escape.
Science fiction and fantasy novels usually transport us to alternate worlds, time periods, even dimensions. We follow people whose lives aren’t similar to our own (cubicle dweller?), even if they started out that way. And the situations these characters find themselves in… well, I assume most of you don’t often fight evil sorcerers, leap over tall buildings in a single bound, or face impending doom if an asteroid’s course isn’t corrected.
And yet… what are we escaping from? We don’t toil all day in the fields just to bring in enough food for the winter. We aren’t fearful of armies who would sweep by and kill us for no reason at all. We don’t have to fight to keep our families safe.
Most SFF readers / viewers live in a Western civilization. We presumably have enough money to access these books and movies, or at least a decent library. We have the education to enjoy the themes and ideas presented in these books and movies. We live in houses, have access to dental care, live reasonably safe lives, and so on.
Thanks to technology, we have more leisure time than ever. We lead good lives and have a lot of time to think and to live in the here and now. And yet we choose to escape.
What is it that leads us to desire escape even when we (historically) are living in luxury? Is it our culture, or human nature? Perhaps it’s the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Psychologists and sociologists have studied escapism and have come to their own conclusions.
So why escape to speculative fiction specifically? In our civilized lives, everything seems so mundane. So naturally we choose to imagine something that seems so foreign, so alien, knowing that we’re always safe to come back.
At least, that’s my reason. Why do you escape?