Guest blogger Mary Fan on reading to escape.
I frequent the New York Times book section, mostly looking for industry news, and to pick up tips on how to write a good review. (I run a review blog, Zigzag Timeline). However, I don’t think I’ve ever picked up one of the books reviewed. Partially it’s because I have an extensive reading list and don’t really have time for their recommendations, but mostly because they like to review literary fiction, in which case, the reader in my head says, “No thanks, sounds too good.”
I don’t read to delve into the depths of real life drama, to examine or question moral principles, or to ruminate on the meaning of life. I read to escape. That’s why the majority of my reading list consists of speculative fiction. I want a book to take me away to a far-off land, where the impossible comes to life and the improbable is shrugged at. Who cares that there’s no possible way a light saber could work? If they’re part of the fabric of the story, they’re real enough for me.
I see enough real world problems just reading the news. When I read, I don’t want a mirror of what’s actually going on out there. I don’t want someone to “tell it like it is.” In fact, unless it’s dramatized historical fiction, I avoid stories “based on a true story” like my cat avoids a bath. Most of the stuff I read is, from a literary standpoint, transient. It will never be taught in classrooms, picked apart by teachers with microscopes and crammed down the throats of yawning school children. It will never be tied to an academic’s desk and tortured into confessing its underlying meanings. That’s precisely why I read it. It’s my literary candy, empty word calories that taste delicious.
Now, every so often, I’ll come across a piece of candy that has nutritional value, and those are the best. They’re like those gummy bear vitamins — you receive your nutrients in a tasty package. You get your far-off adventures, your wild escapes, your truer-than-life loves, and you get to feel a little smarter after reading.
When I wrote my sci-fi space adventure, Artificial Absolutes, I was basically baking brownies. A star-filled batter mixed with robots and sprinkled with virtual reality. It was, for me, a fun thought experiment: what would happen if you took an ordinary young woman, who could have stepped out of a contemporary romance or something, and put her in a space opera universe akin to Star Wars?
Then I began thinking a lot — perhaps too much — about the theme of man versus machine, the eggs that hold the batter together. I approached the great nutritious carrot that is the philosophical debate about the nature of free will, and I shaved off a few pieces to throw into my sci-fi brownie. Whether the nutrients survived the oven remains to be seen, and will likely be received differently by different readers.
Ultimately, whether they get their veggie bits or not, I hope to do for my readers what dozens of authors have done for me – take them away on a fun journey.
Mary Fan’s sci-fi novel Artificial Absolutes will be released in late February and the book’s website is http://www.artificialabsolutes.com