A bit of nostalgia & why I love SFF

Speculative fiction has a massive fan base. We have conferences; people cosplay, being a geek is something to be proud of; we spend hours each week listening to podcasts that talk about various issues in geekdom. We talk about important things like which book/movie has the best spaceship and that’s not weird, but normal. It’s fantastic and invigorating. It’s also addictive. That’s exactly what I am. I’m addicted to SFF. It’s like a drug, and I just can’t seem to get enough of it.

I haven’t always liked speculative fiction. Hell, I haven’t always liked reading. I went through a phase when I was in third grade. We moved across country. I had a hard time adjusting and I decided I hated everyone; people, places, and even books. Then in fourth grade I had a teacher who loved to read and she got me to love to read as well. Ever since then it’s been nonstop. I was the kid who walked around reading a book. I’m adept at it. I still do that. I walk into and out of my work reading. My coworkers think I’m nuts and they are currently taking bets on how long I until hurt myself.

For a long time I liked to read, but I never read speculative fiction. I wasn’t interested. I was in school, and the fact that I liked to read already pinned me as social pariah. If I read fantasy books, it would be even worse. Then, a few things happened at once. The cosmos aligned and I was introduced to SFF and never looked back. In high school I had a creative writing teacher who celebrated all things fantasy. We had assignments to read fantasy books and the project was to fill a notebook full of quotes from what we read. She somehow managed to turn something that made me an even bigger nerd into something cool and I loved her for it. Two of my older brothers rounded on me around this period of my life and convinced me to give A Song of Ice and Fire a shot. It took them several weeks to convince me, but convince me they did. Soon A Song of Ice and Fire turned into The Wheel of Time, and then it was truly all over. I was a genre fan for life. It didn’t matter that it made me a total nerd. I was in love, and if being a nerd was the price I needed to pay, I was fine with that.

I’m not just a genre fan now. I run a blog dedicated to how much I love reading, and the SFF genre in general. I’m like a hyperpowered geek these days. I’m the empress of the nerds, and I’m ridiculously proud of that. I’ve done what I never thought I could do. I’ve talked to bestselling authors, I count authors among my friends, and I read other genre blogs and feel insanely jealous of most of them. I judge my weirdness and find myself wanting, but no less proud of my fandom despite the (somewhat) poor quality of it.

Occasionally I sit back and wonder just what it is about speculative fiction that has me so hooked. Once my mom said that fantasy is for people who like to play pretend too much. Statements like that aggravate me. Some might think of fantasy and SciFi as being completely escapist, but that’s never what has attracted me to it. To me, SFF is an incredibly engaging mental exercise. I rarely read an SFF book just to escape. Just because something might take place in a secondary world doesn’t mean that it’s irrational, lacking logic, and pure mental candy. In fact, in my opinion, SFF is so mentally engaging because it takes place elsewhere and elsewhen.

The thing about SFF that you can’t really say about other genres is that there are no rules. The only rules that exist are the rules the author imposes on their creation. They are so like gods to the worlds they create, it’s inspiring. This also allows authors to play with ideas and themes easier than they could if they wrote, say, straight fiction which would be limited by our world, our rules, and our understanding of it all. Speculative Fiction is often deep and layered. The stunning use of make-believe not only allows the author to toy with deep, often controversial themes that they can’t really toy with in real life, but it gives the reader a new window with which to see the world, and their place in it.

Speculative fiction’s use of secondary worlds, huge futuristic universes, or even our contemporary world with fantasy thrown in here and there also gives the reader a front row seat to witness incredible, complex, and riveting creation. This intense and incredibly personal perspective allows us to become amazingly emotionally invested in worlds and characters. Authors magically bridge a divide between the reader and what they are reading. This makes everything we read so much more personal and intimate than might be otherwise. For those moments we read these books, we aren’t (insert your name here) stuck in (insert boring city here). We are the people we are reading about, living magical, challenging lives amid strange and wonderful cultures. It makes the deeper themes and ideas that the author inserts into their work so much more powerful because we are part of those ideas. We take part in the creation along with the authors. It’s incredible.

There are a lot of reasons I love speculative fiction, but being an escapist genre is not one of them. Reading is an exercise for dreamers. It doesn’t matter what you like to read, but those of us who are addicted to it tend to like to spend a lot of time in our own head, in control of our own visualization and understanding. You don’t really get that anywhere else. We read because we like to dream, and speculative fiction gives me amazing, magically unique, incredibly thought provoking dreams. Speculative fiction forces the reader to turn the magnifying glass both outward and inward. It forces us to live through uncomfortable situations in strange and wonderful worlds and thereby stretches our understanding of ourselves. It causes us to see our own world in fantastic, unique, and vibrant colors. It adds layers of thought and magic to the mundane.

That’s why I love speculative fiction. It’s thought provoking, magical, layered, creative and even godlike. It allows my dreamer’s mind to dream and gives me countless new universes to explore. It has broadened my view of reality, my understanding of the world, and my place in it. It keeps me from remaining stagnate and keeps me from becoming too comfortable and complacent. Speculative fiction is all about progress and ideas. It’s creativity made real. It’s addictive and visceral. It’s a drug I just can’t get enough of.

One of the best gifts I can give my daughter is something speculative fiction taught me. Being a dreamer isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t make you a social pariah, nor is being a nerd horrible. Reading is exercise for those of us who refuse to stay stagnate. We like to be challenged. Mentally playing pretend isn’t an escape; it’s an engaging, thoughtful exercise. Reading a book is like holding a ticket in your hand to new and incredible worlds, adventures, and friends. It challenges us, it stretches our limited understanding of anything and causes us to always change and adapt. It broadens our worldview. Speculative fiction isn’t just an escape, it’s bold, fun, engaging way to poke the bear of reality a bit. It sets the world on fire, and I love to watch the flames of passion, imagination, and ideas burn.

That’s why SFF is a drug that I just can’t get enough of and that’s why giving the gift of my love of reading to my own child is one of the most important, passionate gifts I could possibly ever give.

9 Responses

  • Thanks for sharing, Sarah.

    Unlike you, I got hooked into genre early, and can hardly stand fiction without a speculative or fantastic element in it. A sliver of Historical Fiction also manages to get into my diet, especially if its a period and area I have an interest in.

    • I’m at the point now where fiction bugs me unless there’s something fantastic about it. Historical fiction is a lot more fun, but even then I find myself wishing there were dragons or something…

  • Reading is an exercise for dreamers . I absolutely love this quote and I love this article because it nails it. You, my friend, are awesome.

  • Travis B.

    HAHA! Great article Sarah, I agree on every point. This is like AA for SFF addicts. Paul W. says, “Thanks for sharing Sarah” and I could not help but think I was sitting at a meeting. Seriously though, great stuff.

    • Yes, I try very hard to be the place where SFF addicts can go for their next hit….

  • stina

    I read all sorts of things–SF, F, horror, nonfiction, general fiction, historical fiction, biography, history, mystery, and crime. I love reading. So… go you. [hugs]

  • This whole piece is amazing, and a treat to read. It got me thinking a lot about why I love to read so much, why I’m into genre fiction, and how, due to a series of strange events in my life, it could so easily have gone the other way. I’m lucky in that regard. I can’t imagine my life without reading, and I can’t imagine my reading with SFF. It’s gone a long way to helping make me the person I am, shaped how I think and react and understand the world.

    [Speculative fiction] sets the world on fire, and I love to watch the flames of passion, imagination, and ideas burn.

    Also an amazing quote. I kind of want a t-shirt with that on it!

  • Yes to all.

    SFF has been inspiring for me over the years. When faced with something intimidating, or something I really don’t want to do, I just think about my favorite SFF heros. You know, those characters who take a beating, and get right back up and keep kicking, or those characters who say “this is scaring the poop out of me, but we better do it anyways”. SFF has gotten me through a lot.

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