About the Author
Matthew R. Jenks is a Librarian/Metaphysicist with an unfortunate penchant for apocalyptic story ideas who enjoys creating worlds and stories so vivid they must exist somewhere in quantum reality. He also enjoys writing, hiking, intense music, long walks on the beach, Skyrim, Fantasy in general, and playing chess. He lives in New England “Somewhere on the Mount, Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown”. He is the author of the epic 4-book Fantasy series titled “Hearth” (on Amazon Kindle).
A recent Google search of the Best Speculative Fiction by yours truly brought up a vast and varied population of Results, ranging from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein to the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowing to 1984 by George Orwell to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams to Neuromancer by William Gibson, and on and on and on … Even Lord of the Rings was on the list; certainly in the top 3 on my own list for High Fantasy but a stretch for my own definition of what Speculative Fiction is. I had read slightly more than a quarter of the books on the list, but there were almost as many I had never heard of before, and I read my share of Lit.
In looking at the list, I tried to think of a common thread running through them all. What was the theme that tied them all together? What made them all Speculative Fiction? Hard as I tried to find a linking pattern or thread, I couldn’t, and I challenge the Reader to find one. It seemed like a pointless exercise to me. There is no common theme in any of the plot lines or moral conundrums posed in the novels. You certainly won’t find it by comparing the worlds, memes, inventions, or any of the technology (or magic) each presents. They are as wide-ranging and diverse as one can find, their only limits the breadth and depth of each author’s imagination. Then I thought, perhaps I’m looking in the wrong direction. Perhaps the common thread wasn’t to be found in the novels, but inside ourselves.
That turned out to be the key to the answer, and it didn’t take me long to see what it was. You’ll find the one commonality by examining your own response to each work. At least that is how it was for me. For it is not in anything specific in each novel that you’ll be able to determine its place on the list; it’s in the sense of Wonder (cap is mine) it evokes in us all – that sense of thrill and awe we get at the sheer brilliance of what is possible. It causes us to see reality in a different way, to look at things in a new light and think about existence, time, space, reality, technology, time travel etc. in a way we hadn’t thought about them before. It even forces us to examine our own views and beliefs, on everything from racism to overpopulation to space travel; even issues about spirituality, creation and organized religion aren’t offf limits. Speculative Fiction opens up our minds; that is what ties all it’s greatest works together and that is what it has done for me in my life as a Reader and a Writer. It makes us think.
For me personally, Speculative fiction in all its forms, whether you’re talking about Ray Bradbury, Neal Gaiman, Stephen King (yes, he’s not all horror) or Harlan Ellison, has always been about Wonder – and that is what it has taught me. I said in another post that part of that wonder (an almost spiritual experience for me) is about our struggle as humans against the Dark – against death, against ignorance, against mortality and even meaninglessness. We want to know that life MATTERS, that what we do MATTERS. For me, Speculative Fiction reminds us of that; we ARE in a struggle, but along the way we find Wonder and Joy – Joy in many forms. We engage in Discovery, we have Grand Adventures, we make new Friends!
These are the things Speculative Fiction is all about! I might add that I also believe we are eternal beings, but we metamorph, much like butterflies and moths. Old stories end and new stories begin, but I don’t believe the Great Story (which we are all a part of) ever really ends.
So, as the Revels say during their yearly Christmas concert at Winter Solstice, before the Lord of the Dance begins – “When Life Bestows on You Darkness and Pain and Sadness at the Turning of the Year, Take Joy!! Take Light!! For the Darkness is Fading and a New Day Begins!”