About the Author
Ria is an ex-pat Brit living on the east coast of Canada, sharing her home with a human roommate, 5 cats, and a glorified budgie named Albert. In between booking travel plans for people with far more money than she’ll ever make, she spends her time playing video games, reading too many books, and drinking far too much tea. She can be found posting book reviews at Bibliotropic, or hanging around on Twitter and Facebook.
What has speculative fiction taught me? It seems like such a simple question to answer. Love, hope, community, that there are better worlds out there and we have the power to make them. The usual answers, and all of them are good ones. But my introduction to the world of SFF wasn’t the same as what most people experience, and this question has been a hard one for me to answer partly because I’m not sure how much of myself to divulge.
But what means anything without context?
I wasn’t always a bibliophile. For years, I was an outcast kid but I didn’t find solace in books. I found solace in TV, in playing pretend with my imaginary friends (and indeed, making myself into half a dozen imaginary someone-elses), and in playing Sonic the Hedgehog until my thumbs ached. Books? Why would books come into it? I had plenty of entertainment without needing to resort to books!
The real clincher was my parents, who had an… interesting approach to discipline. When they decided that I didn’t appreciate my belongings enough, they would take them away. Not just the one they didn’t feel I appreciated. All of them. Twice in my life, I spent a month not being allowed to leave my bedroom except for school, food, and bathroom visits, with nothing in there save my bed and my clothes.
It was then that I found comfort in books. First it was my schoolbooks, and I can’t tell you how many times I read by 3rd grade social studies book from cover to cover, for lack of having anything else to do. Then I discovered my school’s library, and started getting books from there. My parents had no problem with me reading during the course of my punishment. I suppose even they figured that it was too cruel to let a kid sit alone in their room all day with nothing to do but stare at the four walls until bedtime.
But that was the starting point. And I figure I beat the odds, in a way. It would have been so very easy for my brain to associate reading with punishment, a thing you do when you literally have nothing else with which to occupy you. But it didn’t. Reading opened up new worlds to me, an escape from that bedroom, new friends with whom to have grand adventures. And I hadn’t even discovered the SFF genre yet!
Flash forward to high school. My life was little different, except that I read far more than used to, and was an unashamed bibliophile by that point. But SFF still wasn’t on the horizon. Until I met my high school crush, who, one summer when we were bored and lazy from the summer heat and didn’t know what to do, handed me a book. “Here,” she said. “It’s got gay characters, but if you can get past that, I really think you’ll like it.” (Why she gave me a warning about homosexual characters, I’ll never understand.)
The book was Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Pawn. I read it. And read the rest of the trilogy. And then I think I read it again, because holy crap, books about magical worlds and great adventures are a thing? They really exist? Where have they been all my life?
It was all downhill from there. I read all of the Wheel of Time novels that were out. I read what I could find in the library, both the city’s library and my school’s considerably smaller library. I scoured used bookstores for new fantasy novels. I read traditional fantasy, urban fantasy, a bit of sci-fi. I wrote fanfiction. I was already watching some speculative stuff on TV (read: I was obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but this was something altogether different. This was books, and that was way better than TV!
In SFF, it felt like I’d filled a hole I didn’t even know existed. It was the excitement of a new adventure. It was the wonder of exploring a new world. It was comfort, like coming home. It was peace, like finding a home.
In speculative fiction, I found a sense of belonging that has never gone away. I have a community now, people who are as diverse as they come and yet we all share at least one thing in common. As someone who suffers from serious social anxiety and would rather turn invisible than talk to people most days, this is something I’m endlessly amazed at. I have friends! I have a group of people with whom I’d have no trouble sitting down with over a never-ending cup of tea and having long discussions with, and I would have fun doing so. I wouldn’t be sitting there, squashing my opinions for fear that they’re think I was weird, because they’re just as weird as me, and about the same things.
It shows me new worlds, new ideas, and makes me wonder why I can’t live there. And in so doing, it makes me want to bring the best parts of those worlds into my world. Justice, idealism, hope for a brighter tomorrow. Strength that I draw from the trials of the characters whose adventures I follow. Lessons that I learn alongside them. Through other worlds, I expand my knowledge and understanding of my own world, I get exposed to things I might not otherwise experience. I see stories in which people can live according to their strengths, either because their society works that way or else they’re working to make their society that way, and I get hopeful that I, too, can someday live that kind of life, where I change the world around me to what it ought to be and cease changing myself to what I think the world is telling me I ought to be.
I’m not going to lie. I use reading as an escape, too. When things have gotten hard in my life, my first reaction is to pick up a book and lose myself in it, forgetting that the real world exists and surrounding myself in something far more entertaining, where the characters do something to make their lives better and, by proxy, make me feel like my life is a little bit better too. This past year, while I was struggling every day to overcome the unpleasant effects of a tumour growing inside me, reading was solace. Peter V Brett’s The Warded Man got me through my first hospitalization. (If these people can survive demon attacks, then I can get through a few days of discomfort, being prodded and scanned and transfused.) I can’t tell you how many books got me through the post-surgical recovery process.
Speculative fiction has helped me to come to understand not only who I am, but also who I can be, and given me the strength and foresight to reach those goals. It may not be the only thing responsible for this, but it’s been a large enough part to be noteworthy. It’s expanded my horizons, taught me more about the world I live in, given me amazing perspectives on issues that I face each day. It’s helped me to learn that while not everyone can be the hero, they can still be the main character in their own story.
And as someone who used to think that all they were good for was bit parts, even in their own life, that’s a monumental discovery.