“I write it because I want it to come true”


A few discussions and comments online have prompted me to revisit some old ideas. For instance, Charles Stross recently brought up the whole fantasy-is-a-pro-monarchy genre idea, and James Nicoll touched on writers working in genres where the “core political assumptions” (such as contempt for the rule of law in UF) went against the writer’s personal beliefs.

Leaving aside the Stross comment, which I’ve sniffed at before, let me throw a question out to you: Do you read/watch/consume entertainment because you want your real world and real life to be modeled after it?

I think of this as a specifically science fictional protocol: Writers creating worlds in which they want to live (or, conversely worlds they don’t want to see come true, as in “If This Goes On…” stories). I don’t read or write that way, personally. I don’t read war stories because I want to spend time in a bunker. I don’t read gritty crime fiction because I want to have a knife-fight in an alley. I don’t read fantasy because I think hereditary heirs really make the best tyrants.

I think most people feel this way. Does the true thrill of a Spider-man comic come from the way he circumvents the judicial system? Not for me.

Still, sometimes a book will go in a direction that pushes my political buttons. Nick Mamatas has said he will not cheer for a cops who catch the bad guys by breaking the rules. That’s fair enough, although I enjoyed the hell out of the first Dirty Harry movie when I was younger and less aware of the implications. But does that mean I wanted a real-life Harry Calahan? Not then and not now.

So, is it just that we, as a culture, have certain blind spots to iffy political assumptions in our entertainments? Do our individual subcultures have institutions or norms that we like to see rejected or portrayed as baddies (like environmentalists, or the military, or government bureacrats)? Do writers have an obligation to create stories that are true to their belief system? Rule of law=good thing. Flouting rule of law=not so good thing? Or are we free to do something else entirely with our fiction, and to hell with the so-called message?

Because lemme tell you: I may write about vigilantes, but that doesn’t mean I’m pro-vigilante. But do you see Child of Fire (if you’ve read it) as a pro-vigilante novel?

I’m curious what others think.

2 thoughts on ““I write it because I want it to come true”

  1. Stephen Plotkin

    You mean that book I read where the hero lives in fear of imminent, horrible death for having violated the discipline of the ancient and powerful organization for which he works? I don’t think vigilante is the word you want here.

    It’s a cliche that speculative fiction allegorizes the present, and my sense is that the allegorical burden of urban fantasy is not contempt for the rule of law (couldn’t find Nicoll’s post) but our growing, dis-eased understanding that we live at the crossing of more than one code of law – at the crossroads, or even better, in the crosshairs of multiple codes.

  2. James Nicoll’s post. The comments, as usual on his LJ, are excellent.

    If I read faster, I’d feel more qualified to talk about the zeitgeist of UF.

    But the question isn’t really about allegory, but about the political realities of the fictional setting. Are the lawful authorities useful? Helpless? Colluding with the enemy? So incompetent that they should be ignored? Are people responsible with their freedoms? Are they anxious to offload their responsibilities onto taxpayers?

    There are all sorts of attitudes that would be disagreeable in the real world but work very well in a fictional narrative.

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