Major, important scientific research has been done to examine why people fall in and out of love. Committed relationships are complicated. What makes people choose each other and stay together? Science tells us that the reasons people split apart are layered and complex. Adultery. Financial infidelity. Values incompatibility. I’m not a trained researcher with expertise in data analysis, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that science is dead wrong about why people break up. You know why couples break up? Because one person in the couple will give directions using the words “east, west, north, south” and the other person will give directions using “left and right”. That shit right there will DOOM a relationship. You’d think the ubiquitousness of navigational technology would level out this problem, but it doesn’t, something I am reminded of every time I fire up my smartphone to make it tell me how to get places. That damn woman who lives in there always starts by telling me to go southeast or west and it’s infuriating because I can’t break up with HER.
The point here is, words matter. Choosing the wrong words dooms your attempt at communication, or at least your attempt to get directions to the nearest liquor store. Choosing the correct words opens doors and opens minds, building bridges between you and your goal, important bridges that keep you from falling into a chasm and being eaten by dragons. And, really, it’s dragons that we are here to talk about today. More precisely, my indifference to books about dragons that live in the bottom of chasms. Or robots. Or complex fictional worlds that cross planets or are accessed through tunnels. I am here to confess: I have tried, I really have, but I don’t read science fiction.
I like the word science. I like the word fiction. I like both of those things a whole damn bunch but when you put them together you get a genre that I avoid like it’s going to sting me and I don’t have my EpiPen. Merriam-Webster says science fiction is “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component”. Seems simple enough and appealing in theory. In practice, it is a mighty struggle. I think I can count on one hand the number of science fiction books I’ve read. I got through The Hobbit, but I didn’t make it ten pages into The Fellowship of The Ring and really it was more like five pages. Um…let’s see. The Time Traveler’s Wife? Does that count? (Especially if I didn’t like it?) Slaughterhouse Five. Yup…still on one hand, even if I eventually remember I accidentally read anything by Isaac Asimov. Which I can assure you, I haven’t. No Phillip K. Dick. No Ursula K. LeGuin. I’m admitting it right now, there is a lot of great writing that I’m leaving on the table. I have no good reason for it. Let’s all agree that I’m deficient in some way.
Science Fiction: Agreed
Me: Thanks for the pile-on
Whenever anyone talks about their deep and abiding love for The Game Of Thrones or Lord Of The Rings, I feel a little twinge that combines bafflement, jealousy, and sadness. People LOVE these books, and I want to love them too because loving books is my favorite. J.R.R. Tolkein and George R.R. Martin have legions of fans (and a love for the letter R) who embrace the full absorption into the worldbuilding that science fiction and fantasy offer. I’m so left out. It feels like a big party that I am invited to, but can’t muster the interest in attending, so instead of going to the big fun party I’m just going to stay at home and not read any books that require I memorize made-up world names. Or made-up dragon species names. Or made-up languages.
Science Fiction: so you’re just lazy
Me: No I just don’t want to work hard to read those books
Science Fiction: …..
Me: Oh ok. YES.
It’s not possible to like everything, I guess, but how I continually walk away from clearly well-written, epic stuff just makes me roll my eyes at myself. I suppose I’m a more frivolous reader than I’d like to admit, but every once in a while I’ll try. The book Outlander was suggested to me for the first time a few years back. The person recommending told me it was about time travel through magic stones. She lost me at “time travel” and I fled the room at “magic stones” because the only thing that makes time travel less interesting to me is when it’s not done in a spaceship or a tesseract. (A Wrinkle In Time! That’s science fiction right??? Make that list FOUR books!) And magic stones? Just, NO. Her enthusiasm for the book was evident but couldn’t overcome magic stones. Hard pass.
Fast forward to a few years later and my social media newsfeeds are filled with people discussing a book about time travel through magic stones. It rang a dim, distant bell, and I eventually unearth the memory of rejecting this same book. In the intervening time, Outlander built a passionate, dedicated fan base and the author had written eleventy-billion more books. Yup-another science fiction/fantasy epic series that I wasn’t reading. This time, though, I was going to figure out what people were talking about. I was not going to leave myself out in the cold, clutching my tattered copy of In Cold Blood. I got a copy of Outlander and read it, cover to cover. (Wait! FIVE sci-fi books!)
Science Fiction: So you loved Outlander?
Me: I did not say that. I said I read it and tried not to be a dick about it.
Science Fiction: Well, at least you tried
Me: I really did
Science Fiction: Let’s keep this open dialogue going
Me: as long as we don’t have to open it with magic stones
Science Fiction: we’ll just google directions
I guess you can stop looking for me to recap science fiction, but, if I ever run into an actual dragon, I will let you know about it immediately.
Does Watership Down count as science fiction?