Sci-fi, fantasy transport us to other worlds

By Alyssa Develter

SCIENCE fiction and fantasy don't seem to be considered proper genres, or at least not respectable ones.

Enthusiastic fans of these types of books, the sorts of people who dress up as their favourite characters for Armageddon or spend several hours a day playing fantasy games online, are generally seen as quite strange.

A book classed as science fiction will be shunned by most people, who aren't interested in the scientific explanations, or who just don't want to be classed as a geek or a sci-fi nut.

A science fiction or fantasy novel that manages to be recognised outside its genre first has to be a good example of its genre, and then, somehow, has to be appealing to people who don't actually like science or imaginary worlds.

And yet people might still see it on the "fantasy and science fiction" shelf and refuse to pick it up.

One of the main appeals of science fiction and fantasy is the escape it offers. While this is also true of other books, the difference between our world and that in a fantasy novel is much more striking. In many ways it's like travelling overseas - you get to see new places, new customs, new problems.

The only difference is that the place you're going to technically doesn't exist, outside your head.

This is the problem many people seem to have. Living inside your head is apparently no substitute for experiencing life in the real world. Gamers and fantasy and sci-fi readers are all just living in their minds and in front of computers, the thinking goes, they have no real lives.

But there are problems with this idea. What about the fantasy and science fiction that everyone reads? People who haven't read Harry Potter are an endangered species, as are those who haven't at least seen the Lord Of The Rings movies.

Science fiction may come with stereotypes, but books such as Brave New World deal with similar ideas and involve the same sort of questions about technology that you might come across reading something by Alastair Reynolds.

Yet Brave New World is a classic - nobody is going to accuse you of being a geek for reading it.

These books make it clear that we are capable of enjoying good fantasy or science fiction when it is presented to us the right way, free of stereotypes.

There are good and bad books, of course, as with every genre. A good fantasy novel will give us interesting magic or mythical creatures or wars. A quality example of science fiction will have intriguing technology or political systems and well-developed themes.

Where books in both genres sometimes fall short is in lack of sympathetic characters. But there are plenty of good ones in the world that people simply don't read.

Any fiction book takes you to a different world, gives you different problems from your own, enables you to live somebody else's life for a while. And this helps us to see outside our own experience, broadening our view of life.

Any fiction book is technically escapism, as are many movies and TV shows. Science fiction and fantasy novels are just a bit more obvious about it. There is no reason why they should be shunned any more than any other type of fiction.

Alyssa Develter, Year 13, Epsom Girls Grammar

- NZ Herald

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