The two places I’ve always found comfort and security are times when I’m by myself and when I’m in-between two good sentences of a book. The best thing about these spaces was that nothing too terrible could happen. Beyond the spiralling depression and crippling loneliness, I at least felt some modicum of control over what was happening to me.
I’d lose myself within the worlds I found barely contained in stitch binding and figures of ink. Travelling between spaces became as easy as exchanging The Philosopher’s Stone with Martin the Warrior. One night, one book became my daily ritual as I devoured story after story. My parents supported my reading only so much as they thought reading was a good skill that would make me a good student. It was just another thing to disappoint my parents with; I didn’t become the student they wanted me to be, but I did grow into my love of stories.
Conversations within our family are orchestrated in this way; my father yells loud enough to elicit noise complaints, I remain silent while my mother cries during the interludes. It is a symphony of strained familial relationships.
We had a lot of conversations as I was growing up. I remember a particular conversation I had with my father, “Why do you spend all your time reading? How does this help you succeed in life? Do you think you can escape to the places you read about?” This would be a conversation we’d continue to have, and I imagine we’ll still be having down the road.
I kept an uncomfortable silence during these interrogations, because I always had my answer to his question, it just wasn’t the one he wanted to hear.
Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Fiction have never been about escaping reality, but an engagement and speculation of my reality.
I was lonely in ways that ached and ripped. I just had a revelation that my own life was meaningless in the grand narrative of existence. As an only child, in a broken home and parents I had to distance myself from, what else was a 9 year old to do but dream of a better world for himself? Where else could I do that, but in fiction?
So I dreamed. I imagined new worlds for myself. I made spaces where I felt that I belonged in a story. Where I could feel good about my existence and belong in the world. The backdrop would change every now and then from lush green forestry, desolate wastelands and stoic castles. Sometimes I’d be an archer that would put Legolas to shame, other times I found myself being the most badass ninja possible that Naruto could only dream of being. I dreamed about saving the world, but when I look back, I was trying to save myself. I wrestled with the causes of my loneliness, the hardship from my parents and the shame I felt in being alive, within the worlds I made; not to run away from them, but to find a ways of understanding and managing them.
There is no clean separation between fiction and reality, we carry ourselves into both and they bleed into each other. To imagine any world at all is to speculate on your reality; the worlds that we create are formed from the experiences we have and the futures we imagine inform us of the reality we hope for.
Speculating within fiction is about exploring the possibilities of hope.
I’ve reluctantly grown up and am currently pretending to be an adult. I’m still entangled in the problems I mentioned and still wish I was a wizard who just somehow missed his acceptance letter. What’s changed for me is that the dream has only grown bigger; I still want to save the world.
The world we live within is far from the ideal. We live in a world where oppression is not only normative, but a backbone the world relies on as it continues to systemize violence against minorities. It is a world so thoroughly entrenched in a system that has organized it’s own destruction where anything that isn’t white, heteronormative, and male is being erased from visions of the world. But what if the world were different? What if we could do better?
One of the most beautiful things fiction can offer is the ability to imagine new worlds, worlds so drastically different from the one we know. The potential within fiction is to explore the possibilities of how much better the world can be, and how to make that happen. Alan Moore explores the question of bringing humanity together by proposing an artificially created alien invasion to overcome differences within Watchmen. The recent wave of post-apocalyptic films speculates that the world needs to be destroyed, in order to be created again. Science fiction has always reflected on the nature of our world in discovering other worlds. I do not claim any of these to be actual solutions, but they do engage in the question of creating a different world and there are lessons to be learned.
However, even within these visions of futures, minorities continue to be written out mainstream visions and rendered invisible. The characters that populate these stories continue to display predominantly white casts with token and incredibly limiting representations of anything “other”. I’ve been made to not belong in the world we have and the worlds that we might inherit.
So I speculate within the liminal spaces of fiction and reality for worlds of belonging, for myself and for others.
– elliott jun