Everyone has something that they geek about, even if they don’t use that term. Clothes, sports, makeup, food, video games, movies. We all have that thing (or things) that brings us joy and balance in a world that is at times dark and confusing.
For me, it’s science fiction. Sci-fi books, graphic novels, and movies have been an integral part of my life for many years. I know many others feel as passionately about the genre as I do. But what is it that causes us to care so much about a single genre?
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there were deep rooted psychological reasons. But I’m going to look at it from a more personal, emotional level. We humans, after all, are rather emotional creatures.
I’ve struggled with depression since I was twelve.
Early on, science fiction stories and fantasy books provided a good break from that struggle. But as I grew older, I found that books can be much more. Books, and stories in all mediums, have the potential to be more than just an escape. Stories can provide knowledge and insight that help us see the world, and ourselves, in a new way. Insight that, if we let it, can give us light and understanding that help us overcome life’s struggles.
Right around my 22nd birthday, I hit an extreme low with my depression and ended up in the hospital. I had little to no self worth. I felt like I wasn’t, and never would be, enough. I saw all the darkness in the world and it was destroying me.
Then I found one of my favorite books. The one-thousand-page, epic science fiction novel Anathem by Neal Stephenson. There are so many reasons I love this book, but I’ll keep it short and spoiler free for those who haven’t read it. Here is a quote from the book that remains with me since I first read it ten years ago.
“Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways.”
Now, an important side note. Reading this didn’t cure me of my depression. Stories and quotes cannot do that. If you struggle with depression or thoughts of suicide, seek help. I still take medication daily, and see my therapist and psychiatrist on a regular basis.
No, reading Anathem did not make my depression disappear. But its ideas on beauty did provide me with a skill to learn that would help me look at the world differently.
“See and love the beauty” that is around us all. I needed to change my thinking patterns. A few days after finishing Anathem, I was taking the trash out on a cloudy, cold winter day. Above me, a flock of geese flew by. Not an unusual event. But I stopped, looked up, and realized that even common occurrences can be beautiful. It was over in seconds, but the beauty of that simple moment gave me a real life example of the beauty mentioned in Stephenson’s novel.
So, the question, why sci-fi? Because it provides an escape by taking readers across the cosmos with infinite possibilities for setting and plot. And because the best sci-fi novels use these other worldly settings as a mirror to our own Earthly experiences in a way that provides meaningful connection and personal insight. They weave tales that benefit, inspire, and invigorate readers.
That is why I read sci-fi. That is why I write sci-fi.