Tag Archives: Fantasy

5 Reasons Why You Should Read Science Fiction and Fantasy

This past weekend I tried to remember the first science fiction or fantasy book I ever read. After a lot of deliberation, I believe that traditional fairy tales were what originally drew me into this genre.

Some of my earliest memories about books in general involve borrowing fairy tale collections from my local library. After I’d read all of the sanitized versions of them, I moved on the dark and often gory originals.

My second clear memory of the sci-fi genre was watching reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There were two episodes of that show that I wanted to watch over and over again because of how much they blew my mind: Genesis and Sub Rosa. Before seeing them, I never would have imagined that people could evolve backwards or that an entity could need a candle to survive.

I don’t know how many of my readers are already fans of science fiction or fantasy, but there are several reasons why you should give them a chance if you’re not currently reading them.

They Ask Questions Without Always Answering Them

One of the things I found soothing about fairy tales when I first began reading them is how predictable they were. It was common to have three tasks to perform, a talking animal to guide you on your journey, an old woman who would help or hinder you depending on how kindly you treated her, and a happy ending for everyone who had a pure heart.

It came as a surprise to me, then, to move into older, darker fairy tales where these things weren’t necessarily true. Sometimes the protagonist ended up with the prince, but in other stories she before they could be reunited. As I gradually switched to reading and watching more science fiction and contemporary fantasy*, this unpredictable nature of the plot only grew stronger.

I love the fact that these genres don’t always tie everything up into a neat, little bow. Sometimes the good guys win. At other times, they might lose or the line between good and evil could be drawn in more than one place depending on how one looks at the facts. The open-ended nature of what it means to be a good guy and why bad things happen to good people appeals to me quite a bit.

*See also: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and many other of Joss Whedon’s TV shows.

They Teach You Important Life Lessons

Not everyone is who they appear to be.

Always overestimate how much time you need to do something. It’s better to impress others by finishing it early than it is to disappoint them.

If you’re able to help someone in need, do it. You never know when your fortunes might reverse and you might be the one who needs help next.

Equality is for everyone.

Don’t wear the colour red if you’re out on a mission.

Dragons and old, tired arguments with the people you love must never be roused from their slumber for no good reason.

These are only a few of the life lessons I’ve learned from fantasy and science fiction. I could have easily filled this entire blog post with nothing but a list of the things I’ve learned from sci-fi. It’s not just entertainment. It can also teach you things that will last an entire lifetime.

They Introduce You to New Ideas

The sci-fi genre is the perfect place to explore things you’ve never thought about before and imagine how our world could be different than it currently is.

Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer not only introduced me to the idea that a woman could save the day, they didn’t make the genders of their heroines a big deal.

Xena and Buffy were both too busy fighting monsters to worry about whether or not other people approved of them being heroic. That was something I rarely got to see as a little girl, so I relished those glimpses of worlds where your gender didn’t affect what role you’d play in an adventure.

They Imagine the Best and the Worst Case Scenarios

At various points in my life I’ve drifted back and forth between preferring utopian and dystopian sci-fi stories. There have been times when I’ve craved the hope that can be found in imagining a world where prejudice and many other forms of inequality no longer existed.

Watching Captain Picard and his crew explore the galaxy was magical. Here was a world where your gender, race, and species didn’t have any affect at all on what jobs you were allowed to do from what I could see. Was it perfect? No, but it was whole lot better than our current world.

On the flip side, sometimes it’s interesting to explore a future version of our world where everything has fallen apart. One of the things I enjoyed the most about the first six seasons of The Walking Dead was seeing how Rick reacted when every attempt he made to keep his children and community safe eventually fell apart in the most dramatic ways possible. At what point should someone try something completely new? Is it okay to stop admitting newcomers to your safe area once they’ve betrayed you a few times?

They Prepare You For Uncertainty

Will the future be paradise or a post-apocalyptic hellhole?

Nobody knows, so we must prepare for both possibilities. I love the fact that sci-fi is so focused on showing where we’re headed as a species and how small changes in our society today could have a massive affect on whether future generations will bless or curse our names.

A few years ago I underwent some testing for a possible medical problem. (Spoiler alert – it ended up being nothing to worry about at all).

While I was waiting to hear whether or not the abnormality my regular doctor had discovered was actually something to be concerned about, science fiction and fantasy showed me how to exist in that narrow space between health and sickness.

I hope I won’t have to walk down that dark passageway again for decades to come, but I know that my stories will be there to comfort and distract me if I do.

Why I’m Tired of Stories About the Chosen One

I’ve been reading less speculative fiction this year. One of the things that has reduced how much of it I read has to do with the concept of the Chosen One and how overused it is in this genre.

There are a few different reasons why I’m quickly losing interest in stories about people who have been chosen to save their village, humankind, or the entire universe from whatever it is that is threatening their existence.

1. The Chosen One Doesn’t Earn His or Her Place

As I mentioned last month in Scifi and Fantasy Rules That Should Be Broken, heroes in science fiction and fantasy usually aren’t people who have any special training or education. They’re the Chosen One because of who their parents are, what an ancient prophecy foretold, or whether or not Voldemort tried to curse them to death when they were a baby.

If this happened occasionally, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. There is definitely something to be said for showing that heroes can come from anywhere.

The fact that it’s so prevalent, though, makes me feel uneasy. Education and experience are a positive thing. I’d never go to a doctor or dentist who had somehow skipped medical/dental school and was just winging it when it came to diagnosing an infection or deciding if I had a cavity.

So it feels strange for the fate of the entire world to be regularly handed to people who don’t have any unique skills or advanced training whatsoever.

At this point, I’d much rather read about someone who has spent or will spend years studying magic/spaceships/medicine / the dark arts. Show me some of the times they failed terribly and what they learned from it. Let me see them struggle with something that other people in their field generally don’t find difficult like casting a spell or putting on a spacesuit.

I want heroes who have earned the respect they get!

2. The Chosen One Is Often Less Interesting Than Their Sidekicks.

Case in point: Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

There was nothing unlikeable about Buffy. She was generally a kind and courteous girl, and I was fascinated by her adjustment to becoming the most recent Slayer. (That is, a teen girl who was given supernatural strength and healing abilities so that she could save the world from everything that wanted to destroy it. The previous Slayer has to die before the next one is supernaturally chosen).

The problem was that Buffy’s sidekicks were much more relatable and complex than she was. Giles, her watcher (which is like a personal trainer for mystical stuff), was as mystified by teenagers as he was by American culture in general. His very British reactions to some of the biggest differences between the U.S. and England were hilarious.  Willow, her female best friend, was a shy, awkward nerd who had a strong perfectionistic streak. Xander, her male best friend, was a slacker and class clown who hid a lot of painful truths behind his wisecracks and hijinks.

Buffy’s character development simply wasn’t as compelling as the development of those closest to her. She was already athletic, (fairly) popular, self-confident, and tough when the show began. I liked her, but I loved her inner circle because of how much more attention had been paid to the little things that made them unique.

Many Chosen Ones have the same problem. They are so busy saving the world that they often don’t get to develop a well-rounded set of quirks, weird habits, phobias, and/or non-superficial character flaws that their side-kicks get to have.

I want heroes who are deliciously imperfect. Maybe their sidekicks could be stronger, more assertive, or better looking than them. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how a main character would respond to a friend or assistant who intimidated them a little bit or who was better at certain crucial skills than they were?

3. The Chosen One Never Dies in the End

As much as I liked him, Harry Potter really should have been killed off permanently at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

All of the foreshadowing up until that point nudged the readers into this direction. It felt strange to me to see Harry walk away from that final battle. While I knew that J.K. Rowling would try to figure out how to save him because of how rare it is for a protagonist to die in the end, that wasn’t the direction the storyline had been pointing at for all seven books in the series.

After the narrator cut away to show how all of his friends put wizarding society back together after Voldemort is finally defeated, there could have been a beautiful scene showing him reuniting with his parents in the afterlife and realizing that he was finally at peace now.

I could also imagine Harry having a conversation with his parents about wanting to go back to Earth. Maybe his mother would tell him that it was impossible, but that he would be reunited with Ron, Hermione, and everyone else he loved after they’d finished living out the long, full lives that wizards usually get to experience.

There could even be a line in there about how time moves quite differently after death so that the audience would know Harry wouldn’t be missing his friends for as long as we might assume.

Yes, this would have been a tearjerker of an ending, but it also would have tied up all of the foreshadowing in the earlier books much more tightly than technically killing Harry off for a few minutes before finding a magical loophole to bring him back to life again.

I want to start genuinely fearing for the safety of the characters I love. It would be so cool to arrive at the final scene of a story and not know who – if anyone – was going to make it out again. No, I’m not saying that every final confrontation has to be a bloodbath. That would quickly become just as predictable as things are currently.

It would be really nice if there were far fewer last-minute plot twists that allowed characters to live when the first 99% of a book or series foreshadowed their deaths, though.

How do you feel about the Chosen One trope? Do you enjoy it? Do you think it’s been played out? I’ll be talking about this on Twitter today if you’d like to chat about it.