Why We Write: Describing The World Or Changing It
Motivations and reasons for writers doing what they do are plentiful. For many it is a driving compulsion for expression, exploration both inner and outer, and for understanding. For others, writing fiction is a way to propagate a world view, or some understanding already arrived at. For yet others, its a job of work, a matter of getting the words down, assembling the story, paying attention to technical execution, and fulfilling the contract. Now, from a reader’s point of view, there’s no way to be absolutely sure which mindset lies behind what`s being read, although a propagandist might stand out if s/he were less than skilled in their craft.
Yet beyond the purely internal needs of the writer, its worthwhile asking just what the heck fiction is for? Is it to lay out facts, to create an influence in the readership? You could take a look at Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and say, yes, she was definitely attempting to persuade the reader of the efficacy of her totally bonkers philosophy of Objectivism, and yet a cool technical eye would look over the narrative itself and pronounce it stodgy and long-winded. Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy was essentially a narrative exploration of marxist theory (concealed behind his Fall of Empire overtext), as if it truly was a science of history and human social trends which could be manipulated. And you have to wonder how many American SF readers took in the psychohistory stuff and understood what they were reading. Didn’t seem to create a 5th column of secret marxists amongst fandom, as far as I know.
The notion of a book which changes history, like Stowe’s Uncle Toms Cabin, or Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species, is a romantic, almost heroic template that nearly all writers secretly yearn to produce. Sadly, we live in an era where the influence of books has waned somewhat – a film or a TV series or even a video game (hey, ya never know) is more likely to influence events than 400-odd sheets of dead tree. Yet still they try, folk like John Pilger and Noam Chomsky, Greg Palast and Mark Curtis – but where are the SF/fantasy books which take a hefty swing at the idiocies of the day and land a solid blow? Is it because we deal in fictional matters removed from the contemporary world by several steps? If we write about a future Earth society in which a democratically-elected World President, say, cooks up paperthin justifications for invading an independent Moon, will it have folk out in the street, suddenly awakened to the madness ruling over them? Or is the metaphorical depiction sufficient to render it….mostly harmless?
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