This is Why I Read

This is Why I Read: Super Powered Imagination

We are thrilled to have Sabrina Mantle guest posting today to kick of our new series, This is Why I Read.  As a regular feature we will be offering guests the chance to talk about why we read and offer insights from the sentimental to the seriously silly into why they personally, or we as a whole need fiction in our lives. We are kicking off this new feature with a series of posts over Valentine’s week to celebrate our LOVE of fiction. Up first is Sabrina with her post on Sci-Fi and Fantasy.  Enjoy!

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Super Powered Imagination:

The Benefits of Reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Guest Post by Sabrina Mantle

As a life long fan and avid reader of science fiction and fantasy I am familiar with the general misconceptions about the genre. For many that have never delved into these types of books, it seems like a frivolous waste of time, childish escapism into worlds that have nothing to do with ours, and therefore, are not relevant to modern life. I am here to argue that these books serve an important purpose, and by reading them, you gain many useful skills.

Fiction is part of the human experience, from the beginning, we invented myths and legends to help make sense of a huge and dangerous universe. These stories formed a framework for human existence and concepts to help early humans learn how to navigate life. One of the most common and enduring myths is the ‘Hero’s Journey‘, a story in which the hero embarks on a quest to achieve a goal which seems impossible. Joseph Campbell, one of the great mythologist of our time, argues that the Hero’s Journey is timeless because we each are on our own version of it.

We all are beset by obstacles, be it dragons, storm troopers, or bankruptcy. We all struggle to reach goals that often seem unachievable. The core message of the Hero’s Journey is one that we can all use: keep your eyes open and observe carefully, take one small step at a time, accept help wherever it is offered, and never give into despair.

I think we all can see the value of these ideas for our daily lives, and the best writers know how to use this theme and make it modern and interesting for their readers. Two such massively influential writers are J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, and George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars universe. Both authors drew on classic mythology from around the world to create works of fiction that influenced people globally and continue to be vital today.

Science fiction also has much to offer its readers. It’s not just space battles and tentacled monsters, there are many branches and styles that fall under the sci-fi umbrella, a lot of it is mediocre, but the great stuff will blow your mind! Alternative histories, like what would happen if Germany had won the war, can be a fascinating look not only at history and its pivot points but at what the future could be like. Hard science writers use a solid foundation of science to explore ideas and imagine what could be. There have even been writers who predicted real life inventions, in 1945 Arthur C. Clarke wrote and described how orbital satellites could be used for telecommunication. In 1981, William Gibson coined the term ‘cyberspace’ and went on to invent a ‘virtual reality’ based on connected computer systems years before the internet came into being.

One of my favorite authors is Stephen Baxter, a writer and a scientist. He takes hard science fact and theory and puts it into an almost unimaginably large, galactic scale and his books have changed how I think about life and existence. This is one of the many skills you gain from reading sci-fi and fantasy: a view beyond the normal human perspective. I think it is vitally important to be aware of how new humans are, and how small our part in the universe is. We know so little, but think it all revolves around us, being able to imagine a larger perspective gives us some needed humility. Readers also gain the ability to learn, most of the good stories involve observing the information available, analyzing, and coming up with theories on what is happening and what to do about it. So many of us get through school, get a job, get married and have kids and think we have learned all we need to. This is not true, we need to be always learning, always striving our whole life to be better.

Our lives are accelerating, unless there is some sort of disaster (something else you learn a lot about in sci-fi), our civilization will get even more complex and demand faster responses to changes. To succeed in the future will require a mental flexibility that most of us lack. We are already seeing people turning away from the traditional pillars of society, such as banks, industry, schools and government. With the vast amounts of information available online, people will be able to teach themselves whatever they need. It has become unlikely that you will work one career your entire life, and the changes to commerce will be rapid and confusing to traditional thinkers.

Many of these potential changes are talked about in Cory Doctorow‘s fascinating book, Makers. In the very near future he writes about so convincingly, intelligence and a fearless ability to entirely remake yourself are the skills needed to succeed. It is authors like Doctorow who make the case for reading sci-fi by presenting useful real world abilities in a work of fiction. To sum up, if knowledge is power, a good writer takes current knowledge and imagines where it might take us in the future, and its fun too.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” – Einstein

Sabrina Mantle is an artist, entrepreneur, and non-conformist.  Visit her online at Elemental Cheapness.

(This series was inspired by the seed post: Trivium Imaginarium by Anne Robinson)

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6 thoughts on “This is Why I Read: Super Powered Imagination

  1. Great article! I think not everyone realizes that science fiction is more than space battles. If it weren’t, I would not read SF.

    I personally like especially dystopian fiction, but what I like about (good) SF and dystopia is being shown a world that could be ours, but isn’t (yet). I especially read these types of books for the ideas that the authors put in them. Sometimes they go quite far in their imagination of different worlds or alternate histories and I love that the best. The story … yes, important, the new ideas… that’s what I hooks me.

  2. Pingback: This is Why I Read: The Restorative Power of Fiction «

    • So very true, it’s one of the things I personally love about (good) sci-fi the most. The imagination of what might be! I love it when a story makes me go “Yes! someone should totally make that!” or “Oh God, someone is going to figure out a way to make that, yikes!” Thanks for your great article!

  3. Pingback: This is Why I Read: The Gift of Fiction «

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