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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Escapism - by Michael E. Gonzales

     One of the definitions of Escapism is: “A mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an escape or dissociation from the perceived boring, arduous, scary, or banal aspects of daily life.”
     Undoubtedly, there is some truth to that, but I believe some of us just enjoy a good story!
The Great Hunt

     Humans have been telling stories to one another for time immemorial. Troglodytes once gathered around the fire in the safety of their caves to relate stories of the day's hunt. I have no doubt that the hunters would oft times exaggerate―and so, fiction was born!
     Likewise, cave drawing, and hieroglyphics painted inside ancient tombs, told stories―stories of the pharaohs’ great victories in war, or of the mass sacrifices the Maya and Aztec made to their various gods.
     The Sumerian ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ was first written down somewhere between 2150–2000 B.C.!
The Epic of Gilgamesh 

     Along came paper, bound together, and books were invented. It really wasn’t until the invention of the printing press that books became available to the masses―well, the masses who could afford them.
     Then, in the 18th century, there began to appear books delving into topics other than religion, science, and poetry. Stories of romance, and then adventure. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, was published in 1719. Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, was written by English author Mary Shelley, and published in 1818.
Frankenstein and his monster

     Then came the grandfather of modern science-fiction, Jules Verne,
Verne's Nautilus

whose stories of great adventure and scientific achievement began in 1862. Of course, he had his contemporaries: Camille Flammarion, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton to name a couple. But no author reached the level of Verne until…H.G. Wells.
HG Wells

     Wells's stories use science fiction devices that both entertain and make points about the society in which he lived. In The Time Machine, published in 1895, the technical details of the machine are quickly glossed over, so that the Time Traveler can tell a story that criticizes the stratification of English society. In The War of the Worlds, published in 1898, the Martians' technology is not explained, as it would have been in a Verne story, and the story is resolved by a deus ex machina, albeit a scientifically explainable one.
     The differences between Verne and Wells highlight a tension that exist in science fiction to this day. The question of whether to present realistic technology, or to focus on characters and ideas. 
Thus, the difference between science fiction, and what is called, hard science fiction.
     An author must decide whether to write an exciting story, and make only a passing reference to science, or write a story that adheres strictly to the science behind the story.
Then the author must decide if his story is going to make an obvious or an underlying didactic point. In our modern age of heightened sensitivities, this can be a very dangerous thing to do, as someone is likely to be offended. This could mean the alienation of a segment of your market, and even result in "bad press" on social media. However, as a wise man once said, “All press is good press.”
     I don’t know that any author attempting to be a futurist can write anything that does not make a political statement. The most benign description of a future culture or civilization can’t help but exclaim the form of government that the author sees surviving the test of time.

     Here, the author must walk a thin line. Should the author, in his/her attempt to be educational and moralistic, be perceived as "preachy" they may very well drive readers away.
     It is, I think, important that fiction―all fiction―should make a statement about the human condition. But to do so too loudly will remove the author’s work from the genre, “escapism.”
     Every author’s work I cited above made a point about humanity. The author entertained us, and left the thinker with something to chew on. The best authors’ stories, and messages, have transcended time.

Look for book III of the Unborn Galaxy series, "Across a Sea of Stars," coming out soon.


  1. Michael,

    I believe your statement is at the heart of all subgenres within historical romance, also:

    'An author must decide whether to write an exciting story, and make only a passing reference to science [detailed historical accuracy], or write a story that adheres strictly to the science [historical-lite] behind the story. Then the author must decide if his story is going to make an obvious or an underlying didactic point.'

    As an example, I think of Victor Hugo's 'Les Miserables', which is a story that has transcended time. Even with it's longevity and appeal to generation after generation of readers, it is the plight of Jean Valjean as he avoids the relentless pursuit of his nemesis, Inspector Javert, that draws us. There are so many preachy and political places within the story that it's difficult not to skip fifty pages at a time (or more) to get back to the "people-ness" of the story, even though we know the politics of the era are critical to the plot and characters' motives.

    How much historical or scientific information is too much for the reader? As you said, this is the thin line the fiction writer walks when crafting the perfect blend of entertainment and escapism, while managing to convey the subtle message of the human condition.

    I'm looking forward to your Book III of the Unborn Galaxy series.

  2. Kaye, you certainly got my point!
    One of my favorite reviews from a reader started with her explaining that SciFi was not her cup-o-tea. She was worried she'd get bogged down in relentless science and pseudoscience speak. She stated that there was just enough of both to reminder her that she was in the future, and on the Moon. Now THAT is a review I was proud of - she was telling me that I had achieved my goal. Plus...she loved the story! SCORE!