Science Fiction and Fantasy: Uncovering the Modern World of Information, Society, and Technology through Metaphor and Imagination

Science Fiction and Fantasy: Uncovering the Modern World of Information, Society, and Technology through Metaphor and Imagination

Saturday, 7/11/09

This 20th anniversary meeting of the Imagineering Interest Group was a well-run affair featuring free books, entertaining stories, and good-humored pandering towards librarians. The packed house thoroughly enjoyed themselves listening to TOR authors speak about metaphor, imagination, the state of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, and the power of libraries.

Robert Charles Wilson gave an intriguing synopsis of his upcoming book set in a world run by a theological governing body. His protagonist, in the process of attempting to promote a sense of secularism, ends up creating a free library. While writing the book he said he needed to re-invent religion in America, a process he says “made me into a theologian, although I never volunteered for the post.” Wilson said that a recurring and powerful theme in Science Fiction is the “persistence of the book as well as the liberating power of information.”

Ken Scholes writes across many genres but was most influenced by Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons. He said that as a boy Science Fiction and Fantasy gave him a foster home, something to dream of, and essentially raised him. He recounted how as a young teenager he attempted to work in the local library repeatedly until he was finally of the legal age to work (16 in Washington state) at which point he was hired immediately. He also presented a mashed up narration with multiple characters, themes, and story lines from the readings of his youth saying this was how he was raised. He said he grew up reaching for heaven and found Oz, Middle Earth, and Mars among other worlds.

Margaret Weis told the story about how she got started in writing back when TSR first began Dungeons and Dragons. She realized “I could write those stories” and did so. She told her favorite anecdote about being a five year old in the public library who wandered into the adult section and found a copy of The Doll’s House. But the librarian wouldn’t let her check it out by saying “this isn’t about what you think it’s about.” She also related the story about how “writer’s are the ones who put on the bear skin and dance around the fire telling the people’s stories” which is all she’s ever wanted to do. For her, Science Fiction and Fantasy is not escapism, but a way to think about real life issues, but from a different perspective.

John Brown presented a compelling argument that Science Fiction and Fantasy is a “gateway drug” to literacy for youth. He related that the NEA has shown that in 2008 reading rates have increased and by the most in the 18-24 age group. Asking Bookscan if they had data to  go along with that, they provided the intriguing statistic that Science Fiction and Fantasy reading soared by 144% in roughly the same time period for juvenile readers. He said that for the young Science Fiction and Fantasy allows encounters with the “strange, weird, and wonderful.” He also said that the genre was big enough that it’s allowed him to explore more adult themes as he’s aged.

Eric Flint explored the reasons “Science Fiction and Fantasy” authors (and presumably readers) feel compelled to justify themselves in a “hostile literary world.” He maintained that the genre deals with “ordinary people placed into extraordinary circumstances which they deal with very well.” He contrasted this with a more literary view of storytelling that consists of “ordinary people placed into extraordinary circumstances which they deal with very poorly.” He wondered why Moby Dick isn’t placed into the fantasy genre because “no whales act like that.” But in the end he admitted that he, and other authors, depend on librarians to a large degree for his living because new authors are found through sharing and from libraries.

There were no questions from the audience as folks hurriedly lined up for author signatures. A line that extended out into the hall.

Author Biographies:

John Brown

Eric Flint

Ken Scholes

Margaret Weis

Robert Charles Wilson

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