Monday Musings: Is Escapism Wrong? Or, Does Everything Need to Have a Message?

I’ve seen some discussion lately on “message fiction.” That is, stories that have a defined theme, a point, a message, if you will. And the strong advocates of these will say that all stories must have a message embedded within them. The argument is particularly strong in the speculative fiction arenas, where there seems to be a dividing line between those who feel the need to write and/or read message fiction, and those who bemoan the supposed death of purely escapist fiction.

I understand the feeling that spec fiction is, perhaps, the perfect sounding board for social, political, humanitarian, ecological, pick your favorite cause. And, to a very great extent, it is. We are talking about stories that spring off of the here and now into the clean slate of “what if?” There is a huge amount of space for building (or tearing down) what you feel strongly about. Many spec fiction writers do this, and have done it in the past. Bradbury, Heinlein, Wells, Burgess, even Mary Shelley wrote what could easily be classed as message fiction. It is a big part of the speculative universe.

But what about the opposite? What is usually termed “escapist fiction.” Pure entertainment without a deep, underlying cause or theme. There are those who argue that this is what spec fiction was meant to be, and that we are losing all the fun under a deluge of soico-political commentary.

But, really, isn’t all reading, at its heart, escapist? I know I pick up a book and I’m pulled away from the mundane, everyday things and into a new world. Sometimes, that world is fraught with as many complications and troubles as the world I live in everyday, and sometimes, that world is silly, or unrealistic, or just plain fun. In either case, I have gotten away from my own everyday duties and problems, and am immersing myself in someone else’s. And, whether those problems mirror or make some sort of statement on reality, or if they are just a string of exploding vehicles, screaming lasers, or woeful looks given across the room by a swooning heroine to her latest infatuation, they help me get away from a reality that, as it does for everyone, often come with troubles.

In the end, I think there is room for both. If you prefer to read and perhaps, write the messages that need to be brought to the attention of a broader range of people, there is a whole range of spec fiction that fits that bill. If you, on the other hand, prefer to get completely away from the real world and immerse yourself in pure fun and frivolity, there is that, too. Me? I like a little of both. A lot depends on my mood. And the story. Always the story. Talk to me about your issues and your concerns, but put it into a good, involving story. You got me either way.

(Photo from ready.gov)

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