Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Steampunk Tuesday - SF/Fantasy

Author J.M Frey (left) and Me as Rorschach and Laurie from WATCHMEN

Last week I discussed my number six, that is to say number one, reason why I love Steampunk (from the list I made here).  And so this week it seemed on right to carry on to number five, number two:

I love SF/Fantasy.

Now some of you who read my Fake Geek Girl blog post will know that I'd never really defined myself as a geek.  Nor really as an SF/Fantasy fan.  It wasn't until I took stock of the kinds of entertainment I enjoyed that I realised, "Oh wait, yeah I really do love that stuff!"

I think the thing for me was that I like a lot of stuff.  And a lot of genres.  I'll pretty much watch any film/read any book so long as it isn't scary.  But there is something about the SF/Fantasy genre that I think is just wonderful.  And that's what I'm going to talk about today.


ESCAPISM

I think most genre fans come to it as a means of escape.  I think most people come to media in general for that reason.  I know that it was definitely the case for me.  As a young teenager, I spent several summers feeling very alone and very much outside of the "cool group" (I was fine during the school year, I went to an arts school where people understood and accepted my personality).  When I would return home after a long frustrating day, I would go up to my parents' room, turn on their computer and write.

Now I had tried writing many different things over the course of my young life, many attempts at the middle school/high school experience type stories.  But the one I wound up sticking with, that really helped me, was a pirate adventure story.  Because as it turns out, I didn't want to write about my life.  My life was kind of sucky in that moment.  I wanted to write about an exciting other world.  With pirates, and adventure, and drama oh my!  It made me happy, I got to leave my existence for a time. 

And I think that's why a lot of people love to escape into genre.  We don't have to interact with the mundane real world.  We can experience cool futuristic technology, or go back to a time where everyone rode horses, or play with magic, fight with swords.  Be a hero, a wizard, a warrior, a thief ('cause thieves, like pirates, in genre, are way cooler than in real life).  I think too that's why people love portal stories so much (see a little book series called Harry Potter . . .).  You get to experience the mundane and then travel into the fantastic.  You get to pretend there is a viable way to enter that wonderland.


IDEALISM

For me, and not necessarily for all fans of genre, I like that there is a place for idealistic characters.  For good guys to win and bad guys to get their due.  This is not to say there isn't something wonderful in the grey.  I also love books where the bad guys win, and the good guys aren't necessarily that good (big fan of WATCHMEN for example - see pic above).  But it's definitely the notion that good guys don't finish last in SF/Fantasy that draws me to it. 

I know it's cool to be a fan of Batman.  The dark anti-hero.  And I do really enjoy him - though I prefer the villains :) .  More on that in a moment.  But Superman will always be my hero of choice.  I like that he was noble.  That he had no reason for doing good except for the fact that he had powers and could do good.  He made the decision, when he didn't need to, to be a hero.  In a time when so many people feel a need to point out, "I'm no role model", I like to see someone step up and take on that responsibility. 

I like too that good guys can and do win.  That if you fight with right and justice on your side, you are victorious. 

And this certainly is not always the case in real life.



VILLAINY

So after all that upbeat talk, I gotta say, I love a good villain.  And SF/Fantasy really allows you to enjoy villains without feeling too guilty about it.  When you have villains who give themselves personas and names - ie: The Riddler - when their goals are things like WORLD DOMINATION, or DESTROY THE BATMAN, when it's so clearly not something real, you can really enjoy them.  You can even root for them.  You don't have to sit back and think, "Actually, that's quite horrible."  It's so big, so much, so clearly not real, you can divorce yourself from the horror, and just have fun with it.  And boy can it be fun, from their awesome lairs, to their ridiculous plans, to their fantastic one-liners.  Villains get some of the coolest toys.  And often they get to be quite funny, which is not something heroes are always allowed to be.


ISSUES

Because of the distance that the clearly fictional universes of SF/Fantasy provide, writers and other artists are able to address real world issues in a manner that isn't always possible with non-genre works.  For one thing it makes morality tales seem less, for want of a better word, cheesy.  You can explore very basic ideas behind racism say, without the usual eye rolling, when the colours are pink and orange.  The original Star Trek is wonderful for that.  Each episode sets up a clear moral dilemma, but packages it in fun and camp.  Of course there are some wonderfully serious moments as well.  But it's the colorful fantasy of the show that makes the overt morality much more palatable.

But you can also get into far more complex conversations about issues as well.  It need not stay too broad.  You can really get into the nitty gritty of the debate over, say, science vs religion, without, at the same time, offending people.  When the religion isn't a real one, and the situation has never happened before, people can enjoy the what if, without feeling like they are being personally attacked.  So, for example, we have Deep Space Nine, where the captain becomes a god.  Or does he?  Is he communicating with a pantheon or are they aliens? 

To bring this around to Steampunk, it's why I chose science fiction as the genre in which to tell my particular story about girls and self actualisation (with a small dose of class structures and racism thrown into the mix).  I absolutely could have set the book in the real 1900 and told a similar story.  But without the restrictions of staying 100% true to what existed at the time, I was able to go even further.  I was also able to create a metaphor - girls becoming actual superheroes, while also becoming the heroes in their own lives. 


Now I have highlighted the main reasons for my love of SF/Fantasy - there are certainly other lesser ones for me as well, ie: it looks really cool.  And I am sure you guys have your own different reasons too!  So now, like usual, it's time to share!  What drew you to SF/Fantasy??