[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Escapism and SF

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1991 and 1994 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

I'm tired of hearing people say they read SF for escapism.

According to The American Heritage English Dictionary, escapism is "the avoidance of reality through fantasy or other forms of diversion." I do not read SF for escapism, although I do read it for entertainment (which is the same reason I do a lot of my non-fiction reading). But I have no interest in avoiding reality.

Good literature illuminates the human condition; good science fiction illuminates the human condition by examining it in circumstances that could not occur in our day-to-day lives, therefore providing unique and provocative insights. Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man illuminates the human phenomenon of faith by putting a true believer face-to-face with his god, only to find that that god is wanting. Frederik Pohl's Gateway illuminates the human phenomenon of guilt by contriving a situation in which the guilty person can never get away from the one, horrible moment in which he did the thing that causes his guilt. And, what the hell, my Golden Fleece illuminates the human phenomenon of self-image and self-knowledge by pitting a man against a tormentor who has complete access to his conscious and subconscious thoughts.

Reading SF is probably a bad way to learn physics, however, reading it can and should be a good way to learn about what it means to be human. And the pursuit of that kind of knowledge is about as far as it's possible to get from escapism.

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