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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
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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