Ahh…here is another one of those great internet discussions, spilling over from message boards to blogs about an issue that’s been discussed to death. This time it seems to have started with M. John Harrison posting this about the sin of worldbuilding, it was followed up with some message board discussion at wotmania and ASOIF. Then Larry/Dylanfanatic/Freebird posted this blog, Pat at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist followed up with this entry with Gabe Chouinard responding here. And several others have weighed in as well.
Fine, I’ve said what I have to say about worldbuilding elsewhere, so this is not really a direct response to any of that above, just an extension of my reaction to that discussion.
For whatever reason, admitting that you read for any sort of escapism is akin to admitting you like country music, Nascar, Natural Lite beer, live in a trailer, etc. You are immediately regulated to being less intelligent of a reader and just not getting it. Suddenly, you are less than respectful.
Well, I read for escapism – it may be the biggest reason why I enjoy reading as much as I do. It’s almost certainly the biggest reason why such a large proportion of my reading is in speculative fiction.
Let’s face it – reality sucks a lot of the time. I spend 9, 10, sometimes 12+ hours, 5 days a week working. I like my job, but I won’t pretend that I’d keep working if I won the lottery. Beyond that, it’s hard not to take a cynical view of the world today – there’s terrorism, unnecessary war, an idiot running the most powerful country in the world, religious extremism, global warming, etc. If I allow it to sink in it’s hard to not get angry, depressed, and unhopeful. Then, when I get home it’s time to various chores and projects, and of course there are family relationships to deal with.
So when I get some free time I absolutely want to escape this reality and fully immerse myself in some alternate world. I don’t need much; I just crave something that is different from my perspective, something that might require a suspension of belief. Speculative fiction of all sorts is where I most often turn to for this. This is what I enjoy; this is my hobby.
Am I looking for cliché, epic fantasy that is pure escapism – usually not, but sometimes I am. I do enjoy books that contain depth – that are thematic, metaphorical, political, great statements on the human condition, etc. I also enjoy books that are just plain fun, while not being particularly deep. And yes, in almost all cases, escapism is still the biggest driving force behind my enjoyment of reading. Loosing myself in the story, the world, or the language – yes this is an escape.
For whatever reason, it’s assumed that if you read for escapism, you must be reading some 10-book series of epic fantasy, something that is poorly written, easy for others to dismiss. I don’t get this – I can escape just as easily into something by Jeff VanderMeer, Haruki Murakami, Graham Joyce, or Hal Duncan. Escapism equating to bad writing is fallacy.
Perhaps the issue starts in the way people define escapism differently from one another. Maybe people deny things in themselves and others. Maybe people are just different.
People read for lots of reasons. Denying that escapism is one of the biggest is a mistake – it should be embraced. Looking down on anyone for their own reasons for reading is horribly short-sighted. Look, if escapism is an evil word to you – fine, just don’t tell me how wrong I am for embracing it. I can accept that you read for reasons different than my own; can you do the same?
Edit 2: Dylanfantic/Larry/Freebird reflects some more - some interesting ideas to think on, but ultimately I'm not sure he 'gets' it.