Sci-fi and Fantasy is my Catharsis
I’ve always had a love for science-fiction and fantasy. When I was young I stayed up watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on late night TV, as well as Are You Afraid of the Dark during the daytime. At the time, I didn’t understand their importance as genre films. There was the element of fear that excited me but beyond that, it was the idea of the fantastic, the unrealistic, the impossible that I truly connected with.
I remember once in high school my teacher had commented “you really don’t like to live in the real world, do you?” It wasn’t malicious, really, and at the time I didn’t consider it as such either. It did stick with me, however. It was such a simple comment that didn’t mean anything but to me, it meant everything. No, I didn’t live in the “real world” very often. I love books, movies, comics, even fanfiction that changes what we know as reality.
That’s the crux of everything I enjoy about science fiction and fantasy: thinking critically about everything I know. I once had a conversation with a friend about aliens. According to him it seemed utterly ridiculous that I could and do believe in aliens. I do. I believe in aliens. I don’t believe in humanoid green men with weird probe fingers but I do believe that in all the universe we are not the only life. What I took from this conversation, besides the ego-centrism of humanity, is that a lot of people never think about imagination and science in their everyday lives. Of course scientists do, it’s their jobs. However, in my discussion, my friend was utterly surprised when I told him the reason I find the severity of thinking we’re the only planet is ridiculous is because we cannot explain much in the ways of the world. What we lack as humans is the ability to describe what we do not know.
We assume that there is life that must be sustained on similar planets. We don’t know if that’s not true. We know there’s bacteria that feeds on carbon instead of oxygen — still a carbon-based lifeform. What if there are non-carbon based life forms? In the Dark Ages people thought travellers were making it up when they described creatures of necks twice their body with tongues an ashy blue and we now know them to be giraffes. Up until the early 2000s we had chosen to forget that giant squid existed because we could not fathom such a creature to exist. We are quick to not realize or consider things we cannot explain.
With fantasy, there is a world of pure imagination. Fantasy takes the limits of what we know and we try to describe what we do not know. There’s two levels to fantasy for me. There’s supernatural levels of fantasy and there’s the full blown this isn’t changing your reality you’re changing yourself for this reality. Each has their own merits, although I’m more inclined to like the latter. There’s something about reimagining all the things you know while keeping the essence but reinventing it to something familiar. These people are familiar to you but the words and ways are beyond your recognition.
Seeing a fantasy world with its own rules and history is seeing imagination happen before your eyes. What familiar things are both the same and unrecognizable? Things that are altogether familiar and yet estranged are such titillating experiences because it takes you out of your life but not so far that you can’t relate. This takes a particular suspension of belief because it’s not just one or two things — it’s everything you can think of. There are new rules to the world and you’re discovering it as if you’ve fallen into it. My favourite fantasy narratives are ones where you are simply dropped into the world with no explanation and things are only explained as you carry forward. You have no control over the world around you and your role is to simply react — the way our everyday lives occur. In this way, fantasy is a bigger confirmation that you are not the only player in the world and you cannot control or understand those around you.
Fantasy that changes only elements of our own world or create a secret society amidst the norm are special in their own way. Oddly enough, these can be more difficult to buy into. The reasoning being that believing the same world exists, save but for one difference can be rather difficult to digest. Especially when the audience is meant to believe that no one would notice or that the world would be willfully ignorant enough that it wouldn’t send ripples throughout the universe. Sophisticated writing is integral to making one believe the world refuses to believe the fantastic or to hide it so well that it doesn’t leave a larger internet fingerprint.
The act of evaluating one’s stance in the world and the limitations of one’s presence is different than imagining how life would be different save for whatever the story plot is. I can choose to believe in vampires but it would be rather difficult to convince myself I knew what would happen if they existed. Fantasy allows me to consider these situations and imagine life as I cannot know it to be. My reaction and my imagination dictate how I navigate through that narrative as well as teach me things I cannot fathom about myself. Escapism is something I would encourage everyone to delve into, at least for a moment. Catharsis and escapism go hand in hand — removing one’s self forces you to think and feel things you wouldn’t regularly feel. Fantasy exposes secrets about my world in such a way where I am brutally honest about my understanding of reality while also sheltering me with rules and regulations that confront the limitations of my understanding.