Science fiction, fantasy and communicating everything else

Posted: May 16, 2014 in reading, writing
Tags: , , , , , , ,

You know what’s great about science fiction and fantasy writing? There are lessons for everything in life. Everything, I tell you.

Other means of communication

Let me start with the example that inspired this piece, Sue Archer’s Doorway Between Worlds blog. Sue works as a business analyst in the IT industry as well as being a big sf+f fan. So she’s taken those two interests and jammed them together, writing a blog that draws lessons in communication from science fiction and fantasy. That’s awesome. That’s grabbing people’s interest and attention and then showing them something valuable. By combining two different areas it sheds new light on both.

Many of us live by the words of wisdom given by Yoda. Many of us learned about the slippery path to oppression by watching Babylon 5. Many of us have taken heart from the humble courage of Sam in Lord of the Rings. Fiction itself is full of lessons.

Democracy in action

Now step back a moment and take a lesson from the community rather than the fiction it creates.

This year there’s been a lot of fuss around the Hugo awards. Unless you’re deeply embedded in the core of fandom then you may not be aware of this. I won’t get into the reasons, but some people are unhappy at what’s on the final ballot and how it got there.

No, the controversy isn't over their badass retro spaceship

No, the controversy isn’t over their badass retro spaceship


Thing is, all those finalist stories, they got there by people making the effort to vote. Because that’s how democracy works – the people who turn up win. With local and European elections in the UK next week, and a huge fuss over the rise of UKIP and the BNP, we really, really need to take this lesson on board. If you don’t like the alternative then you need to turn up and vote. Because in a democracy it’s the active voters who win, not the ones who throw away their polling cards because ‘I can’t make a difference’.

Learning from your craft

What’s more, my particular writing obsessions have relevance beyond crafting fiction. Like Sue, I’ve worked analysing and influencing businesses. The things that shape my craft, that I believe are important to readers and writers – trusting yourself and others; treating people like they’re smart; embracing change – they also apply in our professional and personal lives.

Yes, fine, I write for a living and am married to a fellow geek, of course sf+f is relevant to my professional and personal lives. But that’s not why the lessons cross over.

Take trust. In business, employees work far better if they are trusted to do the job right. This gives them the independence to take the initiative, the opportunity to grow, and a reason to commit to the organisation’s goals. I’m halfway through a big freelance project around this and all the best analysis shows that the same thing that works in writing – trusting your audience to work it out – also works in the office.

It applies in your personal life as well. How much better do you feel when the people around you – friends, family, partners – trust you and have faith in you? How much worse do you feel when they over-supervise, take over tasks, contradict your judgement?

Lessons on every level

Everything about science fiction and fantasy – the stories, the craft, the community – can teach us valuable lessons. As learning tools go it’s not to everybody’s taste, and that’s fine. But for those of us who love it, it’s an endless source of education and entertainment.

Now your turn. What have you learned from sf+f? Don’t be shy, I trust you to say something smart, so share it below.

  1. Sue Archer says:

    Thanks for the wonderful words, Andrew! I love the way you’ve looked at this through the lens of story, craft, and community. I’ve had people ask me how I think of my blog ideas (and don’t I think I am going to run out?). I’m not worried about inspiration running dry. It is true that for me sf+f has lessons about everything. I have learned many things: the true value of friendship (from Sam in LOTR, among others), the importance of standing up for what’s right, and the definition of courage (being afraid and pressing forward anyway). I know that beauty can be found in unexpected places, dreams can be made real, and anything is possible. We all live in different worlds and so in some ways we are alien to each other, and yet like aliens in sci-fi, we can find common ground. I could keep going on this theme forever, but hey, that’s why I have my blog. 🙂 Anyone who thinks that sf+f has no relevance or is second-rate because it’s “not real” has, I think, missed out on something special.

    • Thanks for inspiring this one. I like that point about being alien to one another – I think that’s part of why aliens are so often a great tool in science fiction, a way of expanding on human themes and exploring them more deeply.

  2. Sue Archer says:

    Reblogged this on Doorway Between Worlds and commented:
    Here’s a great post from Andrew on how science fiction and fantasy can teach us valuable life lessons. Enjoy!

  3. What have I learned? Likely that the world is only as limited as your imagination. I love the challenge of that thought.
    Lovely post! Cheers 🙂

  4. […] with so much in life, the experience of reading and writing fiction can bring something to the discussion about these […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s