Sean Williams

“Why Fantasy & Science Fiction?”

posted on 21 Mar 2015 at 12:58 am

This is a lightly edited transcript of a speech I gave at the Public Library Services annual readers advisory seminar held at the NSW State Library on March 18th. The topic was science and science fiction, and I was invited to share my personal experiences of the genres I love, both as a reader and as a writer.

“Why Fantasy and Science Fiction?”

yellowFrank Zappa once said, “If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to a library.” That certainly captures my experiences with the two institutions, apart from the getting laid part. I was the prototypical sci-fi nerd, not a very good advertisement for the topic we’re talking about today. Sending me to a boys’ school, my parents practically guaranteed me a life of social isolation and awkwardness. Thank god for books.

Even though my social life eventually improved, I dropped out of uni at an early age to pursue a career in writing, having learned pretty quickly that everything I needed to become a writer could be found in my local library, those things being: stories, books, authors, and of course librarians to make introductions.

I don’t need to tell you that it’s a complicated time for libraries, but this particular topic (“F&SF”, “fantastic fiction”, “speculative fiction”, “spec fic” — whatever you want to call it) seems appropriate. How are we to reconcile the paperless techno-fetishism of a future where books can be wired directly into your phones — maybe one day into your minds — with a very different kind of fetishism, that of history, in which books and manuscripts are given the prominence they deserve? There are no easy answers to this question, but you can be sure it has been asked before in science fiction and fantasy.

I’m honoured to be invited to talk to this subject. In a real sense I’ve been making the case that people should give F&SF more consideration my entire life. My parents were both born in the country — Victoria and SA — and grew up with a love of books. Books filled our home, and later, when both my parents were schoolteachers (lucky me) so did librarians. My father’s best friend, for example, was a librarian. It was inevitable that I would be a reader, and from an early age a writer too, although precious few of the books around my home were in the genre I came to love.

sky-pirates-fullMy first encounter with anything I would call F&SF now was in the mid-1970s:

  • The Children’s Sindbad by F. H. Pritchard (a book given to my mother when she was a child),
  • a pulp novel called The Sky Pirates by Douglas V Duff (underneath a pile of old Biggles novels that belonged to my father),
  • Doctor Who and the Daleks by David Whitaker (this novelisation was a Xmas present from my parents since I had fallen in love with the show),
  • and then “proper” literature via my mother’s study of kids’ literature (notably Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea, Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series — books I still regularly read today).

By the time I was ten years old I had two great and undying literary loves: Doctor Who novels (there were ninety or so of them in the end; I still have them, and occasionally even read them), and Agatha Christie novels, which my mother collected — and if that seems a bit of an odd pairing at first glance, look at it this way: both science fiction and crime fiction are arguably about addressing the mysterious and making known that which is currently unknown.

Few of my friends read science fiction, but some of their parents did, and it was through them that I discovered some of my favourite books of my childhood. One in particular stands out: a ghastly pulp called The Flying Eyes by J. Hunter Holly, and that too I still have. I believe it was the first novel I ever read that contained sex — which seemed pretty alien to me at the time.

flying eyesMostly people thought of me as the weird kid who wanted to read instead of play sport, go outside, have a real life, etc. These days I guess they’d be worried about me spending too much time on the internet or playing computer games. (You probably won’t be surprised to learn that D&D was an issue in my teenage years.) For me, the realest kind of life was the one happening between my ears and between the pages.

I have no clear memory of when I moved on from the adults around me to libraries as a source of books. I guess it wasn’t until my family moved from Adelaide to Darwin in 1977, when I was ten years old. The primary school library there was fairly uninspiring — or at least it was for me. By then I was wanting to explore more adult science fiction novels (by such greats as Robert Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Fred Pohl — overwhelmingly male, I know, but such was the field back then). I knew these books existed — there’s a great line about the genre being in dialogue with itself, readers and writers being in constant contact with each other, so I guess the knowledge had leaked in somehow — and I wanted to get my hands on them.

At the same time, SF in cinema was overtaking SF on TV — so where Doctor Who and The Tomorrow People, say, once reigned, now Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica were beginning to take hold. I wanted to read the big visions I saw in these movies, which I had been promised in books and, I was determinedly seeking them.

I still remember my sense of frustrated entitlement when, on fronting up to Nightcliff Public Library for the first time, I was told that the books I wanted were in the adult section and therefore off-limits to children. Of course that only made me want them even more.

Luckily, my parents were never the kind of parents ever to deny me anything I wanted so long as it was on a bookshelf. When I was slightly younger I had wanted to read Alex Haley’s Roots because my dad seemed to be enjoying it, and boys and their fathers . . . you know. Despite all the rape and murder the book contained, they let me read it, and I think I even got halfway through it (even though it weighed more than I did). So in Darwin they wrote me a letter to give the librarian, asking that I be allowed to borrow whatever I wanted, and thus I was off.

Which is a long way of saying that, even at the age of ten or so I was able to clearly see something in this genre that spoke to me in a way that others did not. Maybe in the beginning it was the slightly camp drama of Doctor Who, and then later it became big things blowing up on an imaginary mental movie screen with no special effects budget, but I very quickly latched onto science fiction and fantasy as the home of big ideas. There were things in these books that I had never seen before and would never see anywhere else.

Ringworld-Larry-NivenBooks like Larry Niven’s Ringworld, which I read again just recently and found to be just as thought-provoking as it was when it came out forty years ago. Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I had already read several times before I saw the movie in a dingy Darwin cinema in 1979. Then, at age twelve, I hit The Lord of the Rings — thanks to yet another adult friend — and my fate was sealed.

These are all stories with unique characters, voices and settings, but they also come loaded with issues much bigger than any I had as yet encountered in a realist book — which always seemed to be about these few people, this part of this world, this language. Nothing could have opened my mind wider to the possibilities of life than the books I was reading just then.

I guess that’s one answer, but not the only answer, to the question:

“Why SF&F?”

Why read it? Why recommend it to someone? Why try to understand it? Why bother?

I’ve been asked this question ever since I wrote my first story at age eight (about meeting a giant ant), and then repeatedly since I dropped out of uni to become a “real” writer instead of pursuing a “real” job. The questions didn’t cease when I was first published in short form, nor when my first book was published 21 years ago. I’m still getting this question now, with varying degrees of puzzlement.

I could just ignore that puzzlement, I suppose. But there’s always a faint stink of scepticism that goes with it, and I resent that. Does crime fiction have to justify its existence? Does the historical or the Australian literary novel? Ignoring the criticism of friends and loved ones is not in my nature: I don’t like to argue, but I do like to state my case.

The best way to do that I guess it is probably to write books that could be mistaken for “real” books if you overlooked the small detail that some of their contents aren’t real: they might even have the magical quality my snobbish aunt-in-law likes to call “language”. That’s certainly the goal of every writer I know: to write good books for every definition of the word “good”. Even if sometimes those books do contain aliens or whatever.

But I’ve also defended my chosen genre through various assessment and oversight roles in organisations like Arts SA, the Australia Council, the Australian Society of Authors, the SA Writers’ Centre, and for three years I was even the Overseas Regional Director for largest peak-body international organisation for spec fic writers, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I feel like it’s one of those familiar discussions that one is happy to have all the time, like “Why did you choose to adopt?” or “Why did you install solar panels?” — because it’s important and worth repeating until it sticks.

“Why SF?”

The obvious place to start the discussion is by asking what it is.

From the outside looking in, particularly through the lens of cinema, it’s completely forgivable to think that F&SF is little more than swords and sorcery, robots and ray guns, trivial adventures featuring trivial characters, packaged cynically for the consumption of those with shallow tastes. It’s forgivable because there are examples that can’t even by the most fervent of fans be elevated to anything approaching greatness.

eternal_sunshine_of_the_spotless_mind_ver2However, as one of my field’s greatest writers, Theodore Sturgeon, once wrote, “Ninety percent of everything is crap”, and a critical eye applied to any genre would discover that the rule holds there, too. There’s nothing about any genre that makes it immune to Sturgeon’s Law. So for every Star Wars there’s an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. For every Game of Thrones there’s a Hunger Games. (l leave it to you to decide which of these examples is crap.) For every Interview With The Vampire there’s a Twilight.

Saying that it’s all rubbish makes the additional error of assuming that it’s all the same, when in fact there are sub-genres in spec fic just like in every other branch of literature and the differences between them are obvious to anyone who’s read more than one book in the field. Someone who loves J K Rowling won’t necessarily like Tamora Pearce, for instance. Not all Charlie Stross fans will like Neal Stephenson. But there remains a sense of tradition, and of traditions that can be periodically overturned and then revived, making them richer with every iteration.

So at the same time that there are short stories that can change the way we think about everything (Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God” comes to mind) there are series that seem to drag on forever without hope of end, and we’re left asking, what the hell is this thing we’re looking at?

This question has long been asked. Isaac Asimov himself once said:

I suppose it is a measure of the richness of the field that no two of its practitioners are liable to agree on even something so fundamental as its definition.

Only a fool would step into that muddied water, and of course that is exactly I did, in the only undergraduate English essay I wrote before ditching my degree for a life scribbling. Here’s what I wrote about defining science fiction:

“The closest one could come would be to say that,

o   if a work of fiction contains a measure of “hard” science without which the plot would be rendered meaningless and/or

o   inspires a sensation of awe at the potential of the universe and/or

o   speculates on the effects on the individual as a response to societal change (or vice versa) and/or

o   uses the mechanisms of science to tell stories about people and what makes them tick and/or

o   presents basic entertainment behind a technological mask,

then it is probably science fiction.”

And that doesn’t tackle fantasy at all. Or magic realism, or counter-factuals, or a myriad other things.

Rather than sink down into that particular bog, it’s probably enough for the moment to trust our instincts, as did Justice Potter Steward when declaring that he knew pornography when he saw it. SF&F exists. We recognise it when we it’s in front of us. So what’s it doing? What does it give its loyal readers? What can it offer other readers who may not have tried it before, or tried some examples but missed out on others that might suit them very well?

I’d like to look at this in some detail, in a highly personal, non-academic way, by browsing through my own works, if you’ll indulge me, as well as some of my favourites by other writers.

The first thing spec fic does is something we touched on earlier. It encourages us to look at the world differently. It opens our minds to new possibilities, above and beyond those around us.

have spacesuitThere are lots of ways it can do that. It can take the world we live in and imagine how it might have been, say, if Hitler had won World War II (Dick’s The Man in the High Castle). It can imagine that the world is run by a secret society of wizards or alien lizards (although according to David Icke the latter is not fiction at all). It can place us in the context of a much larger, interstellar empire (as in Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel) such that our global concerns now seem very small. Or a thousand other ways.

The point being, that life is not just about us, or now, or here. There are bigger things, sometimes greater things out there that we can be part of, if we only open our eyes a little wider.

All very significant, in other words — and I would never dream of saying that other genres don’t do this (such as the historical) but no other genre has the complete freedom of spec fic to go so far beyond the familiar world. Our settings can be the Earth right now, the Earth in the past or the future, alternate Earths from other universes, other worlds entirely — sometimes there are no worlds at all. Sometimes the connection to the present is completely broken and it is up to the reader to make their own connections.

Several of my books fall into this category. Two series, The Broken Land and The Books of the Change — the latter of which started with my first fantasy novel The Stone Mage & the Sea — bear at first glance little connection to our world. But they were inspired by something very close to home. After several years trying to write the landscape of Tolkien-esque fantasy (with wide rivers, snow-capped mountains, ancient forests, etc) and failing miserably because I had never seen such places firsthand, I had a dream (from where all the best ideas spring) about a wizardly figure attempting to trap a teenager by drawing magic signs into the sand of a beach. This triggered an epiphany that of course fantasy can be set anywhere. It can even be set in my own back yard.

TheStoneMageAndTheSeaThe best compliment I’ve ever had about The Stone Mage and the Sea was from a woman who said that the setting reminded her of a place called Port Gibbon — which is a stretch of sand dunes my grandfather used to take me to when I was a child, and on which I deliberately modelled the locations in the novel. So these books do respond to the real world in numerous ways, just as they are a response to the kinds of worlds often found in contemporary fantasy novels. I hope that their existence have encouraged other Australian authors in my genre to ask: Why don’t we engage with our landscape more? We can do it without appropriating indigenous culture — after all, we have an engagement all of our own, if we’ve spent any time outside the cities. We shouldn’t leave it to realist writers to mine that particular seam, because there is no right way to ask the important questions about where we came from and how we fit in.

Bk1ZombiesCovFAnother series of mine is The Fixers for younger readers. It was inspired by a stormy night in Adelaide — we don’t have many of those so this was particularly memorable. I was woken up by a power cut and flashing lights coming from the street outside. I went out to see what was going on and saw a man in a silver suit mucking around in the guts of a giant truck. I called out to him, and he jumped guiltily around, as though I had caught him at some terrible act. He explained quite legitimately about the fallen power line just up the road — but the seed was sown for a story about what was really happening that night. What lay just on the other side of the skin of reality, waiting for me and the reader to peel back and reveal?

By encouraging us to look out our world differently, we necessarily come to look at ourselves differently, or at least our place in the world. And this is the second thing spec fic does.

bitter greensThere are so many examples of this trick that it’s hard to know where to start. Fairy tales and the retelling of fairy tells do this — such as Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens — and through the idea of the changeling in particular. Then there are aliens from outer or inner space who look like us, such as the replicants in Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or the clones in Ishigiru’s Never Let Me Go. Anything that can be changed about a character — their origins, their shape, their gender, their personality, their individuality, anything — can be and has been altered somehow in spec fic, in some form or other, in order to hold a cracked mirror up to our own faces.

In some ways, this is the most important role spec fic can play. It’s so hard to see ourselves from the inside — it’s hard to face the hard truths about here and now (or to see the positive things) when they’re wrapped up in preconceptions and a myriad of contemporary complications — but finding that perspective is critical if we’re going to become better people and build better societies. This is the role often played by religion and philosophies, of course, and I don’t think it would be too bold to propose that science fiction at its best combines both those things for a secular, non-academic audience — which is not to say that the religious or the learned can’t enjoy them too. Science fiction is sneaky that way. You can learn even when you’re not aware you’re learning.

Looking at ourselves through the eyes of other people emphasises something that’s often overlooked by people who don’t get spec fic. They can’t see past the tropes to see what lies at the heart of these stories, which are the characters. Readers don’t pick up spec fic novels to be lectured at — unless they’re fans of Kim Stanley Robinson, and even he gets away with it because he understands that every great novel is about people. Or things that resemble people, on the inside. Superficially the characters of spec fic form a brilliant pantheon of sizes, shapes, colours, and creeds — and yet, ultimately, every story is in some way about us and what it means to be human.

EchoesOfEarthI’ve come at this from lots of different angles, such as my Orphans series, where the idea of what makes us who we are comes under a pretty consistent attack as a series of explorers are turned into digital files, which are then copied and sent to numerous solar systems surrounding our own, only to discover that the copies are faulty, and that they are the only surviving “humans” in the universe.

More recently, my Astropolis series opened with a very old man brought back from the dead in the body of a woman, hundreds of thousands of years after the destruction of the civilisation he belonged to and might himself have destroyed. In the course of the story he changes back to a male body, only to later discover that his original form was in fact female: he is so old that he has completely forgotten his origins. As we head into a future of long lives and changeable bodies, these are arguably important fantasies to entertain.

Saturn Returns(As an aside: Astropolis also contains a moment of immense, personal fanboyishness: it contains a character who speaks solely in the lyrics of Gary Numan. This was a labour of love for me, and a very arduous labour too, getting all those rights and permissions etc — but helped me tether this enormous tale of the far future back to something very personal and real for me. I hope that the exercise helps some readers find an intimate connection too.)

Looking at ourselves differently — as mutable, flexible beings whose sense of self is nowhere near as concrete as we prefer to imagine — absolutely demands that we look at others differently too. They’re not fixed either, in the roles we ascribe to them, in the motivations we imagine for them. How much conflict in the real world would be avoided if we could embrace otherness more readily! And this is the third thing that spec fic does, rather well, I think.

Stories of otherness and estrangement play out, for example, through First Contact stories, of which there are many. I am Number Four, Ender’s Game, Little Fuzzy, or if you want to go right back The War of the Worlds . . . A whole generation of kids grew up on E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, which deals with our hopes as well as our fears — fears that have real consequences in companion stories like Alien, because of course encountering the unknown does have its potential pitfalls. Given our colonial history, these stories are of particular relevance. If ever we do meet a culture more sophisticated than ours, as in Clarke’s Childhood’s End, we’ll be glad of the years we spent imagining what might happen. Might not make any difference, but still . . .

childhoodsendConfronting and exploring the other — people, places, cultural practices, modes of thinking — is good for us, good for the societies we are building. It makes us more empathic — as a recent study showed. All fiction does this to a certain extent but SF&F is built with the other as its very foundation. Take away the sense of difference you’ll find in spec fic novel — often right alongside a sense of wonder or sense of horror — and what you have won’t be spec fic anymore. It will be nothing but rhetorical words, to paraphrase Robert Anton Wilson, author of the mind-blowing Schroedinger’s Cat trilogy, another big influence on me in my much younger days.

Acceptance of the other is closely allied to acceptance of change. We’re fools like Canute if we think that the way things are now is how they’re going to be in the future, and in order to survive this changeable future we must learn how to better accept the products of that change. This is the fourth and perhaps most obvious thing that spec fic does, in novels beyond counting — and most recently on TV through shows like Black Mirror and Person of Interest, although I would argue that these shows aren’t predictions of what might be, more accounts of how we might react to the possibilities we see before us. Yes, it’s important to formulate contingency plans, to have frameworks in place for things like space travel, Big Brother, global warming — the utopian/dystopian possibilities that arise out of all of these scenarios. That’s arguably why post apocalyptic fiction is so big right now — because the forces of change are gathering around us, and instead of those in power actually doing something about climate change, those who aren’t in power are reading about what they’ll be left with when it all falls apart.

These novels portray the future, but aren’t predictions. It always comes back to imagining spaces for us in worlds that lie just beyond our own, in time or in space — and this, to a large degree, fuels my own writing in this area,

0145AU_Twinmaker10_Page_1 - smallerMy Twinmaker series (the first book of which, Jump, came out in 2013, followed by Crash late last year) imagines a future world saved by a device that can manipulate matter — like a 3-D printer that can take any input and turn it into something else. That solves global warming overnight, by sucking out the CO2 and turning it into oxygen and diamonds. But later, when my books are set, those machines are used to move people around — as in Star Trek — by taking them apart at home and putting them back together at work, say — technically killing them in one place and creating a perfect copy in another.

There are obvious philosophical issues with this practice, and society would be changed in many ways by this. My books explore all sorts of body modification issues — because changing an electronic pattern is as easy as editing a Word file — and for me the driving engine is the emotional impact such a technology would have on us. It’s like our fears of social media times a thousand.

One particular possibility I explore in the finale, Fall, concerns how love might work in such a world, when things go wrong. If your boyfriend was accidentally copied, would you love them both equally? If one of them cheated on you, would you be equally angry with both? If a copy of your boyfriend cheats on you with a copy of yourself — what then? These kinds of question could be explored in a realist novel through identical twins, but without the flexibility, the novelty, or the universality — in the sense that in my series this is an accident that could be sprung on anyone at any time. How do we possibly live with that possibility? How would it make us feel?

Creating copies of people raises issues related to otherness and selfhood, which is why I find the trope of the matter transmitter irresistible — so much so that I now have a PhD on the topic. It’s the only thing that could ever have dragged me back to university. Many of my books contain this machine, just like nearly all of them contain twinning, natural or artificial. There’s no better way to explore questions of identity and individuality — and in F&SF you can turn the colour right up to make the exploration even bolder. To boldly go . . .

Which brings me to the fifth and final thing in this list, which I’m sure is not exhaustive, of things that spec fic can do.

It can be fun.

And fun, as any parent or child psychologist knows, is not trivial. Play is a way of learning and growing and being challenged. It shouldn’t stop when we get older, and it’s as much the province of books as TV or the sporting field. Imagination is a basic human urge, one we’ve been exercising for millennia alongside the urge to understand the world. You can draw a direct line from ancient myths and legends to both science fiction and fantasy — our interactions with gods and angels and whatever are not just great yarns to tell each other around a campfire, they’re also attempts to work out what the hell is going on. Magical thinking prefigures science fiction in a real way. We wouldn’t be where we are now if we hadn’t had such a creative investment in imagining things that aren’t there.

Some people frown on Star Wars and its ilk for being the junk food of our creative diet. I take some offence to that, and not just because I’ve written six novels in that franchise that I’ll defend as the equals of my original work (for better or for worse). Certainly, there are as much a creative endeavour, and are often harder to write, than my other books because they are part of a much larger tapestry: I can’t just make things up and work it all out later. (In that sense it’s no different to writing historical fiction, as a friend of mine once pointed out. Facts must be checked at all times.) Star Wars obeys Sturgeon’s Law just like anything else, but when it works it’s as engaging as other forms of creative play, such as Doctor Who, or Dune, or The Hobbit, or the Pern books by Anne McCaffery, or John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, or any number of fun spec fic franchises. Some of these books are also serious attempts to engage on the other points I’ve mentioned, but sometimes they start from a place of “Holy crap, what if we could fly telepathic dragons to fight invaders from another world?” And they are just as exciting as you might imagine.

All my novels are designed to be fun as well as thought-provoking, even the ones containing big ideas. My early space opera series Evergence was conceived as a mash-up between Star Wars and Blake’s 7, but without any aliens, just because. Lots of things blow up, but along the way the question is implicit: what is a human, and what cost the survival of our conception humanity?

Troubletwisters - final OZ front onlySimilarly, the Troubletwisters series that I’ve been writing with my friend Garth Nix started as a desire to give something back to the tradition of kids’ fantasy that inspired us as young readers (and to explore another of my favourite places, second hand bookstores). They’re fun, and fantastical, and fast-paced, but they also deal with serious issues like loss, and ageing, and the nature of evil.

This process of collaboration and combination is possibly Number Six on my list, but I’m not sure it needs to be spelt out so overtly.

Spec fic is a genre that has combined successfully with many other genres. There are (among many such crossovers) speculative westerns (Westworld, Firefly), speculative historicals (Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book), speculative romances (These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner), speculative comedies, (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and speculative crime novels (Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel was famously written when an editor insisted it wasn’t possible to write a mystery story in a science fictional context). I’ve dabbled with crime/SF myself (such as my second novel The Resurrected Man) and my Geodesica diptych is full-on romance/space opera.

resurrected manSpec fic is also a genre that’s very open to writers working with each other and in each other’s universes, often at the same time. There’s a sense of sharing and togetherness that maybe springs from its position as an outsider genre — “them against us” brings us together for more than mere survival — but maybe also because it’s damned hard. Quite often it takes two heads to do everything that writing a spec novel demands. These books need all the characterisation, setting, and “language” of an ordinary book, with the added burden of having to make some things up completely from scratch in a way that feels completely plausible and real.

So every time someone asks me: Why? Why should we regard F&SF as anything other than empty mind games for those who need a life? All of this is what I want to say.

But of course talking about it isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. The only thing that will do that is giving them the right book, and letting that do the work.

That can be tricky, thanks to marketing, and bad publicity. I’m not sure that SF is like porn, instantly recognisable. You can’t always tell by the covers in the sense there are numerous times we don’t recognise it when we are looking right at it. Or maybe we just don’t want to admit it.

book of strange new thingsConsider Michel Faber, who was recently in Adelaide for Writers’ Week: literary superstar, but also author of two novels we could easily describe as science fiction (Under the Skin and The Book of Strange New Things both contain aliens — the latter even takes place in the future and mostly on another planet). Another writer exploring notions of non-human being in her latest novel is Karen Joy Fowler, whose We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a wonderful and celebrated novel by a writer who came out of the tradition of science fiction. What about Clade by James Bradley, or Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel?

And of course there’s the author a lot of non-SF reader like to namecheck, as I have done several times. You might be utterly unsurprised to learn that there have been other good science fiction novels written since Philip K Dick died in 1982, or you might not be, and pleasantly so. Either way, he can be an entry point for your readers, as can be Iain Banks, Ursula Le Guin, Jonathan Lethem, and many others.

It’s never too late to give the genre a try — that’s the message to take away, for you personally or your readers. There’s F&SF for all ages and for all kinds of readers, even reluctant ones. It’s not just for freaks and geeks like me.

I grew up reading spec fic. When it was denied to me by a no-doubt well-meaning gatekeeper, I found a way to get my hands on it anyway. When I grew out of what I had, I found people in the community who could lead me to more. Libraries are so important, so fundamental to this process, and have been so influential to me personally. I now collect old Gollancz yellow-jackets like the ones I sought out in my local libraries, reviving that sense of tapping into something much larger than me, something important and wondrous, something world-shaking and awesome.

(In a very real way I remain that youthful reader, only now I’m writing the kind of books I would’ve loved to find on a library shelf thirty years ago. And now I have much less hair.)

It’ll be the same for readers today — from kids reading their first anime to 90 year-olds listening to their first audiobook — libraries are where pivotal discoveries are made (something fantasy knows well) and where knowledge approaches a kind of critical mass, drawing people in and changing them forever.

So to close I’d like to ask the companion question to “Why F&F?” — which is, of course:

“Why not?”