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The Power of Speculative Fiction - Why Sci-Fi and Fantasy Matter By Dan Levinson
What is it that draws you toward speculative fiction? Is it the incredible battles waged with uncanny powers? The unfamiliar, fantastical landscapes? I started reading fantasy novels as a boy, drawn in by the tales of sword-wielding heroes, of magic and dragons, of worlds in which what is impossible in our reality only scratched the surface of what both saviors and villains alike could achieve.
As a fantasy lover, it comes as no surprise that I am overjoyed to see HBO’s Game of Thrones—based on George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire series—ascend to the zeitgeist of today. Many are those who have never read a whit of fantasy themselves, yet find that they are drawn in to this land of blood, and tragedy, and betrayal, and, yes, dragons. What is it that holds their interest so?
Martin has confided that he was inspired by the Wars of the Roses—a bloody battle for England’s throne that saw the rise and fall of multiple monarchs over a decades-long period in the latter half of the 15th century. Though the names and locales may be of Martin’s own invention, the themes that run throughout his stories are universal; they echo down from the past, and they speak to our hopes and fears for the future.
There’s often an instinct to lump speculative fiction, as a whole, into what some would call “popular” fiction, or “commercial” fiction. There’s no doubt plenty of it falls into this category, which is not to say there’s anything wrong with that. There’s something delightfully scrumptious about reading a great book that was written for pure entertainment value. Be it YA, paranormal romance, or a fast-paced techno-thriller, these books bring joy to readers around the world.
Yet it’s when speculative fiction brings in deeper themes that it truly shines, elevates itself beyond the trappings of its genre. It’s interesting to me to see the massive success of a property such as The Hunger Games and think about how it speaks to our basic humanity. It deals with issues of freedom and oppression, of the heavy cost of working toward a “greater good”; issues of loss, of family, and what we would do for the ones we love. Despite its dystopian sci-fi trappings, or its classification as “young adult,” The Hunger Games shines a light upon our own society, and provokes thought and conversation both, in readers old and young alike.
The foreign landscapes presented in most speculative fiction are often what most separate those worlds from our own; and yet I cannot help but feel that it is that distance which makes our efforts as writers to evoke a sense of familiarity all the more effective. Literary fiction is often set upon a pedestal, reflecting both the joyous and the tragic, exploring both the small and subtle turns and the earth shattering moments that impact all of our lives. At its heart, I think the greatest misunderstanding in regards to the gap between literary and speculative fiction is that the former is a facsimile of real life, while the latter is a departure from it, but this is not necessarily so. In the best of speculative fiction—though the stakes may be grander, and rife with fantastical elements—the conflicts of the characters reflect common, universal human experiences.
Nevertheless, there has grown between the two designations a vast chasm, across which only the flimsiest of bridges has yet been built. As analysts wail and decry the death of brick-and-mortar bookstores, of hard copy literature, there is an extraordinary movement growing—a symbiotic relationship between the literary and entertainment worlds. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones . . . All of these properties exemplify the growing appreciation audiences have for the powerful thing that is speculative fiction.
We, as writers of sci-fi, of fantasy, horror, dystopian, paranormal—whatever you write, and however you wish to classify it—are entering a golden age, and with it comes great opportunity. Ours is the literature of today, and though it may be “popular” or “commercial,” we have a chance to elevate it beyond such labels. We have a chance to craft deeper stories, tales that speak to our readers every bit as much as the exceptional pieces of literary fiction that have brought us smiles and tears through decades and centuries. Literary fiction and speculative fiction are not mutually exclusive, I feel, and we are now gifted with the chance to raise our work beyond mere entertainment, just as Rowling, Collins, and Martin have begun to do.
We have a voice—a voice that the industry now eagerly wishes to hear. So let us tell stories that speak truth, that illuminate the human experience in which we all take part. Let us build the bridge between the literary and speculative, and let our stories echo down through the ages.
Fires of Man
By Dan Levinson
Psionic Earth, Book 1
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press
Release Date: June 1, 2014
Genre: Science Fiction – Adventure
Length: 393 Pages
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About the book:
In a world where a gifted few can manipulate reality with their minds, two great nations—Calchis and Orion—employ these psionic powers in a covert war for global superiority.
In the heart of Calchis, a powerful young psion named Aaron Waverly is kidnapped, and forcibly conscripted. To the north, in the capital, a plan is hatched to decimate Orion, to be carried out by the ruthless operative known only as “Agent.”
In Orion, fresh recruit Stockton Finn comes to terms with his incredible new powers, and learns firsthand how dangerous they can be. Meanwhile, officers Nyne Allen and Kay Barrett navigate the aftermath of their shattered love affair, oblivious to the fact that Calchis draws ever closer to destroying the tenuous peace.
Finally, in the arctic land of Zenith, Calchan archaeologist Faith Santia unearths a millennia-old ruin. This lost temple might just hold the hidden history of psionic powers, as well as hints of a deeper mystery . . . that could shake the foundations of all mankind.
Born and raised on Long Island, NY, Dan grew up immersing himself in fantastical worlds. While other kids dreamed of being astronauts and cowboys, all he ever wanted was to be a novelist. Now, he’s living his dream.