Recently I was asked a few questions which were inextricably linked in perhaps a not-so-obvious way. “What authors do I like to read and why?”, and “Who are the best and the worst?”.
I’m going to throw myself clear of the specific questions regarding authors for the moment and ask a question which I think is even more important but tightly related: “Why I read the genres that I do, and why I think it’s important to who I am?”
Why do the genres read hold any more significance than actual authors? When I’ve asked others in the past about the genres they like to read and why I’ve found their answers infinitely more interesting and revealing than their short list of authors.
Why? Well, because the different genres inherently provide literary mechanisms to play and explore different facets of our reality. Deep huh? But it’s true and something not frequently discussed. So the following is a short list of the major genres and extracts of why they’re important to the human psyche. The rabbit hole just continues to get deeper, doesn’t it?
Non-fiction – Non-fiction provides a platform for us to ingest information in a framework that we believe to be factual. On a subconscious level we have an innate need to “understand” our world, hold some aspects of it as true, make sense of it, and thus are able to remove some uncertainty. The human soul abhors uncertainty and doubt. Most of us would agree that uncertainty sucks, and the more we frame the world and the information inundating us as factual, the better. Whether it’s a political candidate that speaks only in absolutes, or reading a book that documents events, it provides a level of comfort. For when we treat something as factual, it requires less effort than if we had to analyze the information for reasonableness, integrity, and ulterior motivations. While we all know that most of non-fiction is not truly factual, largely because it reflects the limitations of the authors knowledge and is shaped by their inherent bias, we are okay with that nuance and ingest the genre hungrily.
Fiction – Fiction allows the reader to experience a story that is real enough to be plausible, without requiring the reader to personally live through it. I view this as a very safe area of reading as it may force you to stretch your boundaries, and often require you to question aspects of your life, but it’s all within the framework of a plausible reality of which is easily identifiable, yet not personal. I frequently re-read some favorite works of fiction and watch syndicated re-run comedies at night, just because I want to relax and enjoy a little down time, all the while living vicariously through some fictional character.
Horror – Our friend that kind of creeps us out, but we love everything about them. Horror addresses our insecurities and hidden fears about new things which have entered our society (generally related to technology or science and the impacts to society) and the genre plays a roll of exploring all of the unforeseen consequences of current cultural pathways. Entire theses could be written on this topic!
Fantasy – Fantasy allows us to imagine what the world would be like if the traditional laws of physics were no longer really that important. Fantasy allows the psyche to explore in a world where literally anything is possible. One could argue that it provides the ultimate in creative possibilities and is essentially the playground of the right brain. Regardless if people will admit to it, I would dare say everyone at one time in their life played pretend in a world where they could be anything from a monster to a wizard where magic really did exist and dragons were something to seriously worry about.
Science Fiction/Dystopian Fiction (SF/DF) – SF/DF provides the ability to define a universe that extrapolates an idea or situation in our world to logical, and not so glamorous, conclusions. SF/DF is our crystal ball allowing us to see into the future and examine the consequences or benefits of our decisions. And it helps us as a society conceptualize why we might not want to pursue a particular course of action, or more importantly, the consequences of ignoring some aspect of our current lives.
Philosophy – As strange as it sounds, because we are so close to the topic on a personal level, understanding the human condition is more difficult and less obvious than one would expect. Being aware of one’s actions is infinitely easier than understanding the driving motivations (usually subconscious) behind them. Therefore reading some of the great thinkers from the past and present allows us to better understand who we are as a species, to begin to allow us to wrap our hands around our individual existence distorted by our muted sensory input, and to help understand why others are they way they are. On a side note, when an author is able to eloquently weave SF/DF and philosophy together into a story, the result is pure artistry.
What does this all mean? To take it a little deeper down this trail, I’ll go farther and claim we’re a culmination of our experiences. It includes what we experience in our day-to-day interactions and experiences with others, via music, news, conversations, events, movies, and books; this is the ’nature’ side of ’nature vs. nurture’ debate. To take it up one level of abstraction of commonality and state that we are influenced and shaped by the different information that is pushed inside our brains, willingly or otherwise. Equally so, the different genres of media that we consume help shape our thought processes, how we view the world, the way in which we resolve things that weigh both on the conscious and subconscious mind.
Testing these observations against myself I find them to generally hold true. As a program/project manager my job in both of these arenas is to primarily look into the future to see the folly of our ways and what kinds of headaches the “Terry of tomorrow” will be lumbered with. Even as a child, I would run through all the different scenarios in my mind, all of the possible consequences, all with the goal of figuring out how to do what I wanted and minimize the consequences if I got caught.
This skills set has paid dividends as a science fiction / post-dystopian author where I have to take the ultimate extrapolation into the future, weave in some philosophy, and elements of the human condition. My day job and my efforts as a writer are significant portions of my life, so it is no surprise the SF/DF genre occupies a significant amount of my preferred reading and movie experiences.
Also being a very creative person, and truthfully a child who has never really grown up, I hold a secret love affair with fantasy as well. While I do not currently write in this genre, it is a hidden pleasure that I use to escape my rather frenetic world at times.
Read, explore, understand, enjoy!
Terry R. Hill
Terry R. Hill, a Texas native, educated with two degrees in aerospace engineering. He has worked for NASA since 1997 with a very satisfying career as an engineer and project manager spanning programs from the international space station’s navigation software, next generation space suit design, exploration mission planning, to mitigating the health effects of space on astronauts. While supporting the human space program has been a lifetime passion, writing of different worlds, alternate futures, and the human condition is what gives his soul meaning.
You can find more of Terry’s articles on his website.
And you can find Terry’s complete lists of published works at Amazon.
However, most of the works are available via all major online venues.