Why We Love Sci-Fi & Fantasy: Part 1

"You're shinier than Shakespeare."
"You're shinier than Shakespeare."
A few weeks ago I asked friends, family, blog/Twitter followers, practically anyone I could get a hold of, to tell me why they thought science fiction and fantasy are so ingrained in popular culture.  Despite not having a lot of followers at this point, I felt like I got a very solid collection of responses.

I did promise that I'd give you some of my reasons that I believe these two genres are so popular.  Fortunately, several of you briefly touched on my #1 reason, which is the fact that science fiction and fantasy can and almost always do encapsulate many, many issues.  These issues can be societal, moral/ethical, spiritual, political, personal, mental, and emotional (the list most certainly does not end here).  Since science fiction and fantasy stories often create their own worlds, it shouldn't be a surprise that characters in those worlds would deal with the same issues we do in our world, though with a smidgen more of lasers and swords than we encounter, I'm sure.  Overall, science fiction and fantasy create worlds that mirror our own, worlds where we can safely ask "what if?" or "what is the reason we're here?" or "what does this all matter?"

As much as I adore reading Shakespeare's language, I have to admit that what the academic world considers to be literary stories only deal with so much, and that "so much" is often just one or two of the issues that I listed above.  Hamlet is not a fair example; I think every issue I mentioned above was touched on in that play, so kudos to Shakespeare for that one.  Hell, he even has a ghost in that play (supernatural issues should be added to my list...).

Let's look at Much Ado About Nothing instead.  Predominantly, that work handles relational, societal, moral, and emotional issues; it is, after all, what I would call one of the earliest romantic comedies.  You simply can't go into great depth about the other issues in this setting.  Political issues?  Sure, we see soldiers coming back from war and Don John wanting power, but that's about where the discussion ends.  There's no description of whether or not the current government systems work, or why some of their bills are helpful, or why some of the leaders' tongues "outvenom all the worms of Nile" (Cymbeline).  I realize that Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is fantastical/mythological in nature, but I haven't read it yet, so that is why I am not discussing its handling of issues.

I believe that because science fiction and fantasy stories can cover so many issues in one book, world, or even universe, people simply cannot help but be drawn in by them.  Sure, we all may benefit from reading a classic, or we might enjoy a heart-pumping action film on occasion, but we crave to know more.  We crave to have our "what if?" question addressed, and thank goodness that characters such as Spock and Frodo can help guide us towards that end.


Geek Art Discovery #1

I'm going to apologize/warn right off the bat that this post is not about why we love science fiction and fantasy, even though I said I'd respond to your comments and inform you of my own opinion on the matter.  I do promise I'll get to that post soon; however, as soon as I checked out an Etsy site my long-time friend told me about, I felt compelled to share the knowledge of this geeky art collection.

The shop is called Line Draw, and it's run by Mike Joos.  He has no information about his Napoleon Dynamite-esque art or why he draws on his Etsy profile, but he links to his blog which says that he draws "original geeky illustrations."  This, my friends, is an understatement.  Mike draws anything from Darth Vader riding an AT-AT like a horse to superheroes riding bikes with tires made from their very own logos.  Here are some of my personal favorites after I browsed his store:

Apparently Boba Fett forgot where he parked the Slave I.
Somehow I think Dobby would disagree
with Gollum's choice to abandon his master.
Aww... peace on Earth.  And other places.

Original, indeed.  I'd probably also coin some of Mike's work as off-the-wall, like his unicorn series where he turns comic book or movie characters into unicorns (let me tell you, the Hulkicorn is a fellow).  Also, he has prints of unicorns wearing oxygen tanks, swimming in the ocean with various creatures like the Loch Ness monster, a narwhal, and a mermaid.  There are also unicorns dressed as superheroes, if you want more unicorn options.

Mike also has some other pieces that non-geeks will appreciate, like prints of different dog breeds and "I love my state" pieces that strategically place states' outlines within a heart shape.  You could probably buy your mom a dog piece, your dad the state piece, your sister the cat on roller skates print, and an utterly geeked-out print for yourself.  Everyone wins!


Avatars and hobbits and Transformers - oh, my!

As I was getting ready for work last week, I was trying to think of reasons why science fiction and fantasy are genres that must be studied in school because in general they aren't.  *disdainful boos and hisses ensue*  Unfortunately, most of my students view these genres as either just "fun" or evil (yes, I sometimes lament the state of humanity for this reason in particular), so I consistently want to find ways to convince them otherwise.  Also, one of my future career ideas is to get my Master's in science fiction studies and then end up being a literature teacher focusing only on science fiction and fantasy.  I gotta start somewhere.

Apparently, my mind wanted to start with movies - the top five all-time worldwide box office hits, to be precise.  In case you aren't familiar with them, you can view them here:
IMDb: All-Time Worldwide Box Office

Notice a trend at all?

It's like Disney's Pocahontas... IN THE FUTURE.
Disregarding Titanic, four out of the top five all-time worldwide box office hits are either science fiction or fantasy stories.  Avatar reigns at the top of the list with a $2 billion lead, which I don't see being stolen from it anytime soon, unless of course the proceeds from the upcoming 3D version of Titanic will count towards the general Titanic fund.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two took in $1.3 billion, and then Transformers: Dark of the Moon is in a close fourth at $1.1 billion.  And the fifth movie on this list is one of my personal favorites, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (also around $1.1 billion).  (The top 6-10 films match the top five films' statistics: four out of these five are fantasy and science fiction too!)

If science fiction and fantasy are supposedly unworthy of being studied in school, then why are they so successful in our culture?  I'm not saying that all popular culture needs to be taught in school as "literary" or "legitimate" merely because its successful.  However, it's obvious that there's something in these science fiction and fantasy stories that connects to the general public in an incredibly powerful way that has yet to be challenged by conventional genres like dramas, comedies, and romances.

Before I delve further into this topic, I'd like to hear your thoughts.  Why do you you think that science fiction and fantasy are worth studying and understanding?  What do you think they contribute to our world that other genres cannot do?