Writers in general are just not sane, according to Karen Miller, Australian author of the 2005 novel The Innocent Mage and a whole host of other science fiction and fantasy works.
Writing as a guest blogger on the Babel Clash, the science fiction blog of book retailer Borders to coincide with the launch of her new book The Prodigal Mage, Miller says writers simply have a kink in the brain:
“It’s a kink that means we are at the same time deeply and intimately involved in the process of being human while standing outside that process watching it happen. It means that we can never truly be at one with our own lives because we can’t ever totally lose ourselves in the unconscious moment. A part of us is always conscious, always watching, analysing, pulling the moment apart so we can put it back together again as fiction.”
To illustrate her point, Miller says her first thought during a car accident during her university years wasn’t of whether she could die or what was going to happen next. Instead, her brain went straight to Star Wars. “Wow,” she thought. “This is what it was like when Luke crashed on Dagobah.”
“In what could’ve been my last moments of life, I was thinking about Star Wars,” Miller added. “And by the way, if that doesn’t make me a fan then I don’t know what would.”
Setting aside Miller’s more general argument about writers and going onto a slightly tangential track, the idea that science fiction and fantasy writers in particular may be a few bottles short of a six pack in places is one that has probably been bandied about for as long as the genres have existed.
It likely has its basis in the fact that sci-fi/fantasy writers’ work is, of course, rooted in speculative worlds, be they worlds based on our own or completely different realities where concepts like magic exist. The idea goes that the creators of such worlds must be slightly nuts to be able to imagine them, and all their rules of physics and so on that don’t exist in our own world.
I can’t keep track of the number of people that have told me in my life that they couldn’t be bothered reading science fiction or fantasy books because they had “nothing to do with the real world” and were thus irrelevant and boring.
However, personally, I disagree with Miller. I feel that in writers in general are in fact the sanest people in human society. And furthermore, I believe science fiction and fantasy writers are among the best examples to prove that theory.
My reason for stating this is that the observing ability that Miller comments on means that writers are often the first people in society to notice and start to critique the reality that underpins what is often the deceitful surface of human society. When it comes to sci-fi/fantasy writers, I feel their ability to envision speculative worlds heightens their ability to impartially observe their own reality.
A prime example of this observation would be the famous science fiction author Robert Heinlein, who passed away in 1988 at the age of 80, after writing a series of enlightening books that also happened to shed light on and critique American and world society of the day.
In Stranger in a Strange Land, perhaps Heinlein’s most famous work, he pre-empted or perhaps even caused much of the sexual enfranchisement of the 1960’s and 1970’s through depicting the revolutionary sexual mores of Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised on Mars by Martians.
In the 1959 book, Starship Troopers, Heinlein arguably makes a case for individual responsibility and sacrifice for society’s common good; the book has been seen as anti-communist and also as a lightning rod for those who wish to debate the role of the military in society; both positive and negative sides.
And of course, who could forget I Will Fear No Evil, the gender-bending novel which explores human sexuality (from both sides at once and everything in between) and its connection with emotional love, spirituality and more.
Was Heinlein insane? Many people in the late 1950’s society in which he first achieved recognition for his works would certainly have thought so after reading his books. How could any rational person come up with so many crazy ideas at once? There are sections in all of these three books which will make even very open-minded readers a little uncomfortable as they readjust their worldviews.
But in hindsight, and of course many people realised this at the time Heinlein’s books were published, his work also constituted an intense and powerful critique of current human behaviour and societal structures … in a way that revealed Heinlein had a phenomenal understanding of them. Ultimately, Heinlein was probably more sane and clear in his knowledge of the world than most of those around him.
What’s your opinion? Are writers in general sane, or insane?