But then somebody blows up the office where Katja is pretending to be a well-behaved wage slave and jolts them into the concrete and clouds of corporeal Seattle. Of brains infiltrated by a clandestine threat.
Can a handful of digital warriors win a war that stretches into the world on the flesh and blood side of their computer screens?
"A smart, fun, fierce tale of geek revolution and high-stakes adventure."
-Ernest Cline, Bestselling Author of Ready Player One
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Down the Hatch: the Value of Escape
a guest post by Amber Bird
Growing up, I got the distinct impression that fiction, non-classical music, and other media that weren’t fine art were only for entertainment or escape. I also got the impression that such escape was silly.
More recently, I’ve had an experience multiple times that goes something like this: Someone asks me about my music or my writing. When they find out that my genres of choice are rock music and science-fiction, they say something like, “Oh, but I thought you were smart!”
In short, it’s been made pretty clear to me that the escape many of us find in books, songs, films, and the like isn’t important. But I’d like to suggest that we’re selling our media short. In my experience, these escape hatches are as important as escape hatches in submarines, ships, and airplanes.
I suspect people who don’t see the importance think we’re only using books to escape boredom. As possible escapes from boredom go, I’d say that reading isn’t the worst. We could list loads of other things people do to escape boredom that are less safe, savory, or legal. (I thought a lot about such escapes as I considered the lives and drives of the once-hedonistic hackers in my book, Peace Fire.) So, I’m definitely not suggesting, even if it were just a way to escape from boredom, it’s a bad thing. But I want to talk about three other ways reading fiction has helped me and others I’ve known escape.
Setting Our Sights
Sometimes, reality presents a too-limited view.
Fiction has given us role models. The super hero that kids and adults alike look up to as an example of bravery, integrity, and doing good is an obvious one. From my own history, I can pull out the times I used Spock’s example to help me strive for a more logical approach to life instead of letting my feelings run rampant. Or that time I was stuck in the sort of job that made me literally hope to get hit by a car. I got myself out the door by imagining I was one of the Fremen warrior women in Dune. I could be that strong. I could pull my hair back and set my jaw and survive the desert of work.
Fiction has helped us believe in the possibility of better times and places. We’ve seen that fiction can become truth, that an inventor can pick up an idea from a sci-fi story and change our world. I’ve seen people take their belief in better and build communities. For example, I know a number of people who read Bordertown and decided to seek out others who might have headed for the border. Together, they created a warmer future than they had thought they might have.
Fiction has helped us dream, helped us reach for new dreams and regain old ones. A lot of people can easily grow up thinking they know the path they’re going to be stuck on until the end, but then they read a book that changes their mind. This includes those astronauts whose dreams of space started in a sci-fi book or film. It includes people who recognized abuse in their lives when they saw it in a fictional context, so they found their way to a better place. It includes my friend who keeps herself from sinking into depression by countering her negative self-talk with the reminder that she could be a changeling queen, hidden in a human body for her own safety. (The dream doesn’t have to come true to do some good.)
Sometimes, life is too heavy.
Fiction has given us places where, even if they were imaginary, we had friends. Humans are, generally speaking, a social species. If you’ve always had real world friends, you don’t know the soul-crushing desperation of being friendless. Nor can you know the momentary relief of even imaginary friends. And, like I mentioned above, sometimes fiction even helps us find real world friends.
Fiction has given us a place where nobody was calling us useless, worthless, destined to fail. A break from the non-stop drumming that can come from outside and in and make us give up. And, again, maybe even given us hope that we’ll succeed.
Fiction has given us a respite, even if just for a moment, from things we can’t actually escape. Abuse, depression, grim lives of all kinds. It might not have fixed anything in our “real” lives, but it let us catch our breath. I’m literally still alive to write this because, when depression was devouring me, I had fiction and music to fall into instead of falling onto something sharp. I did that for long enough that I had a chance to take advantage of all else the escape hatches offered, that I hung on until I could get the help that improved my head.
Sometimes, the biggest thing holding us back is our own concept of things.
Fiction has shown us the other side to those who are different, helped us identify and work past prejudices, and helped us have compassion. Helped us see people unlike us as humans too. Allowed us to be compassionate and bridge the gap.
Fiction has shown us the other side of our own differences, helped us be more compassionate and helpful to ourselves.
Fiction has modeled other ways the world can be. Sometimes, it helped us see what we didn’t want to be, sometimes showed that what we had feared wasn’t actually scary.
There are other benefits I could list, but hopefully this has you thinking of your own escapes, your own proofs that fiction has worth. I’ll end with a quote that came across my social media today.
"We do not escape into philosophy, psychology, and art—we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones." -Anaïs Nin, In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays
Amber Bird is a writer, a rockstar, and a scifi girl. She is the author of the Peaceforger books, the front of post-punk/post-glam band Varnish, and an unabashed geek. An autistic introvert who found that music, books, and gaming saved her in many ways throughout her life, she writes (books, poems, lyrics, blogs) and makes music in hopes of adding to someone else's escape or rescue. And, yes, she was on that Magic card.