by Aiki Flinthart
I doubt anyone would argue that the pen is mighty, indeed. Ok, it has to be pretty pointy to actually, physically draw blood, but even the bluntest nib, if wielded well, can pierce a metaphorical heart. So how much responsibility can – or should – authors take for the direction of society and the thoughts of the people who read our books?
It’s true that authors spend a vast amount of time and emotional energy worrying about whether readers will like the book. But, instead of manically treasuring reviews that bolster our own self-belief, we should be worrying about how our words affect what readers think about THEMSELVES.
As a child, books opened worlds of possibility to me. They banished naivete, revealed people’s motivations, explored the evils of power and the joys of love. I grew up in a small, regional area of North Queensland, Australia. My brother and I didn’t have a lot of companions nearby, so books were vital windows to a larger world; several worlds.
They broadened our understanding of what we could do, where we could go. One of my teenage dreams was to be the first geologist on Mars. (Then I discovered how horribly motion sick I get and the loss of that dream was a bitter disappointment. I had seen myself in space through Heinlen, Asimove and countless other author’s eyes.)
It didn’t even matter that most of the protagonists I read were male and I was a girl. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be an astronaut, or a extra-terrestrial geologist, or the pilot of a fighter space-ship. Magic was a little harder to envisage myself doing, but it didn’t stop me hoping that, one day, I’d suddenly develop telepathic abilities. I still hope that, if I’m honest.
Science Fiction & Fantasy tends towards the Hero’s Quest style of story – with epic battles between Good and Evil. Star Wars the original movie was a classic example. A child growing up on a diet of SFF is being exposed to awareness of how to be a Good Person, over and over. Every time the flawed hero makes the right choice at the end and defeats Evil, the neural pathways around those ideas is strengthened. The reader feels satisfied that Good has triumphed.
They take that satisfaction and that awareness into their own lives and apply it – sometimes only in small ways – to their own goals and obstacles. Maybe they just query the overcharge on a bill instead of avoiding conflict. Or maybe they rally friends to stand up to a despotic government.
The point is, the idea to stand up for what’s right; the idea of what’s right in the first place…that comes not only from parents and society, but from what we read and watch.
None of this is new information, I realise. But as this world rushes on its headlong pace towards apparent self-destruction, it occurs to me that authors have an obligation to influence peoples’ thoughts.
We need more hopeful, solution-focussed SFF stories. We’ve been subsisting on dystopian and broken-world fiction for a long time and we’re starting to live it: environmental destruction; rampant consumerism; emotional isolation. While there is some resistance to stupidity-in-power, the vast majority of people are still mired in apathy. Still thinking that ‘they’ will fix things.
“They” won’t. The millions of readers have to.
The world runs on ideas. Ideas come from brains exposed to thought-provoking moral quandaries. Science Fiction and Fantasy is utterly brilliant at exploring those fictional dilemmas and coming up with fictional solutions.
The kids now need solutions. They need authors who can open minds and hearts to possibilities. They need hope. They need ideas.
It’s our job to use our crazy imaginations to show them worlds that are better than this one, so they can become the engineers and scientists who make those ideas real.
Then it’s the readers’ jobs to get off their asses and live the heroic fantasies they’ve been reading all their lives.
Aiki Flinthart writes YA Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her latest book is Shadows Wake – YA urban fantasy.
She has been shortlisted in the Writers of the Future competition and the Australian Aurealis Speculative Fiction awards.
She can be found here: www.aikiflinthart.com
Follow her on twitter: @aikiflinthart