In this episode, I take to task the rising wave of “Message Fic” in the Speculative Fiction genre. Here is my opening salvo: To every author of Speculative Fiction, burn this quote from the most enduring author in the genre into your brain before you EVER take up a pen:
“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”–J.R.R Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring
Now, have we established through that why message fic is revolting to me? Whether that be the Global Warming ‘warnings’ that suck the life out of Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer, or the Socialist love-affair in China Mievielle’s Persidio Street Station (though I will concede his skill, and the glee he sets about his task, almost salvages the book to me, or yes, even the Christian message fic of that much-idolized fellow inkling C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. (I much prefer his Screwtape Letters, which is outright satire.) I don’t care how much I like or dislike the message. Beating me about the head and shoulders with it is not an excuse for storytelling. And it is not entertainment. If I wish to buy a book for education value, I will buy non-fiction. If you as an author are insistent on passing off ‘pearls of wisdom’ in barely disguised author-tracts, let me offer you a hint: Unless your name is Neal Stephenson, don’t even try it. Because there isn’t anyone as clever, funny, and adroit doing it as he is. The exception to the rule has been made. It’s him. And even with him, they do get old.
If you wish to write fiction, write a STORY, with compelling characters, and a plot where things happen. If…in the course of that story, they have a reason to talk about something you care about, that’s fine. If you don’t get TOO wrapped up in it. Also, please do remember that not ‘everyone’ in the cast of characters would agree with your particular anvil-dropping. Let alone the audience.
If your aim is to ‘educate,’ write NON-fiction. If your aim is to ‘convert,’ than write political blogs, or find an appropriate path in the MINISTRY. There is nothing worse than wasting people’s money with stories that do not entertain. Except for the knowledge that such a story was written that completely lacked that intention from the beginning. Yes, I feel such stories have effectively stolen my money. Take that as my message, before embarking on a path doomed to cheat your readers.
Most of us read Speculative Fiction as an ESCAPE from reality. We already know the Real World Sucks. Having reminders of that fact in our hobby is truly revolting. And this is why people from across the Political Spectrum in the genre are sick of SFWA.