Saturday, March 05, 2011

Speculation and Keeping It Real with Fantastic Fiction by Helen Lowe

Two years ago, my first novel, Thornspell, was a Flamingnet Top Choice book. My second (“crossover”) novel, The Heir of Night (the first in The Wall of Night series) was published in the USA, Australia and New Zealand last October and has just been released into the UK. Both Thornspell and The Heir of Night are Fantasy fiction—or as I like to think of it, fantastic fiction—and someone said to me recently: “But why write Fantasy? It’s not real, is it?”

The same observation could be made about all fiction, of course, since it’s all “made up.” The process of that making, while aided by leaps of creative imagination, requires acute observation and understanding of people and the forces at play in human society. No matter how fantastic the setting, the reader has to believe in the characters at an emotional level or the story will not ring true—and if the author is successful in creating emotionally believable characters, then in that sense the story is real.

Focusing specifically on Fantasy and Science Fiction, a recently popular name for both genres is “speculative fiction”—and it is speculation that enables both writers and their readers to explore alternative ideas of how a world or society might be. Ursula Le Guin is one writer who has been particularly adept at this over a long period of time. A number of reviewers have also commented on the matter-of-fact equality of men and women in the Derai society of The Heir of Night. The opportunity to create a society where this is simply the case, without either "discussion or worthy treatise" (SFX), is what speculative fiction is all about.

As a writer, I love asking why and what if questions and having the freedom to answer them without being bound by what we know has happened in history, or constrained too much by the laws of physics. In fact, it’s always been a big part of the fascination, and also the fun, of Fantasy for me—and a valid way of taking a “rain check” on reality.
About Helen Lowe
Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet and interviewer. Her latest novel, The Heir of Night, the first of THE WALL OF NIGHT quartet, was published in the USA, Australia and New Zealand in October 2010 and is newly published in the UK. Helen’s first novel, Thornspell, (Knopf, 2008) won the 2009 Sir Julius Vogel Award for “Best Novel, Young Adult.” She blogs on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground and every day on her own Helen Lowe on Anything, Really site.