The Austin Chronicle

Texas Book Festival 2018: Alternate Realities: Sci-Fi in 2018

By Elizabeth Cobbe, October 29, 2018, 12:30pm, All Over Creation

The panel “Alternate Realities: Sci-Fi in 2018” revolved around one amusing but disturbing question: Why bother? Specifically, why do we need sci-fi or fantasy or any kind of fiction in a world that serves up absurd and horrific headlines? (An example of the former was the 8-year-old Swedish girl named Saga who pulled an ancient Viking sword from a lake.)

It’s perhaps no surprise that established speculative fiction authors John Scalzi (The Consuming Fire) and V.E. Schwab (Vengeful) came down on the side of fiction being necessary for various soul-saving reasons.

“Fiction is different from real life because you have to have a story that makes sense … Everything that is not explained in the headlines is in the purview of fiction,” Scalzi said.

“We need fiction because while there are some awesome headlines right now,” said Schwab, “there are also a lot of really awful headlines.” Science fiction and fantasy provide a means for people who lack agency in the actual world to see themselves in positions of power. Escapism, too, has its value. Readers can imagine the danger of stepping on a deadly sigil or falling under a curse, at least temporarily, so they don’t have to worry about the myriad of more realistic ways that the world threatens us in 2018.

At a time in which cynicism dominates most creative expression, the moderator also asked the panelists if they have faith in anything at this point. “I don’t think I have an uncorrupted faith in anything,” Scalzi said, “but what I do have is hope.” Hope doesn’t equate with inaction; it means keeping faith with the “continual perfectibility of the human condition.”

Schwab, who noted her own aversion to organized religion, discussed ways in which magic serves as a surrogate for divinity in her work, against a backdrop of imperfect characters. “The light in my world is what allows us to see the cracks in the people.”

Together, Scalzi and Schwab offered a flavor of hope – not in the end of oppression and hierarchies, but in the potential of speculative fiction to imagine solutions to intractable problems.

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