Science fiction, fantasy and communicating everything else

You know what’s great about science fiction and fantasy writing? There are lessons for everything in life. Everything, I tell you.

Other means of communication

Let me start with the example that inspired this piece, Sue Archer’s Doorway Between Worlds blog. Sue works as a business analyst in the IT industry as well as being a big sf+f fan. So she’s taken those two interests and jammed them together, writing a blog that draws lessons in communication from science fiction and fantasy. That’s awesome. That’s grabbing people’s interest and attention and then showing them something valuable. By combining two different areas it sheds new light on both.

Many of us live by the words of wisdom given by Yoda. Many of us learned about the slippery path to oppression by watching Babylon 5. Many of us have taken heart from the humble courage of Sam in Lord of the Rings. Fiction itself is full of lessons.

Democracy in action

Now step back a moment and take a lesson from the community rather than the fiction it creates.

This year there’s been a lot of fuss around the Hugo awards. Unless you’re deeply embedded in the core of fandom then you may not be aware of this. I won’t get into the reasons, but some people are unhappy at what’s on the final ballot and how it got there.

No, the controversy isn't over their badass retro spaceship
No, the controversy isn’t over their badass retro spaceship


Thing is, all those finalist stories, they got there by people making the effort to vote. Because that’s how democracy works – the people who turn up win. With local and European elections in the UK next week, and a huge fuss over the rise of UKIP and the BNP, we really, really need to take this lesson on board. If you don’t like the alternative then you need to turn up and vote. Because in a democracy it’s the active voters who win, not the ones who throw away their polling cards because ‘I can’t make a difference’.

Learning from your craft

What’s more, my particular writing obsessions have relevance beyond crafting fiction. Like Sue, I’ve worked analysing and influencing businesses. The things that shape my craft, that I believe are important to readers and writers – trusting yourself and others; treating people like they’re smart; embracing change – they also apply in our professional and personal lives.

Yes, fine, I write for a living and am married to a fellow geek, of course sf+f is relevant to my professional and personal lives. But that’s not why the lessons cross over.

Take trust. In business, employees work far better if they are trusted to do the job right. This gives them the independence to take the initiative, the opportunity to grow, and a reason to commit to the organisation’s goals. I’m halfway through a big freelance project around this and all the best analysis shows that the same thing that works in writing – trusting your audience to work it out – also works in the office.

It applies in your personal life as well. How much better do you feel when the people around you – friends, family, partners – trust you and have faith in you? How much worse do you feel when they over-supervise, take over tasks, contradict your judgement?

Lessons on every level

Everything about science fiction and fantasy – the stories, the craft, the community – can teach us valuable lessons. As learning tools go it’s not to everybody’s taste, and that’s fine. But for those of us who love it, it’s an endless source of education and entertainment.

Now your turn. What have you learned from sf+f? Don’t be shy, I trust you to say something smart, so share it below.