I read a lot. By "a lot" I mean I read over 50 books in 2017. Some was fiction, some was non fiction, but all of it was enjoyable.
Every time I plow through a new book series, people stop to ask me why I bother with it at all. I read a fair amount of technical books, but I love to spend my time reading through various fiction stories as well. It's a bit of an escape for me, but definitely serves a greater purpose as well.
Fiction as an Analog
Almost everyone loves Star Wars. It's a great story that covers everything from action to philosophy to the hero's journey, with even a bit of romance thrown in. The original trilogy was groundbreaking filmmaking and has shaped the way many of us view movies ever since.
But one of the more brilliant elements of Star Wars was how it could be somewhat critical of world events without explicitly referencing world events.
The original trilogy features the evil Empire and their armies of stormtroopers bent on dominating the galaxy under a ruthless dictatorship. Without giving too much away for those who live under rocks and haven't seen it, when the Empire falls, we're left with a galaxy at peace for long into the future.
Until The Force Awakens, when we discover a new group has risen from the ashes of the Empire and is resurrecting the old ways to once again dominate the galaxy.
Consider that the Empire was less-than-loosely based on the history of Nazi Germany. Now consider what it would look like to have a new generation of people trying to follow in the footsteps of a defunct, evil dictatorship. Taking on their imagery, their names, their slogans, and trying to convince the world that said dictatorship was right in their worldview. That is the story of the new trilogy's "First Order."
And it's remarkably similar to contemporary veins of neo-fascists we're confronting in the real world today. Except, if you talk about current events, you'll likely end up in an argument. If you talk about Star Wars, well, you might still end up arguing, but about porgs rather than which side is the bad guys.
The value in having these somewhat abstracted conversations is that they stretch the bounds with which you can envision others' viewpoints. It's one thing to ask you to think from the perspective of someone who disagrees with you about something specific – say politics. It's another thing to try to describe the various leanings and motives of a political system you're not even a part of.
A (non-fiction) book I read a while back talked about this concept from the perspective of people studying religion. There are, ultimately, two groups: balconeers sitting in a balcony above a busy street and travelers walking on the street below.
The balconeers can overhear everything the travelers talk about. They can observe their behavior and opine on what's going on. They're onlookers; completely separated from the action but with a high-level view of everything and, possibly, an objective opinion on various matters the travelers are experiencing.
The travelers, on the other hand, are right in the fray. They have to decide where to go and when, and that decision matters to them. It determines where they sleep, if they get lost, when they get to eat, etc. They're intimately involved with a specific journey and can only see it from a subjective viewpoint.
We're all travelers in life. What we do, what we say, where we go – these all have ramifications for the outcomes of our lives. Fiction gives us the chance to be balconners observing someone else's travel and taking a higher, more objective view of things.
But the true value in fiction is when we draw parallels between the travelers in a story and ourselves as travelers in life. We can begin to apply the detached, objective view we gained as an onlooker to a more involved, subjective situation in our day-to-day.
Creative fiction gives us the ability to expand the conversation and view situations from viewpoints that would otherwise have been hidden from us. It's a very valuable tool, and one I treasure.