Neil Gaiman on Reading, Writing, and Science Fiction
I recently re-read Fahrenheit 451 as part of my sci-fi project. The 60th anniversary edition features an introduction by Neil Gaiman, which is absolutely wonderful and worth reading just as much as the novel itself.
In it, Gaiman talks about reading, writing speculative fiction, and his thoughts on Fahrenheit 451, which he first discovered as a boy.
I’m so in love with his thoughts that I had to post about them.
His words echo my own thoughts about science fiction, that it places us in unfamiliar situations and acts as a mirror and a lens through which we can see ourselves.
“People think – wrongly – that speculative fiction is about predicting the future, but it isn’t…Futures are huge things that come with many elements and a billion variables, and the human race has a habit of listening to the predictions for what the future will bring and then doing something quite different.
What speculative fiction is really good at is not the future but the present – taking an aspect of it that troubles or is dangerous, and extending and extrapolating that aspect into something that allows the people of that time to see what they are doing from a different angle and from a different place. It’s cautionary.”
This is one of the primary reasons I love this genre as well. By distorting our current reality, or by pushing it into the future, or both, we actually gain a clearer view of our current path. It’s entertainment and philosophy all wrapped up in one.
On reading Gaiman writes,
“If someone tells you what a story is about, they’re probably right. If they tell you that that is all the story is about, they are very definitely wrong.”
I think this is pretty self-explanatory. The beauty of stories is that despite the authors’ intentions they can be about so many different things to so many different people and by this very multitudinous trait, unite us.
On the need for stories, Gaiman writes,
“Why do we need the things in books? The poems, the essays, the stories? Authors disagree. Authors are human and fallible and foolish. Stories are lies after all, tales of people who never existed and the things that never actually happened to them. Why should we read them? Why should we care?”
“Ideas – written ideas – are special. They are the way we transmit our stories and our thoughts from one generation to the next. If we lose them, we lose our shared history. We lose much of what makes us human. And fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes.”
“Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.”
This is so beautifully put. Books and stories are repositories of our humanity. Not just our human history, but our humanity. Everything that makes us us. All the good, the bad, and the in between as we try to pin down that just-out-of-reach thing that defines us. As we collect ourselves and then write them down and say, “Here you are. This is us.”
The loss of this is part of what Fahrenheit 451 is about. The characters are flat, not because of a lack of writing skill by Bradbury, but because they do not read or write or do anything out of the ordinary. They are flat people. In a way, this is absolutely terrifying, and one could read 451 as a horror story, full of un-feeling, soulless doppelgangers.
So there it is. Some beautiful words by Neil Gaiman that I felt compelled to reflect on.