Why Is Fiction Valuable?

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Authors from Ursula Le Guin to Neal Gaiman have explained their jobs as ‘making things up’ or telling ‘lies.’ So why do fantasy authors get paid so much? Brandon Sanderson’s recent Kickstarter brought in millions of dollars for a quintet of books he wrote in secret. Tor pre-paid John Scalzi $3.4 million for his next thirteen books in 2015. All of that money was spent to pay these authors to tell their customers lies. How could that be worth so much? It’s not real after all, why not pay that much to scientists or historians to explain to us how the world actually works?

We don’t pay them as much fantasy authors not because they don’t deserve it, but because fiction writers help us to feel and think about the world. Yes, fiction is fun. It provides us with escapism and entertainment, a way to escape the boredom of mundane life. It also helps us think better about mundane life. By removing the implicit biases and preconceptions that come with talking about the real world.

It becomes easier for us to sympathize with characters we wouldn’t otherwise with those taken away. And also to imagine the world in different ways. Placing us in an alien setting allows the author to tell us about different family structures, economics, social systems, and religions. We can accept these alien arrangements because it’s not actually the world we live in. As we explore these fictional worlds, look at the things the people in these worlds would rather us not see, and watch our characters struggle through it we can begin to critique it or evaluate it.

After a hundred pages spent living in the anarchist utopia of Ian M Banks, you might decide it would be nice to live in a place like that yourselves. Or you could read about a future where corporations can buy stocks in human beings and start to question the traditional corporate narratives.

Fiction shows us worlds that aren’t so that we can begin to think about how our world should be.

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