A year ago, when I contributed to Zoe Brooks’ wonderful Magic Realism Bloghop, it was so easy to post about that literary genre in relation to my fantasy series, 1001, The Reincarnation Chronicles. But just a year later, how do I write about Magic when the Realism of the world is so violent, dire, and contentious — not Fantastic by any stretch of the imagination? But stretch I must, so for starters I bifurcated my thoughts into this post, which pursues this question of the current reality, and my Bloghop post, which you can see here, affirming Magic in our world, even in the time of Conventions, Revolutions, Hacks, Attacks, and Donald Trump.
I never like to think of my work as escapist literature, even though it establishes worlds of its own, sometimes blissfully contrasting our real world, sometimes reflecting it as through a looking glass. In considering an alternative to thinking of fantasy as a refusal to look at or deal with social and political problems like racism or the utter divide in the US, I like the idea of getting a distance from reality. What does this mean?
First, getting a distance in fantasy might mean taking an everyday reality and fictionalizing it to gain perspective, exaggerate matters, or take an unusual attitude. I talk about this approach in the other post, where in my books I’ve set my day job as a dance accompanist on another planet. It’s called Magic Realism, and you can read more about it on the Bloghop.
Second, getting a distance might mean delving into historical fiction to get a broader perspective on events. Take the 2016 campaigns and election. Pundits comment that never before have two candidates had such diametrically opposed viewpoints and tactics. Never before has there been such a nasty antagonism in the race. And never before has the democratic process been so unusually skewed. Yes, it’s been a wild process involving alternative species, but Never Before? Let’s get a little distance.
- Nastiest? When John Adams ran for President, he was described as a ‘hideously hermaphroditical character.” But not by Jefferson, because in those days it was aristocratically undignified to campaign for yourself, so you let others be as nasty as possible on your behalf. Party workers might also physically prevent citizens from reaching the polls to vote for the other candidate.
- Lincoln was described as resembling ‘the night man,” the guy who cleans out outhouses at night.
- Most divided? Stephen Douglas was Lincoln’s Northern Democratic opponent in that election (remember Lincoln was Republican back then, and there were five candidates because of the slavery split, a kind of super Ralph Nader third-party situation that helped Lincoln win. Douglas was the first candidate to seriously and nastily stump in the backwoods. Secretly: he lied that he was traveling across country to visit his mother, but it took months because he was campaigning. When Lincoln realized what Douglas was doing, he posted “Lost Child” bills satirizing Douglas’ endless trip to his mother.
- So of course the vitriol and invention of the stump speech and the many candidates was because of the controversial slavery issue. Now THAT was a diametrically opposed nation. It was 1860, and the Civil War began when (and because) Lincoln took office the next year.
- Unusually skewed process? I just learned that in the first US elections, the deal was that the candidate with the second highest votes became Vice-President. So one of our initial checks-and-balances was to have a President of one party and a VP of another. Jefferson and Adams had to figure out to work together, and then they ran against each other again!
- You want skewed? Imagine that system holding today. A Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump White House? A Donald-Hillary ticket? Can you see them having a tug-of-war over the suitcase with the nuclear codes?
So there, a little historical fictionalizing to get some distance on this Never Before election season. But finally, I don’t know if any fictionalizing can give us distance on the depth, frequency, and complexity of the violence in the world this past year. In my imagination I have a fantasy that, like someone battling an addiction, the planet is bottoming out, reaching that most horrifying place where the only choice is a positive transformation and recovery. The Qaraq, my first novel, imagines a group of souls who recall, recount, and process the karmic puzzle of their past lives together. This kind of Visionary Fiction posits a spiritual evolution on the planet to lift us up from our troubled society.
But do these kind of fantasies really provide comfort today? Can they be reconciled with the plethora of shocking events? Perhaps we can’t get any meaningful distance from the violence, no matter how tempting or imaginative. Perhaps the only real choice for me, and any fantasy, science-fiction, magic realism, or visionary fiction writer, is to continue writing and doing our work despite the world, while at the same time promoting some small action in our real lives, whether it be to vote or discuss or reach out to one another.