Category Archives: sci-fi

The Illusions we live by

By Heather Sylvawood

Authors/writers deal in illusion. Readers accept that they are being drawn into the illusion and for a time enter the unreal world the author has created. Even non-fiction is an illusion because the writer offers the reader ONLY the filtered version of their observation.

So when this image (below) came through Facebook from UniverseLetters.com (artist is J R Slattum) I was jolted into a mind-blowing vision of illusions within illusions within illusions.

TheIllusionOfSelfControl

‘Your future self is watching you right now through your memories’

My translation of experience today becomes my memory, and influences how I look at things in the future – thereby, at the moment of the experience, I am shaped inevitably into my future-self.  (This is my filter – not necessarily yours. If you see it differently, whose illusion is the ‘truth’?)

As a writer,  I know also that my memories shape the characters I will write into my novels and short stories, and in the writing of them and their imaginary experiences they become another layer of memory. Then, in reading my stories, the reader (perhaps you) absorb the memory of my character and what happens to them, and your filtered memory shapes your future self, your beliefs and even your intentions.

Like a bolt from the blue

The thought made me realise that authors and writers have a huge advantage. We can influence future generations through memory and illusion.

My second thought was – ‘Duh! People have known this for centuries when relating the stories, propaganda, and the half-truths they have told.’

All religions have passed on and added to the stories that influence their believers. Even the ‘truth’ that has been written down is recalled through the reader’s filters. For instance, the stories in the Christian Bible from the apostles, while based on the same experiences as the others, will have been filtered by the previous experiences of the apostle who is relating  what happened.

Who is doing the telling matters

Think about the real-life dramas that are being played out in Court rooms throughout the World. Witness 1’s recall contradicts  Witness 2 and 3 and … We talk about reliable witness statements – but these come from the illusion that people who haven’t had a conviction, or attend church, or run community groups, or public figures, or are talented entertainers are somehow more reliable than the general hoi polloi. We can all point to examples where people in these groups are far from reliable.

The only way that these illusions are accepted as ‘truth’ is by having them committed to memory. And most of our memories are based on frequently repeated stories that become ‘beliefs’.

Writers capture readers by beliefs

A book or story that captures reader imagination must be based on some accepted belief or disbelief. So the writer or author needs to understand the common illusions accepted by most people in their culture.

If an author tried to base a story on the belief that the World is flat they would have an uphill battle convincing readers. The best they could hope is that the reader would keep on reading through sheer disbelief. Even fantasy novels are based on some commonly accepted beliefs, e.g. mountains are high and made of rock, or water runs downhill. (Think about it!)

The trick for writers is that they must pick the beliefs/illusions they tamper with. They have to decide how far the reader will go without putting their novel or short story down in disgust.  I also think they need to decide what they are putting into the memories of their readers – violence, cruelty, experience of death, love, kindness or courage.

Reality doesn’t exist unless you see it

If you consider that memory is based only on filtered illusions, news that Australian scientists have discovered that reality is an illusion comes as no surprise.

“According to a well-known theory in quantum physics, a particle’s behaviour changes depending on whether there is an observer or not. It basically suggests that reality is a kind of illusion and exists only when we are looking at it. Numerous quantum experiments were conducted in the past and showed that this indeed might be the case.

“Now, physicists at the Australian National University have found further evidence for the illusory nature of reality. They recreated the John Wheeler’s delayed-choice experiment and confirmed that reality doesn’t exist until it is measured, at least on the atomic scale.”

If you don’t believe me (and why would you?) take a look at this article on the Mind Unleashed website.

Accepted illusions of life

Many of the great novels of the last two centuries have been based on illusions

  • That good always triumphs over evil
  • That the underdog always succeeds by using tenacity
  • That the pursuit of money is a worthy goal
  • That the rich and powerful are involved in a conspiracy against world populations

Or are they illusions?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Does popular mean less ‘literary’?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

I’ve just completed my first novel and I’m looking at publishing it on Amazon, however, I’m finding it difficult to find a category that fits its subject matter.  Here’s a brief synopsis:

“Laura Holland is coping (just) with her life bringing up two teenagers and her almost seven-year-old autistic daughter, Estella. Living on a small farm raising chooks and sheep, and the family’s vegetables, Laura’s role is definitely that of an isolated homemaker. Her husband Richard, however, is a busy principal whose involvement in the farm is spasmodic, at best. Then the Hollands meet the Langleys, a family with a very different way of coping with their disabled daughter. At first Laura and Anna find support and new possibilities in their growing friendship. But all is not well in the Langley household, and as Laura gets drawn in, further and further, the stage is set for a dramatic showdown.

Set in the early 1970s in Canterbury, New Zealand, the novel deals with how beliefs about caring for children with an intellectual disability can trap women in the caring role.”

So where does family drama fit?

It hasn’t any real mystery, no murders, little violence, no fantasy, only a little sex (but not the 50 Shades of Grey  type), it’s set about 40 years ago – but is hardly a ‘period drama’, and it doesn’t fall into the category of romance.

If I could find a category called Family Drama then that’s where it would fit. But the last time I looked on Amazon, there was no such category.

Popular novel themes

That dilemma started me thinking about popularity. Books, television, and lagging only a little behind – films, reflect what is a popular read (or genre in the world of novels). Take a look at what’s showing on the celluloid (oh, what an ancient word!) and you’ll gain a clear understanding of the genre(s) that sell most readily.

‘Write novels in popular genres’

Writers who want to make a life writing popular novels are advised to look at what sells.

On the face of it, the advice is sound. If I was to follow that advice I would write crimes novels with likeable detectives and a bit of romance; or vampire horror; or sci-fi with lots of killing at the hands of superior aliens until good old human cunning overcomes the long odds. And, of course, the other popular genre is the classic romance between heterosexual couples leading unreal,  usually privileged lives.

The genres are far removed from real lives of most people, I wondered why that appealed.

So why do people enjoy reading escapist novels?

I thought I would do a bit of research.

The first thing I realised is that ALL fiction is escapism. We look to read fiction that allows us to live (safely) some of the emotions that would otherwise be inappropriate for us to express. It is escapism for the reader, but it is also escapism for the writer.

Escapist novels have had a bad rap

As author Neil Gaiman says: “I hear the term (escapism) bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if ‘escapist’ fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.”

He goes on to say that escapist fiction “opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with” and that it  “…can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison.”

Popular fiction may be what the doctor ordered

Author Steven Handel, creator of the blog: The Emotion Machine, writes: “Instead of venting your negative emotions, sometimes it is better to just shift your awareness toward something completely different that makes you forget about your troubles.

“In many ways, this is the powerful role that entertainment plays in our lives. It is a way to escape from the stress, anxiety, and negativity of our everyday lives – and sometimes that is what we need to stay sane and healthy.”

New York Best Selling Author Elizabeth Lowell has this to say about the so-called divide between popular (escapist) writing and ‘literary’ writing:

“My life’s work has been popular fiction. Writing alone and with Evan, I have published more than sixty books. They range from general fiction to historical and contemporary romances, from science fiction to mystery, from nonfiction to highly fictional thrillers.

“Through the years, I’ve discovered that most publishers talk highly of literary fiction and make money on popular fiction; yet asking them to describe the difference between literary and popular fiction is like asking when white becomes gray becomes black.”

Isn’t WRITING a novel ‘escapism?

Wikipedia defines ‘Escapism’ as mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an “escape” from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life.  If you use that definition, then I am using ‘escapism’ whenever I think about or start writing my novel. I am creating an unreal situation in a way that gives me pleasure. I might not be escaping from a banal life, but my escapism certainly enhances my life.

Goodreads includes The DaVinci Code, Bridget Jones Diaries, Harry Potter and Kate Hooper’s Redemption series in its list of Escapist Fiction. Put like that I’d be glad to be listed in the realms of ‘escapism’ and popular novels. Here I come!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author