The Great Escape

The Great Escape

My wife doesn’t understand me! Well that’s not an unusual thing for a husband to say. But in this case I am referring to something quite specific:  my love of science fiction and fantasy.

I have always loved reading – as a child I spent many hours lost in books, something that has never changed as I have aged. From my first sci-fi experience with the works of Arthur C. Clarke via Frank Herbert and Larry Niven to Iain M. Banks, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman I have found so much pleasure in their works. There is something about their writing that speaks to me.

Of all the authors I mentioned it is the last two that I have a particular affinity for. There is an appealing intelligence behind their words – they play games with language that I can only dream of emulating. They have a poet’s feeling of the sublime subtlety in choosing a particular word that conveys exactly the right nuanced meaning. Or even multiple meanings. It is this depth that I find so satisfying.

I have encountered some other authors whose works do not provide this sense of connection. One in particular was the Harry Potter books of J. K. Rowling. I persevered through two or three pages but found that the writing was too mechanical, too plain. I found it to be simplistic – lacking any flair in the use of language. The stories themselves might be very entertaining – they are certainly hugely popular and successful. But for me there must be something more.

What I believe my wife fails to understand is that for me the subject matter is almost secondary to the pleasure I derive from beautifully created words. To be sure I enjoy a good tale, but it must be told in a such a way that the journey is as engaging as the destination. It is largely an artistic appreciation – I enjoy the precision evident in the construction, the master craftsmanship on show.

The opposite I find to be off-putting. The visible flaws in the output of less skilled writers jar discordantly and I find myself repelled. It is like a musician hitting the wrong notes in a recital – I end up focusing just on the mistakes and that prevents me getting enjoyment from the piece.

For me reading a good piece of writing is an immersive experience. I am engaged on both an intellectual and emotional level – I can enter a state of flow and lose myself in the procession of words. It is addictive and seductive at once – a guiltless, hedonistic pursuit, and one from which I gain immense pleasure.