Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fantasy Worlds and Alternative Universes

Since I began my initial writer's blog last fall I have, in various ways, been led to, linked in with, and/or stumbled upon the blogs of many other authors.  And it's striking how many of them write fantasy fiction. If there's one genre that takes pride of place on-line these days, fantasy is it.
And why not?  C. S. Lewis wrote somewhere-- and I'm paraphrasing-- that fantasy is the highest form of the fiction writer's art, because in it he must create and sustain a whole new world and its inhabitants. Versus, he adduced, the typical "school story" of his day that dealt with stock characters and which so many authors seemed to produce by the yard.
Now me, I suppose I could come up with some fantasy fiction story lines, if I tried.  It's just that right now all my ideas run along other channels, and I have enough to do keeping them running and clear without digging myself into ditches that aren't my own.
But as I've transcribed and posted my short novel Free Souls, I've had to admit that maybe I'm not such a stranger to the fantastic after all.  When I wrote the story originally, of course fantasy had nothing to do with it: the world it describes was everyday reality. But from the perspective of 2013, the world of 1981-82, the time in which the action is set, really seems like an alternative universe.
Think of it.  It was a time when architects got all their clients by personal reference and word of mouth, it being considered unethical-- besides being professionally forbidden-- to advertise.  A time when all drafting was done by hand and all drawings reproduced by diazo whiteprint, rather than being transmitted digitally as today. Computers back then were reserved for use by university think tanks and government agencies, and if you wanted to research a product or material, you looked it up in a catalog you kept on your office shelf with no recourse to the nascent Internet.
In the early '80s the cassette tape and the eight-track were in common use, but true audiophiles stuck to the long-playing record; the compact disc was unknown.  There were no mobile/cell phones, at least not for the general public, though the corded telephone had lost its rotary dial and gone to touch-tone buttons.  Back then the 911 emergency system was unheard-of and you still had to dial "0" for the operator to summon an ambulance or the police.  1981 was before 9/11, too, and though we'd been dealing with terrorists of various sorts at least since the Baader-Meinhof Gang and the assault on the Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972, we as American citizens weren't sensitized to the effects terrorism could have on our own people.  We weren't in a mental place where good citizens like my protagonists would automatically report the stockpiling of illegal weapons.  Neither were we being constantly monitored by our government, such that said stockpiling would be readily detected.
And even more fantastic (in contrast to today's practices and assumptions), it was a time when most people in America-- most middle-class people, at least-- still got married before they moved in with each other.  These days, even professing Christian couples live together before the ceremony and never turn a hair.  And if their parents might secretly be wishing things had been done the old-fashioned way, most of the time they just shrug and let the young people do as they please.
That said, the tide of sexual revolution that began in the 1960s continued to roll onward in the 1980s. So if any of my characters choose to take a stand for chastity, it will be against the general trend of their culture, even if such a decision might have been less strange then than now.  However, as you may have observed, sex isn't the only area of life where their habits and mindsets are at odds with the spirit of their age, and some may find that to be the most fantastic (i.e., unbelievable) thing of all.
But I hope not.
I suppose my question is this:  Given that I'm asking my readers to do a little time-travel, is my protagonists' world and its assumptions clear enough from what I have written?  Or should I intervene as the author/narrator and explain things from time to time?  I really don't want to: it takes the reader out of the story and I'm not writing this as a character's reminiscence, after all.  I don't want the story to be rejected as dated, but it was of its time when it was written and I think it should stay that way.
Well, I promise to keep an eye on it and forestall obscurities.
And something else:  I confess ahead of time that in the upcoming chapter I shall indulge in some very fanciful bending of reality, creating an alternate universe where a real world-renowned art gallery is endowed with non-existent paintings produced by real artists who never painted such images in their lives.  Guilty as charged, but I don't care.  I need these works to exist within the world of my story and exist they shall.

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