Alexandra Duncan: More Than Escape

Today we welcome debut YA SF author Alexa Duncan. Her book, Salvage, just came out--check it out


Every so often, I run into the idea that the science fiction’s most basic function is to help us escape the real world. After all, what could be more unrealistic than spaceships, aliens, and super-advanced artificial intelligence? And what’s the point of writing something unrealistic if it isn’t to give us a break from reality?

I used to feel that way about science fiction and media in general. I grew up in an unhappy home, and I much preferred fantasizing about wielding a lightsaber and fighting for the Rebel Alliance to what was going on in my own life. I read and watched movies to get out, to give myself a safe place, to keep myself going through the motions until I could get out for real. But once I left for college and started living on my own, I began to discover that there were good things about the real world. I didn’t want out of it anymore, or at least not all the time; I wanted to understand it.

In the same way that some science fiction gave me a much-needed escape, other science fiction helped me see the world in a new way. Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness gave me a better understanding of the nuances of sexual orientation than I ever could have hoped to have growing up in the conservative, rural South. Battlestar Galactica highlighted the fear, paranoia, and prejudice in the air during the War on Terror. I had been too young to really grasp the horrors of South Africa’s Apartheid when it was in effect, but District 9 helped me understand. Movies like Moon, Sunshine, and Children of Men challenged me to think about universal ideas like identity and sacrifice, and books like Nnedi Okorafor’s The Shadow Speaker gave me confidence and inspiration to write my own stories with diversity in mind.

There is nothing wrong with escape. Sometimes it’s exactly what we need. But thinking that’s all science fiction is or can be sells the genre short. At its best, science fiction has the power to show us our own world in an entirely new way and cause us to reexamine old ideas. It has the flexibility to be all of the things any other genre can be – pure escapism, social commentary, satire, a love story, a profound examination of the human condition. Don’t try to put science fiction in a box. It’s too big for that, and so is the human capacity for reflection and wonder.

You can find Alexandra Duncan online at her website. Her debut, Salvage, had League Member Beth Revis raving: "Alexandra Duncan's debut illustrates a richly detailed world that vividly shows a possible future of Earth where society has both regressed and progressed, where the struggles of humanity have become more dire, but where love still remains. Everything--from the world to the characters--felt viscerally real."