Writers and fans have offered plenty of explanations for why all the varieties of fantasy and science fiction have boomed in popular culture over the past few years. Between movies, TV, and comics, it seems as if every other story released to the public these days contains an angel, a zombie, or an alien. Is it because with all of the chaos and anger happening around the world is driving us to escape this mortal coil, or do we like seeing worlds in which good and evil are easy to spot?
More fantasies and science fiction stories are beginning to include “grays,” instead of the strong good and evil characters we’ve seen in stories in the past, such as those in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Others give us clashes of cultures in which one side or the other are separated by a chasm of faith or philosophy, but each thinks it’s in the right. An example of such a clash are the two societies in Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series: The Warded Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War, and The Skull Throne (the fifth volume, The Core, will come out this summer).
On a post-apocalyptic world in which the planet itself seems to rebel against damage from the human race, the demonic corelings rise from the earth’s surface when the sun goes down to attack any people they encounter. The humans protect their families behind “wards”—magical symbols—that deny the demons passage. But the population is declining, and a new apocalypse seems at hand. The two major cultures of this world—thinly-disguised versions of the European and Arabic cultures—have been fighting the demons in their own styles for hundreds of years, without much conflict. Now one heroic figure from each culture—Arden from the medieval-style Tibbet’s Brook, in which the pub is the center of town, and Jardir from the southern of Krasia, a city filled with heavily armed men and veiled women—rise and attempt to bind the world together and defeat the corelings. But first they must battle each other, for their cultures appear as if they will never be able to work together. Sound familiar?
Another society that seems fated to consume itself appears in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy (Red Rising, Golden Sun, and Morning Star). In the first book we meet Darrow, a member of the lowest level of this color-coded dystopia. He’s a Red, one of the working class who live oppressive lives filled with hard work and danger. The pinnacle of society are the Golds, a genetically engineered race of near-superhumans, who gain incredible wealth from the Reds’ labor and use it to travel between planets and take part in occasionally-fatal war games. After Darrow’s wife is executed for a small rebellious act, Darrow is caught up in a plot that enables him to become a Gold himself and bring that society down. Again, in the age of the 1 percent, the comparisons with the “real world” are pretty obvious.
Fantasy and science fiction that thrill us but make us think about our own world are perhaps one of the most stimulating ways to escape—sort of.