Stepping Outside of Ourselves

I immerse myself in magic daily.

I sink into the unbelievable and the strange, the unkind and the just, and I live another life inside a multitude of worlds. It isn’t escapism; it is an education. Books are nothing more than ink and paper, or bytes on a hard drive. But the fantastical, whether it is science fiction or fantasy, is more than words on a paper. It is a collection of ideas that have shaped me, moved me, infuriated or inspired me, and changed me. Ideas challenge our core beliefs and allow us to experience moments outside of our sheltered selves. Fantasy and science fiction are magic.

Psychologically, fantasy starts at an early age. Children fill in their gaps in their understanding with the make-believe. They make sense of their world, probably incorrectly, but it helps them shape the floodgates of sensory input they are bombarded with. As we grow and learn that there is no boogie man under our bed, we have as adults, the luxury of stopping and asking ourselves, “what if there really was a boogie man under my bed. What would that be like?” That thought experiment is why sci-fi/fantasy is so essential for teaching readers about our greater selves. Because through the fantastical we can ask, “What would I do to battle the boogie man?”

Reading is both a very personal and a very solitude endeavor, but I can talk about which books of the sci-fi/genre affected me profoundly and taught me something. From the powerful words of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” to Harry Potter’s ten thousand examples of strength in the face of adversary, here are a few that have shaped me and why:


Ender’s Game
(Ender’s Saga #1)
by Orson Scott Card

Not all is what it seems.

“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.”

–Colonel Graff – Ender’s Game

On the surface, Ender’s Game is about a genius child taught war games. Ender wins everything, but he doesn’t know what winning really means. Nor does he learn until too late what his victories truly are. Sometimes the games we play end up being real and have a profound impact on our lives, because alas, not all is what it seems.

Ender’s Game said “look deeper,” “understand deeper”, and try to get past the skin of things into the meat of the story or the truth of the idea. I can’t say I’ve always been successful in doing so, but I’ve always appreciated and been inspired to try.


V for Vendetta
(V for Vendetta Complete) by Alan Moore, David Lloyd (Illustrator)

Tyranny and villainy are more than people in power, it is the shackles of ideas.

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

― Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Damn right. Tyranny is everywhere — not just the massive scale tyranny of oppressive regimes, but tyranny and villainy on a small scale. We are surrounded by it. V, the title character from V for Vendetta helped me recognize it, or at least put a story and a visual to it.


“Remember, remember, the fifth of November.”


Although age and experience temper decisions and perspective on life, the story of V for Vendetta was profound for me as it took an extreme and fantastical tale and made it feel real. Maybe I would have to be V or Evie, or some semblance of both, rising above the chains and tyranny that hold me one way or another. Maybe not. The power of this book is in the idea that one can rise above the manacles of society, or Tyranny as it is and be greater.


Old Man’s War
(Old Man’s War #1)
by John Scalzi

My age is something to be celebrated.

“Do not mourn me, friends
I fall as a shooting star
Into the next life.”

― John Scalzi, Old Man’s War

Old Man’s War challenges the ideals of age and ageism. Often in our society, youth is celebrated while aging and being aged person is seen as a failure of some kind. I am getting older and there is not a damn thing I can do about it. But something I do have, that I did not have twenty years ago, is more experience and wisdom. What if we took that wisdom and separated it from our failing bodies? What if we harnessed that knowledge, held on to it, and used it? What could we do with it for the progression of humanity as a whole?

In the end, we are so much more than our failing body parts; we are a collection of ideas and ideals. I am, at any age, worth celebrating.


Childhood’s End
by Arthur C. Clarke

The problems of a utopian society.

“Utopia was here at last: its novelty had not yet been assailed by the supreme enemy of all Utopias—boredom.”

― Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End

Searching out a utopia in thought or action is impossible because it is not real. Struggle brings progress. I see this often in art, music, and literature. It is not the pain of conflict that brings development, it is the trying again and again till you succeed that does. When one is given everything, the will, and hope that pushes one forward disappears. You become bored.

I don’t often search for utopia in my daily life. However, sometimes I need to remind myself that perfection is overrated. It is the foibles and the incorrect that give life meaning and make things interesting.


World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Societies from all over the world are different, but in general, we want the same things.

“You can’t blame anyone else, … , no one but yourself. You have to make your own choices and live every agonizing day with the consequences of those choices.” 

― Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Weird that I would learn so much from a zombie book. World War Z is a collection of experiences from different cultures fighting the same thing. It reminds me of many rereads that people from Indonesia, the US, or Europe or anywhere else, although separated by culture and diversity, want to live and survive. We are not so different and I am constantly amazed by that.


Life is long, and our understanding of things as we age is sometimes slow. Books bridge the gaps between our epiphanies and let us experience things without having to live through them. Is this list the end of my appreciation, of my education? Of course not! I have lived a thousand lives through the thoughts and actions of thousands of characters, and I hope to live a thousand more lives before I die. As V would say, until the day the last inch of me has faded away and enter into the ether, I shall strive to learn. I shall endeavor to look deeper, understand deeper, try to get past the skin of things into the meat of the story or the idea and I will keep reading the magic that is science fiction and fantasy.

17 comments

  1. These are all great books to highlight! I love them all, especially Old Man’s War, which has brilliant examples of characterization, world building, the exploded moment…I could go on forever.
    And I had to laugh when I saw World War Z, because I’ve had zombies on the brain this week, and just finished a post on the subject. Funny how things line up sometimes.
    Anyway, I love this post. Way to celebrate sci fi and the depth of experience it provides.

      1. hahahaha. On one hand, I can’t run worth a damn. Cardio Cardio Cardio. On the other hand I can shoot a gun, build a campfire, know all about architecture, and have read every zombie book I can find. It is a crapshoot whether I would make a good team member. I’d have you on my team for sure.

  2. World War Z was such a different book! And I kind of enjoy it a lot. I don’t know your but it gave me a doomsday kind of feeling :O but I agree with what you said. People focuses on the differences but at the end we all are the same. And when the time comes, we all want to survive!

    1. I get the doomsday vibe. Some of the vingettes had very little hope for the characters. Than some of them, took what had happened and made the most of it. It is such a cool collection. I try not to think that a movie exists. Because, what the hell?

      1. Hmm don’t hate me haha but I love the movie haha I can see a movie made of small “movies” for some of the strongest vignettes but I liked a lot how they hmm based on outbreak 🙂 I think the book mentions Israel and the wall and that was nice cD

      2. hahaha no hate here. They do touch on a few of the smaller vignettes. There is a great one that takes place in Japan and another one that takes place on a town made of floating houseboats in Indonesia. It is ripe for HBO to take it over and do a different vignette for each show.

      3. It would be killer. It is the perfect story for it for sure. They could even extrapoliate and create new vignettes all over the world, get Max Brooks involved. A little bit like black mirror. It would be so cool

  3. Such a great post! I have so many similar experiences with books I grew up with, and I think the books we read definitely have lessons and shape us. Sci-fi in particular!

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