I’ve studied a reasonable amount of philosophy and sociology over the years, but one thing that I’m continually amazed by is some of the wisdom and knowledge that you come across in SFF literature. Perhaps it’s because books often represent a very personal kind of self-expression by authors, and part of this is either ‘how I’d like the world to be’ or the moral and ethical systems that they’d like the world to live by – however flawed its occupants.
I might not be summing this up very well, so I’d like to just run through a couple that I’ve found over the years and have very much taken to heart. The first is one that a lot of you will already be familiar with: Journey before Destination, from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive.
It’s an excellent sentiment, and whilst perhaps not an entirely realistic one (any fans of 24 would certainly disagree in favour of a more Utilitarian argument) I’m a fan. I do believe that pursuing goals can be valuable, but since we spend a lot more time journeying than arriving, a purely goal-oriented view of life can be harmful! After all, life is something of a journey, and how we spend that journey is definitely more valuable than the end destination! As any reader will know, Sanderson also adds ‘life before death’ and ‘strength before weakness’ to his ideas, both of which also strongly resonate.
My second favourite is Choose Again, from Dan Simmons’ Endymion duology. We grow up with so many fixed views on what is right and wrong, good and bad, shameful or worthy of respect, that often we forget that these views came from older times, times when we were children, or that they were inherited from people with blinkered views. Choose Again doesn’t necessarily mean choosing something different, but it does mean periodically revisiting the choices that you’ve made, as a (hopefully) increasingly-wiser adult. If you choose the same thing again, then that’s great. If not – then hopefully you’re choosing something better.
I’d add one final note to the list, although it’s not strictly a code to live your life by; rather, it’s an observation: Things will Change, from Against a Dark Background by Iain M Banks. These words are written on the grave of a distant relative of the protagonist, and although they might seem really, really obvious, they’ve certainly helped me at certain points in my life. Or, as my own father said ‘the good thing about bad things is that they’ll come to an end; the bad thing about good things is that they do as well’!
There are a few others that I’m fond of, but perhaps don’t quite make the ‘philosophical’ cut (for example, Sevro’s wonderful ‘shit escalates’ in the Red Rising series, which is just begging to be tattooed somewhere) and many authors who write SFF are a wise bunch, so I suppose it’s no surprise that they’ve come out with some pretty deep stuff. I’m always on the lookout for more, so if you’ve seen any that you’re fond of, please drop me a note on Twitter or email!
Matthew Samuels is a SFF author based in London, UK.
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About Small Places
Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent.