|Landscape of Science Fiction by Luc Viatour|
Several times now, while trying to engage my significant other in conversation about a new movie, book, or TV show that's caught my attention, I hear the same question cross her lips.
"Is it based on a true story?"
It used to bring me up short. Why in the nine-levels of hell does that remotely matter? Yet she's somehow got it in her head of late that "true" somehow equates to quality. That a story, even a fictionalized tale, is better if there's even a slight grain of truth to it.
As if reality is something special.
There’s certainly no lack of scholarly and journalistic writing on the topic of fiction vs. non-fiction and which is “better,” most of it written by much smarter people than me. Some of it quite recently, as this is a topic that comes up a lot, apparently. Which I had no idea until the S.O. started feeling that even the most utterly made-up “based on a true” story was in someway better than the science fiction, fantasy, and other made up tales that make up the bulk of my entertainment. (And hers… this is a woman who thoroughly and willingly has immersed herself in Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Doctor Who with me week after week. She gets upset if I go to the opening of a Marvel Studios movie on opening night while she’s working--so I throw myself upon the sword of going twice. Yes, I’m that accommodating.)
But of course it gets me thinking when she knee-jerkingly asks this question. Does the work we fantasy writers pour our hearts into really matter? I’m not under any illusion that my own digital chicken scratchings are going to change how mankind thinks like some kind of 1984 or Clockwork Orange or Lord of the Rings. Should I even bother?
The answer--and I know you’re on pins and needles wondering--is hell to the effing yes. C’mon. The research all shows that not only does fiction do a better job of creating morally aware people, that it stays with an audiences psyche longer, but the anecdotal evidence just shows it’s a metric s#!+-tonne more fun. That bit of escapism that takes a person out of the real world for a little while, that’s worth every hour of clacking at the keyboard for any writer.
But maybe, just maybe, knowing there’s some little tiny smidgen of a story that might have once happened to a real person adds some importance for some. Not for me, but people like my gal. So the next time we sit down to watch a flick and she leans over and asks, “Is this based on a true story?” I will look at her and say, “Yes. Yes it is,” with all the conviction in the world. Even if it’s directed by Terry Gilliam and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a fairy stripper and Summer Glau as a robot seamstress who makes him dresses. With a flaming sword. Named "Fartibartiblast."