Sunday, January 19, 2014

Making the Settled Strange

“The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange.” (G.K. Chesterton)

I’ve always liked this quote to describe my favorite kind of speculative fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I love stories that create new worlds, that take readers to places they’d never have seen otherwise.

But, even more, I love stories that take a new and different look at our normal, everyday world, making it seem somehow strange and unknown.

One of my favorite authors, Francesca Lia Block, does this in all her books, transforming the smoke and smog of Los Angeles into a magical place filled with old Hollywood starlets, tropical jungles, ghosts, genies, gods, and a quirky fashion sense. Reading her stories is like seeing fairytales and myths exist in our world. She injects unusual beauty and quirky magic into everything, transforming the mundane into something amazing. By highlighting and exaggerating the wonder of the world, she allows her readers to approach their own world, one they feel comfortable and sure of, in a new way. Her stories make the everyday, like mannequins and strip joints and nail polish, more than what they are, transforming them into nightmarish dangers and mystifying marvels.

On the other hand, another of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahnuik, takes almost the reverse approach to accomplish the same goal of making the ordinary odd. Instead of focusing on the beauty of the world, Palahnuik grounds his stories in the grittiest oddities he can find. He forces you to face the strangest the world has to offer, from the most deviant of sexual practices to gruesome medical practices, making any strange and out-there idea he could think of, like Jesus-clones made out of holy foreskin or a revolution waged by a rowdy Fight Club, seem completely believable in the face all the strange that already exists in the world.

Like I said, I do enjoy writers who create entire worlds of their own, who take us out of this one into places no one has ever seen before. But I also think this world is as weird and unique as any other that’s been created, if you know where and how to look. 

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