Beyond the Next Traffic Light . . .

Imagine a road, any road–perhaps it winds its way through rolling countryside and charming villages, Capra-esque, with town squares and old brick storefronts that make you feel as if you’re traveling through a set piece for It’s A Wonderful Life.

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Or maybe you’re downtown at rush hour, in a large city, frustrated by the snarl of traffic and the honking horns.

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Perhaps you’re feeling stressed, burdened, so much still to do, and so little time in which to do it.

You look ahead.  The next intersection awaits, the next red light. . .

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Or does it?

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I have long enjoyed mainstream, literary stories, and much of the short fiction I write is in fact mainstream, with no supernatural or otherworldly element to it.  This stems from a long-standing appreciation of literature.  I love the classics, the works of writers like Truman Capote and Harper Lee, Willa Cather and John Steinbeck.  A good, dramatic story has the power to move us and touch us in very personal ways.

myantonia

 

But my first love, and the kind of storytelling that I come back to, time and again, is science fiction and fantasy.  And yes–I will combine the two genres beneath one imagination-stirring, speculative-fiction umbrella.  While some stories are clearly sci-fi and others clearly fantasy, often the two overlap, and, just as often, they do so within the same story.  Hard-core sci-fi fans may take issue with this, just as they did when Ray Bradbury famously put an atmosphere on Mars.  But I read his Martian stories and loved them, just the same.  Are they science fiction?  Fantasy?  “Who cares?” I said.  They were great.  That’s all that mattered to me.  They accomplished what all first-rate imaginative fiction does.

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When I read Ray Bradbury, or watch a post-apocalyptic thriller, or read an old Fantastic Four comic book (like Mitchell Brant in The Eye-Dancers, I am, and have always been, a fan of classic old comic books), or enter, through the enchantment of the dusty page (or touch-screen, as the case may be), into the heart of a city full of dragons and witches and hairy little elves who shuffle discreetly underfoot, I want the story to take me by the hand and transport me to a distant, faraway place, perhaps to a different time or a different universe or a different reality.

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Maybe the story takes me there via a time machine, but it can just as easily be a dream sequence or a fantastical world that just is, always has been, and always will be, right from the opening scene of the book.  Or, just maybe, I am taken there through the swirling, hypnotic blue eyes of a “ghost girl”. . .

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It doesn’t really matter how it is done, as long as it’s done in such a way that I can believe it, that I am right there, along for the ride with the characters.  And once I am there, in this fantastic new world, I can then get absorbed in it, marooned like a sailor on some remote Pacific island but without any desire to leave.   And yes, it may test and stretch the limits of my imagination (with hope, that’s precisely what it will do); yet, simultaneously, and again, hopefully, it will cause  me to reflect and look at my own world in a different way, with a different perspective.

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That, to me, is the definition, and the essence, of speculative fiction.

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Let’s return to our traffic light, then, shall we?  There you are, sitting there, the car idling, the list of to-dos spinning in your mind, over and over.  Groceries to buy.  Bills to pay.  A house to straighten up.  Dentist appointment next week, and that tooth has been really throbbing lately, too.  Ugh.  Another cavity?  The project at work is only half-finished, and the boss continues to harp about it, demanding it be completed yesterday.  And what’s that?  Does the car sound a little funny?  Does the engine sound as though it’s laboring?  But the mechanic just worked on it a month ago . . .

todolist

 

So many thoughts, stresses, tasks, worries . . .  And the traffic is moving so slowly!  There is a bend in the road.  You can’t see around it, but you know what lies ahead.  Another traffic light, another delay as you listen to the car’s sputtering engine, and think about everything you have to do, all over again.

tasklist

 

But wait.  Your mind begins to drift.  You think of the novel you’re reading.  You just finished chapter twenty-four last night, and are eager to return to it.  Every time you read it, the story carries you on fine, feathery wings, so silent, so effortless, you are hardly aware that you’re moving at all.  It lifts you up, higher, higher, to a dreamscape world, far away, immeasurably distant–and yet, you are there.  And now, here, stuck in traffic, suddenly your train of thought shifts.

imagination

 

You know, logically, that you will have to wait at another red light, and then another, and another.  You know your list of things to do seems to grow, organically, on its own, with each passing minute.  The burdens of day-to-day tasks, the unending grind, the perpetual treadmill are all still there.  But now there is something else, too.

An openness, perhaps–an acknowledgment that, despite the obstacles and the mind-numbing routines, all things are possible.  The novel you are reading–the magic of it, the scope of its plot and the vastness of its universe–makes you want to believe in the unbelievable, search for the unknowable.  It makes you want to reach . . . reach for the moon, throw a lasso around it like George Bailey said he would do for Mary Hatch in that Frank Capra classic sixty-seven years ago.

georgelasso

 

lasso!

 

But why stop there?

There is an entire galaxy to explore.  A universe.  And, perhaps, a parallel universe.  There is no end.

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The light turns green.  You drive through it, imagining the possibilities, embracing the adventure.

allthingspossible

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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