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One of my favourite sayings about writing fiction comes from the American writer Richard Ford. He stated that he started writing because “lived life somehow wasn’t enough”. He was describing his early attempts at story-telling, but for me—and I imagine most writers—this basic impulse borne out of a kind of idealistic dissatisfaction with the real world never goes away. I think that one of the reasons Ford’s comment has stuck with me is because the type of fiction I like to write expresses a particularly high divergence from “lived life”.

Am I saying SF is more escapist than other kinds of fiction? No, I don’t think so, although I suspect that a great many readers who are unfamiliar with the genre might, in their ignorance, choose to think this. In a sense, of course, all types of fiction, from crime fiction to historical fiction, and even fiction in the realistic, literary mainstream, offer an escape from our own lives. After all, Charles Dickens would be classed as a largely “realistic” and “mainstream” writer, and so would Marcel Proust and John Updike and F. Scott Fitzgerald, yet although the worlds and the lives they describe were familiar to them, they certainly resemble nothing I’ve ever experienced, much though I enjoy entering them. What all good fiction of every genre does is to hold a distorted mirror up to the real world, which, through its distortions, reveals more about life and the human experience, and far more elegantly and compellingly, than even the best non-fiction prose.

In SF, and its siblings and cousins such as fantasy and alternate history, the distortions—the differences between “lived life” and the world of the story—are particularly pronounced. And both as a reader and a writer, it’s these distortions that continue to fascinate and drive me. The desire we all have to make sense of a real, everyday world that can frequently seem confusing and frustrating is expressed from the far side of a looking glass filled with strange angles, odd visions and otherworldly hues. How, for instance, to take an example from this collection, would a group of people react if they discovered that, together, they could predict the future? Or what would it be like to take a vacation, not only from our everyday lives, but all our memories, worries and obsessions as well? My own very partial responses to these and all the other questions and speculations contained in this collection will, I hope, briefly make you, the reader’s, “life lived” feel slightly closer to being sufficient, and maybe even make a little more sense.

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