For a few minutes after his escape, Chess was not exactly sure where he was. He had never been down this particular street before, but the area, and the tall, pointed skyscraper that hovered close over him, was familiar. Finally, he re-oriented himself, and crossed over to the street that was bordered by the city wall. The guy who hosted the game lived right at the edge of the city, almost against the wall.
And how had Chess first found out about the game? It was over a year ago, now...
On a web page that he had visited out of bored curiosity, there had been a small icon -- strange-looking, like maybe a kind of tribal design -- way down in the corner of the frame. Clicking the icon had led him to a page that started downloading really slowly.
Usually, a slow-loading page meant that the page was not endorsed by the service provider. You could always tell when you hit one of those pages -- although it didn't happen very often, and when it did Chess usually closed it and went elsewhere. Not that it was forbidden to go to unsupported pages, but he was used to the constant stream of information, the flashes of quick video, the ubiquitous music. With so many things vying for his attention, who had the patience to wait for one unknown page?
Normally, he tended to go to the same high-traffic sites: news, entertainment, the pages of gossip about momentary celebrities. But he did have a few other places he visited. For some reason, he had always liked stories -- fiction, especially epic tales of adventure, filled with dragons and demons. Yeah, it was kind of embarrassing to admit: the whole rest of the world was immersed in online battle games as if practicing for their upcoming parts in the war, and here he was hanging around with wizards and elves. Not exactly the kind of thing you put on a resume.
He was going to be late to the game tonight, Chess realized, increasing his pace. He passed the city gate, not looking at it, keeping his head down, although the guards there never bothered him. But if someone did try to stop him... Chess glanced around quickly. He could run that way, down those stairs, he decided. The concrete walls cast deep shadows over his chosen escape route. He preferred shadows and hiding to just all-out running for his life. Keeping the potential escape route in mind, he walked on.
So, on one rather low-traffic web page of fantasy fiction he had found this strange-looking link to another page, which was pretty well-hidden from public view by its sluggish loading. But, before he could hit the button to cancel, his sister had come to the doorway with some question. No: she had come to tell him about something that had happened in school, he remembered. And he always had time for his little sister. And so the new, slowly-opening web page had been ignored for a while.
By the time he got back to the computer, the page had fully opened, and there it was: a new world spread in front of him, full of stories and adventure. And an invitation to come play.
The game had sites where players gathered, and one was in the city, not far away. Well, not impossibly far. He had decided to try, even though it was scary, at first, to be out past curfew.
No one at home knew about the game. No one, he hoped, even noticed that he was gone. He didn’t even tell his sister. He certainly didn’t tell his mom. She was always so worried about everything, these days. Even though... He sighed. Even though he could probably tell his mom anything and she would forget it two minutes later.
But he was careful and he didn’t get caught, not by his family or by the security patrols. And then, over time, with all the walking back and forth, he got into shape, gained real endurance from the exercise: that was something most city people, thin from pills alone, never had. And then he started actually daring the curfew patrols. In his head, he was one lone rebel against an opposing army... he was a thief escaping with a dragon’s treasure... he was...
He was anything but hopeless, boring Charlie.
He rounded the last corner, opened the door, and entered the game.
Continued next page...
“Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!” The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa… “Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” said Mrs. Mitty. “What are you driving so fast for?”
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
Of course, Science Fiction and Fantasy fiction can be exactly that: fantasy. And most often the fantasy involves being an action hero. I especially like Tolkien’s idea of action heroes who are able to right the wrongs of their world. My favorite part of the entire Lord of the Rings story is the end, when the hobbits return home, battle-scarred and changed enough to be able to smirk at the challenges they encounter, confident enough to take what they have learned and use it to make the shire a good place once again. There, they have reached the fulfillment of the classic hero’s journey.
The author might also have been thinking of his own land and the troubles of his own time. Science Fiction and Fantasy genres offer such potential situations as dystopian futures and alternate realities: great opportunities to set the story in a new land with a unique society, where all kinds of social and political themes, although subtle in present time and place, can make the author’s point in a memorable way, even playing out all the way to absurdist extremes.
But I can hear my old professors of literary analysis (or maybe even Joss Whedon?) cautioning: not every book is an autobiography. Trying to match the events and themes of the writing with what is known about the author’s life risks missing the story itself. However, while authors are busy creating pieces of entertainment, they often, even inadvertently, give their readers thought-provoking impressions of their present-day. For me, that occasionally translates into a vivid and lasting piece of information about some part of the present or (as I’ll mention in the next blog) the past.
Here’s something I learned from a “young adult” book that I read long ago: a saloon can be a British word for a four-door sedan.
Arisia, Boston, this past weekend was a great experience! Thanks so much to everyone who talked with us about The Myth Prosaic.(Even more thanks if, from there, you've come here and read this far!) Sci-Fi and Fantasy bring out the most creative and talented people!
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