Messages and Escapism in Fiction

Via File 770, I came across this blog post from Puppy T.L. Knighton: “Why I no longer Care”

In this post, Tom posits that he doesn’t want to read message fiction, and wants to read purely for escapism.

I read for fun. If I want to challenge myself, I read non-fiction. I’m a damn political writer. I challenge myself daily. I read fiction for fun, and it’s not your place to suggest I challenge myself in what I do for pleasure. It’s not anyone’s place.

And that’s your place, Tom. It’s not Wrongfun at all. Its not even really limiting, since there is so much out there TO read. You could make your fiction diet entirely
composed of Popcorn Fiction and never come close to running out. That’s your business. Godspeed.

Don’t be fooled, though, to think that the Puppies are entirely escapism fiction. Some of it is (c.f. Larry Correia), and some of it (c.f. John C Wright) most certainly is not. And guess what? That’s true of non-Puppies as well! Try reading Leviathan Wakes, for example, if you don’t think non-Puppies can write fiction with a large dose of tasty escapism.

I’ve been one of those trying to argue that message fiction was a bad idea. I still think it is. But now, I just don’t care what those folks do.

I believe in free markets, and I think the market will slap some of these publishers hard. They’ll either learn from it, or not. Either way, new publishers will rise. Baen can’t publish everything, after all.

My point here, Mr. Knighton, is this: Every piece of fiction, even Popcorn Fiction, has messages in it, explicit or implicit. The puppies definition of message fiction, as far as I have ever been able to make out, is “fiction with messages that I don’t like”.

Let me illustrate two possible scenarios of a classic scenario and show you the messages within

1. Aliens secretly exist in the world all around us. The US government knows about this, and has an agency tasked with keeping tabs on them. The protagonist is recruited into this organization. There are comments dropped here how the public is not ready to know about the aliens.

2. Aliens secretly exist in the world all around us. A private organization knows about this, and manages their existence and keeps that from the US Government as well as the general public. The protagonist is recruited into this organization. There are comments dropped here and there about the fecklessness of the government and how the public is not ready to know about the aliens.

Fiction #1’s message is:The Government is not incompetent, and the public needs to be managed.
Fiction #2’s message is: The Government can’t be trusted AND the public needs to be managed.

Both are message fiction. I suspect that scenario #2, for a spectrum of the Puppies, is Not a message or seen as such, since it agrees with their politics.