My post about Jeannette Walls the other day came back to mind. She does have a point, albeit a clumsily-expressed one. The problem with escapism is not that it's escapism, but that running away from the world you're in gives you that much less to actually talk about.
Another observation I come back to a great deal is that one of the sadder things that can happen in SF&F is when it's written by people who are simply not very good observers of human behavior. My opinion is that SF&F authors are published because they're good yarn-spinners or conceptualists, and not because they have a keen sense of what people are like and why. They're not paid to be good psychologists, just good yarn-spinners. Their job is to get you to lay down your double sawski for the book.
My argument is that this has detrimental effects that aren't directly perceptible. It doesn't just make SF as a whole into that much more of a bottom-feeding enterprise, it makes the people involved — the readers, the publishers, the authors — that much more willing to simply fall in line with expectations on all sides. Genres are more than reading instructions; they're also writing and editing instructions — and on top of all that, they may well limit the ways we shape ourselves as writers-of-X, too. Would any self-respecting SF author bother to read Walpole? Hell yes, says I; the more you get out of your bubble, the better.
The more broadly you read, the better equipped you are — from the point of view of a writer, anyway — to look at the world in its breadth and be able to see it through more than one pair of eyes. You're still always going to be stuck with looking at it through your own, but the least you can do is equip yourself that much more thoroughly to see things a bit differently, and put that back into what you do.
It's too easy to see only what you want to see in others, only the things that conform to your particular prejudices about people. It's harder to look around and know that your prejudices are just that. Harder still, even, to not get your cues from the shorthand of other stories and media that came before you.
The problem with escape is that every time you escape, you bring everything that you have, everything that you are, with you anyway. The more diversified the baggage you end up bringing with you, the better equipped you'll be for that journey. And the more you'll see that's worth bringing back home.
Other Lives Of The Mind