Since it's been a while, I decided to do a literary criticism piece this week. Specifically, I want to analyze the themes that I focus on in my writing. I would call my work cosmicism. Cosmicism is a fantastic subgenre which blends science fiction, fantasy, and religious and philosophical themes. Below are listed the basic traits of this work and how they interact.
1) Cosmicism is a form of productive nihilism. In this sense it shares some superficial similarities to Lovecraft's work in that it focuses on the ultimately nihilistic understanding of the vastness of the universe. However, unlike Lovecraft's weird fiction, which is a markedly negative, pessimistic nihilism, cosmicism takes into account the possibility of positive, negative, and neutral definitions of the term. This is not to say that I consider myself a great optimist, only that I find myself in opposition to Lovecraft as the great pessimist. Cosmicism focuses on the vastness of the universe, the protagonist's interaction with otherwordly beings of unestimable power incomprehensible to the protagonist, yet these interactions are never wholly negative; oftentimes these deities, in true nihilistic fashion, are indifferent to the protagonist, in ways which can either positively or negatively effect the protagonist's life in equal parts. A good description of the thrust of cosmicism can be contained in this simple anecdote:
Many people look out at the sky at night and comprehend for a second the vastness of space, an infinite void which confronts them with the idea of nihilism at its most violent: an image of humankind as tiny and insignificant (as it is) in comparison to the infinitely large world outside the small span of human perception. The typical reaction here is fright or distaste in the face of this: the realization that one's life is of no importance in comparison to the vastness of the cosmos suddenly makes one feel small and week. But on the contrary, here is my reaction: I feel a great freedom instead. Seeing my own insignificance is not damaging but instead relaxing. It reminds me of my weakness, of the room for improvement. The idea that there is no one out there watching, no all-seeing eye, means that suddenly I realize that I have the freedom to do as is necessary; there is infinite room for improvement. Without anyone watching, I become the watcher: I am free to create meaning as I will in a meaningless world, with this perception as the material from which to create it; no one stands in my way except myself. Seeing an empty universe is like finding a massive box of Legos: there's nothing to do but start putting things together.
2) Cosmicism is religiously and philosophically inclined. It focuses on topics related to wo/man's purpose in life and the search for meaning. Sometimes meaning can be created through interactions with outer deities, but more often meaning is a personal matter emanating from the self and an existentialist sense of authenticity. In this sense it is also an artistic medium – such topics generally being uninteresting to the vast majority, they will fail to achieve universal acclaim, for all art has both its critics and its adherents.
3) Cosmicism believes in realism within the speculative, to the extent that it attempts to strike a harmony with some aspect of human existence - it attempts to state something about the human experience. I argued in my college thesis that realism as genre is inherently unreal: to the extent that fiction is fiction, and not history, it always involves some reinterpretation of the world on the behalf of the author. Many 'realist' works are very bizarre in that they feature highly stylized characters who react to situations in unrealistic ways, or have highly exaggerated character traits/flaws. Thus, it would be proper to admit that they are just as fantastic as some of the more unassuming fantastic works. Likewise, fantastic works can be filled with highly realistic characters even as they play out their conflicts in alien environments or through the use of fantastic tropes. Ultimately, all fiction being a form of fantasy in which the author plays out the world as s/he wishes to see it, the realism/romanticism debate is in some ways useless here; human interpretation of the world being never disinterested, the fantastic in a certain way describes the human experience in a more authentic way. Realism is not he way in which reality appears to our senses.
The point of cosmicism is not to inspire rote use of fantastic tropes or necessarily to inspire new usage of existing tropes: it is to use tropes in such a way that they get at underlying human issues and emotions. If one examines the primary purpose of the ring in Lord of the Rings, for example, one finds that it functions exactly like the pattern of an addiction for Frodo; the innovations lies in the way in which this addiction is portrayed as necessary to the plot, forcing the addiction to be dealt with and not overcome. Likewise, cosmicism intends to use fantastic scenarios, not for their own sake, but to enable situations and emotions that would formerly have been difficult or impossible to unearth through purely realistic means. Cosmicism believes in a certain level of realism on the level of world building, but mostly in a greater level of realism on the level of the personal.
4) Another major focus of cosmicism is on the idea of mistheism (mistaken theism, not to be confused with misotheism, the hatred of God). A common theme in my works is the mistakenness of various faiths throughout (fantastic) history. I believe that all religions aim at a certain idea of God, but in this sense they all fail to aim at the purest idea of God, the idea of God as inclusive of all deities, faiths, and peoples. In placing belief in any particular conception of God, one thus excludes other possibilities and makes it difficult to be certain whether or not this particular God is truly the correct one. In my stories, characters often come into contact with outer deities with misconceptions about who these deities are and what they do; as a result of this fleeting contact, some misconceptions are shattered, but theology is always an ongoing process, and this only leaves space for more misconceptions to be created. Thus the human is always tangentially approaching the idea of God, but never can a perfect concept of God be synthesized. This isn't intended to bash any modern religious faith, but instead to open up the way for dialogue between faiths by helping to recognize mutual shortcomings. Likewise, the characters within my stories frequently come into contact with challenges to their faith, and this forces them to work through them in a mature manner.
This covers a few of the basic themes of my work and my intent in exploring them. If this interests you, keep an eyes out for my work in the future.