Stories give us opportunities to explore our instinctive responses to the other; vicariously, we discover opportunities to either welcome or reject the marvelous encounter with the other. Which we choose is then a matter of how limited or expansive our imagination might be. Like Lovecraft, we might stop at fear, or like Borges, we might hold all possibilities in magnificent tension, open our eyes, and say, “Well met by moonlight, stranger.”
That is a gift—one of seven gifts that speculative fiction has for us in this dark hour. Often sold at bookstores as “science fiction and fantasy,” sometimes as horror, sometimes snuck into the shelves of “literary” fiction, speculative fiction simply means wonder stories. Fiction that speculates, that asks improbable questions, that indulges curiosity, that climbs back down the ladder to look at the strange thing that is approaching from behind, to face it without fear, to face it like Theseus facing the King Horse, holding out a lump of salt. These are the stories we need right now, and I want to talk with you about why, and what healing and opening of our hearts and imaginations might be possible if we allow it. We live in a time when we are being asked to accept stories told by people whose hearts are famished and grinchlike, stories that make us smaller; we are in such need of stories that make us bigger, stories that empower us to imagine larger worlds than the cages we have been constructing for ourselves. Stories that help us imagine that the fence between us and the other is no insurmountable barrier, and that all the fences and all the walls between us and our many kindred on this earth are unworthy of our respect, that we needn’t heed them, that it is better to break them, or tumble them, or clamber over them with a canteen of water, with a blanket to offer warmth, with ears ready to hear another’s story.
– from the opening chapter of On the Other Side of the Night