Those of you in the know know that I spent two months and some odd days in Kraków, Poland over the 2007/2008 winter. If you knew that at the time I was there, then you might have stopped by this blog to read accounts of my travels and travails as I endeavored to post once a day, rain, snow, or shine, and mostly it was not shining.
I just read the just-begun (though the author has lived-in-long) blog about Surviving in Sweden. Which, naturally enough, since I used caps to designate Surviving, is the name of the blog.
The author (whom I will call Surviving) has a breezy style, an engaging voice, and an intriguing perspective on being an expatriate in, you guessed it, Sweden. Married to the Swede and having lived in Sweden for a number of years, she has just now started a blog.
I don’t often write about other people’s blogs on this blog. I’m not sure why. I suppose because I’m so uncertain about the role of blogging in my own life that I don’t feel the need to drag in other blogs and other other blogs until the critical mass of blogs is reached and we collapse into a singularity where NO ONE EVER ESCAPES!
In this case, I want to talk about Surviving’s blog because:
1) I found her blog through the forums at Absolute Write, which means she’s probably a writer outside of being a commentator on all things strange in Swedish society.
2) Her awareness and noting of the discrepancies between the way the Swedes live and the way Americans live touches on an important point in my own writing.
That being, well, that whenever you create a world to write about, it makes sense to see that world as different from the one you (and the rest of us) already live in. It’s easy when reading fantasy or science fiction (I think both are mostly equal on this point) to focus on what we see as the “obvious and important” differences – the use of magic, the ubiquity of space travel, aliens sharing our schoolrooms, teleportation, grues in the darkness – so much so that we ignore all those small differences in how we live that make a place truly strange.
For example, Surviving talks about how it is common in Sweden to put your baby outside during the winter to help it sleep. Of course, the baby is bundled up and packaged in a stroller and on the front stoop or a balcony, but this still goes against everything we learn about raising a child in America. Outside of the fact that the baby is outside, without you to keep watch over it, what about the chance someone will come by and steal the baby?
In truth, that chance is not so great. The number of baby-in-the-cold disasters is remarkably small.
Still, that small change means a huge disconnect for the newcomer to that environment. And, in terms of fantasy and science fiction, the reader is always the newcomer. So often a fantasy world is just like our own, but with different trappings. Ditto for science fiction. The characters are relatable because their world, and they way they interact with it, is almost indistinguishable from our own outside of those big differences spoke of above.
What fascinates me about Surviving’s blog and living in other cultures in general is the way it forces us to see our own culture as strange and, for the most part, a product of happenstance.
One of the ideas I’m fostering in my head is that of a group of humans taken to a large intergalactic world where they live in what is, essentially, a ghetto. They are surrounded by strange aliens, incomprehensible technology, and an utterly unfamiliar environment.
Reading about Surviving’s experiences in Sweden – and my own experience in Kraków – are the fertilizer I need for this idea to grow. Because I don’t want this to be a book that can be easily translated to a “real world” experience by switching out the names of objects and places. I want it to be truly strange and defamiliarizing, so that just by reading the book, the reader discovers the world they live in is not as common sense as it seems.