My Relationship with Fiction

by Ben Best

As a child I was devoted to comic books. I wanted only the "funny" comics -- I had little interest in adventure, war or other kinds of comics. I had an enormous collection which was my most prized possession (much as my book collection is currently my most valued physical possession). I had hundreds of comics and knew the contents of each one in intimate detail. I moved west with my parents when I was thirteen and my parents decided the comics would be too much trouble to transport or ship. Seeing my distress, my mother lied to me and told me that the comics would be sent later. It was certainly not the first or last time my mother lied to me. (Her motives were usually either vanity or to reduce stress.)

As a teenager I read a great deal of science fiction and watched a great deal of television. The science fiction I preferred pushed the limits of imagination and was often simply a vehicle for exploring unusual ideas. Science fiction inspired me with the possibility of physical immortality (especially Robert Sheckley and A.E. van Vogt), which ultimately led to my obsession with life-extension and cryonics. A.E. van Vogt was my favorite writer because of the intellectual imaginativeness of his work and the pace & power of his plotting. My favorite novel by van Vogt was THE WORLD OF NULL A.

The book that most influenced my life is also a work of fiction: ATLAS SHRUGGED, which I read when I was 17. Much of the influence was not directly from that book, but as a result of subsequently reading so much of Rand's non-fiction. I did not particularly like her other works of fiction. In ATLAS SHRUGGED, Rand consciously used plot and images to convey philosophical ideas -- and supplemented the fiction with very eloquent philosophical passages delivered as arguments on the part of the characters to explain the basis of their actions. Ayn Rand shows how powerful fiction can be to create situations that illustrate political, economic and philosophical principles. Her writing and plotting is intensely purposeful and eloquent. If there is a weakness to her fiction, I would say it is characterization.

Although I had pre-existing beliefs along many of the same lines, Ayn Rand taught me much about the moral defense of capitalism, the importance of productivity & its relation to economic freedom, materialist philosophy and the centrality of work & work satisfaction to a meaningful life. On the other hand, I have been quite a workaholic -- caught-up in an endless striving to make myself a capable person, a person of worth -- with positive and negative results. Being overly committed to achieving goals may have made me less responsive to people and opportunities. Rand's views on sex & love were liberating for me, but may have led me astray in causing me to have an excessively perfectionistic, moralistic and idealistic attitude concerning sex & love that has gotten in the way of me having real relationships (and even "fun") with real people -- because of the impossible standards I imposed on myself and others. There is one essay I have written on this website which contains explicit criticisms of Ayn Rand's philosophy: "Objectivism or Subjectivism?". (There is a side-swipe in my essay "Thoughts on Physics and Reality".)

I stopped watching television at the age of 18, but continued to see occasional movies at theaters. I continued to read science fiction, but also became fascinated with symbolist & surrealist poetry as pure explorations of imagination, aesthetics & emotion. My poem "Guerilla Lovefare" exemplifies that kind of poetry.

At the age of 21 I mostly lost interest in reading any fiction and poetry. But I became an avid reader of autobiographies in addition to my other non-fictional (scientific, historical, philosophical, etc.) reading. I very much enjoyed the experience of being deeply involved in people's lives -- something that motivates fiction-reading, but lacks the reality of autobiography. The most memorable autobiographies were LIVING MY LIFE by Emma Goldman and THE CONFESSIONS OF ALEISTER CROWLEY. In both cases, after reading the books I felt that I had lost a friend -- they were no longer a part of my life. I did not share Crowley's mystical beliefs, but learned a great deal of factual material from him about the occult. And his eloquent, imaginative rhetoric is unmatched. Just as I felt that by reading HUMAN ACTION I learned as much about reasoning as about economics -- from Crowley I learned as much about imaginative eloquence as I learned about Crowley's life & the occult. The medium is the message.

After a while I even stopped reading autobiography, history and philosophy and became focused on science. But I bought a house and had some tenants so I felt it was necessary to have a television. I became fascinated by travel and nature programs, especially for the visions of the world they afforded me that I could not get from the written word. When I sold my house and moved into an apartment, I retained the television, but still rarely watched anything fictional. I became obsessed with watching business news because of my active stock trading. I developed a channel-flipping habit, however, as relaxation from my studies and other efforts. For the most part, I continued to avoid fiction -- until I became strickened with the television series "La Femme Nikita".

To backtrack slightly, however, before selling my house I developed an interest in fiction-writing as well as in romantic fiction. I took some classes in writing and wrote some short stories, some of which appear on this website. The effort made me appreciate the challenges of creating plot, character, dialogue and atmosphere ("show, don't tell"). I would like to be able to write an engrossing plot leading to a happy ending, to portray ideas through vivid stories & circumstances and to create snappy dialogue. (Surprise has been called the essence of conversation, and this applies particularly to sharp dialogue.) I have a long way to go to improve my skills in fiction writing. But I have abandoned the effort because my life has more urgent priorities.