Sometimes life goes beyond mere suckage. People you care about die; you lose your career job in this economy at the age of 50; a long-time marriage or partnership broke into jagged pieces exactly one year ago and someone is playing “your song” over the radio. Whatever the reason, the bottom has dropped out of your world. You are lost at sea, and dry land is nowhere to be seen.
And sometimes you feel so lost that you forget that there is a temporary passage through this storm (or, you know, this category-five hurricane, if your life is pretty much storm to storm).
So! Comfort fiction.1
Not just comfort reading, although that’s one of the more popular manifestations. Personally speaking, there are times when I need to pull out the full artillery and currently I’m going through one of them. For once I thought I’d tally up the odd little array of things I find reassuring. Which is… sometimes not necessarily the type of stuff people usually think of as “comforting.”
Oh, there are definitely things I read or watch that have obvious comfort cake attributes. Take, for instance, Nero Wolfe. Not very SF/Fy, I know, but Archie is a wonderfully sly narrator, the brownstone is a sturdy fort with six-star cookery and beer on tap, and even the worst incursions—like the strafing of the orchid rooms on the top floor, most memorably—will be overcome, because Nero Wolfe is not a man, he’s a force of nature.
Going to SF/F: the early Harry Potter books are also an easy one for me, because he escapes his abusers into a magical world that nevertheless still has challenges, because it would far less fulfilling if it didn’t. Terry Pratchett’s a favorite, at least with most of his Night Watch books; you have the humor along with the intelligent plotting and characterization.2
Of late, and Hugos-relevant, Zoe’s Tale also gets my boat floating again, or at least bobbing along with more water outside than in. This is partly because she is actually a competent female protagonist, partly because she has a sane family that reacts well and in unique ways to quite unusual stresses, and mostly because her ersatz alien bodyguards Hickory and Dickory are highly efficient killing machines.
Yes, okay, the sugar coating starts falling off at this point. In fact, some of my friends don’t understand why I enjoy the following as “comfort”:
Coraline, read by Neil Gaiman. For some reason people get freaked out about the Other Mother. I truly do not get this, but then, my parents were never going to win Parenting of the Year awards. I haven’t seen the movie.
“Noël” from The West Wing. People seem to think that portrayals of PTSD are bad for those of us with PTSD. I don’t know; it makes me feel better because it’s done so well here. Bad PTSD portrayals, which are far more common, do make me feel worse.
“Severed Dreams” from Babylon 5. Probably has something to do with rebellion from the equivalent of supposedly caring parents (B5’s version of Starfleet), coupled with Delenn’s awesome badassness.
Why so violent, some of this? For various reasons, a background of twisted violence brought on by rather one-sided aggressors that is dispelled after much fighting, whether by psychologists or Minbari war cruisers, is pretty much my cup of tea and plate of biscuits by the fire.
It’s different for others, of course. And I’m pretty sure many people also have seemingly “distressing” selections tucked away in their for-a-rainy-day shelves and iPods.
What’s your plate of cookies and milk? Or, as the case may be, merrily burning Cylon raiders?
1 Not to be confused with hurt/comfort fiction, although that can be perfectly valid comfort fiction.
2 Though not the actual book titled Nightwatch. It’s the most stressful out of almost all of his books to read, even on re-reads, when you know what’s going to happen. Which is actually what the plot is built upon.
Arachne Jericho writes about science fiction, fantasy and other topics determined by 1d20, at Spontaneous ∂erivation. She also thinks waaay too much about Sherlock Holmes. She reviews at Tor.com on a semi-biweekly basis, and is going through a rough patch.