The Source of the Supernatural

After reading works such as Through the Arc of the Rain Forest by Yamashita and Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, I was reminded that it is important for readers to understand the source of supernatural events. In the former, these elements are explainable by the science of the fictional universe in which the novel is set; in the latter, though, no clear explanation is given for the source of Doro or Anyanwu’s special abilities. (It is implied that both beings are mutants, somewhat like X-Men, especially since their traits can, to some degree, be passed on genetically. The rest of The Patternist series may offer some explanation for these events in regard to Wild Seed, but I haven’t read them yet.)

While science fiction and fantasy require a certain suspension of disbelief, that does not mean that authors are excused from offering some explanation for the events they portray. A more common example of this would be the Harry Potter series, which offers no explanation for why magic exists or what its foundational rules may be. (There are a few mentions of some, like Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration and Golpalott’s Third Law, but these are specific to certain use cases and not to the existence of magic as a whole.) In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky, the most prolific (and not super creepy) form Harry Potter fan fiction, the author creates these laws because, well, they’re rational. (In case you’re wondering, it involves Atlantis somehow, which is not remotely canonical but is still better than nothing.)

I mention all of this because, at this point, there aren’t any explanations for the events of The Familiar. It may take decades for MZD to explain the Orb, NarCons, the cat, the various pieces of front matter, etc. Judging from what others have said about his works thus far, there’s no guarantee that he WILL answer these questions satisfactorily. I think that detracts from the reading experience, especially if you are involved in a complicated narrative like that of The Familiar that requires more engagement than, say, Harry Potter.

Do you believe that the author has a responsibility to explain his/her worlds to the reader? Would it detract from the message of some books to have more answers?


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