Editorial – May 2016: Are there truths in lies?

May 2, 2016 | By | Reply More

Hello everyone

In creativity there is a lot of lying, more so in our genre where most people know the fantastic and horrific is invention and getting people to believe it at some level a lot tougher when set in contemporary times. You can trace that back to the campsites of earlier times when and where mythologies of warring gods was created by early storytellers. They filled the minds of the less imaginative with something that made some sort of sense to them and became legendary. I doubt if any ancient storyteller would admit to pure fabrication without the risk of being evicted from his tribe or be killed. They might have told the tales so often and passed down the generations that they believed the tales themselves. The results we see in mythology books today is the result of this and refinement before being written down. We are all susceptible to the imagination and the desire to believe. Fodder for the con man and storyteller.

It does make me wonder if those storytellers back then did this to show productivity if they weren’t hunters and potential outcasts or just to explain the environment around them. After all, everyone wants answers even if they don’t know how to look for the right questions. You only have to look at the Greeks and Norse for that when it comes to gods ruling weather conditions. However, the fact that also interlaced is the human condition and behaviour so that the characters in these tales could be related should be considered either deliberate or a happy accident. Of course, they could also just want an outlet for their imaginations as well and nothing feeds that better than people willing to listen or read their tales.


Indeed, the same could be said of much of modern SF literature where we examine our society in our genre as a metaphor and possibly, in some countries, to avoid persecution. Fantastic fiction, in all its forms, can conceal a lot more than any other genre, making astute observation that might go over the heads of others. The infidelity of the gods might be seen as warning not to stray from marriage without knowing the consequences. Considering the turbulent political period we currently find ourselves in, its more surprising that SF hasn’t explored more of the consequences of our current actions that an apocalypse. Then again, SF is known for doing social exploration and you can’t really blame either authors or publishers worried about the consequences to themselves from all sides by extremists. Likewise, things change so quickly that in the space of the bare minimum of 18 months to write and publish such a novel, it could already be seen as history. We are in the day of short order history and anything can be assigned to the sidelines very quickly now.

So, let’s move back to the original point. The art of creativity has been lying for a long time and diversified into other genres. However, is it all lying or do the sensibilities of the storytellers get in there as well? I mean, not just looking at the political state of aspects of the world. Where does the aspect of creating believable lies and giving truths about our reality cross over each other?

Now think about that for a minute. Do conventional liars have sensible ethics about honesty? I’m a storyteller but marked with a high level of personal honesty which probably ups my believability factor where if anything is too close to the reality, you’d probably believe it at some level. I can convince you of something if it’s close to the truth as much as something that is true. So does this does raise an interesting question that should we place storytellers in the same category as base liars, even if it is part of our trade? Then there is the ‘or’, in that case, are we seeing storytellers in a different category which is, for the most part, an acceptable level in our various cultures and we are allowed to lie? That being the case, where and what is the dividing line?

In most societies, some form of lying is going on all the time. It might more be a matter of us being used to it. A white lie to spare someone’s feelings to big whoppers that politicians make to their electorate. One could almost say that lying is part of the human mindset and that, for the most part, we can wade through it most of the time and distinguish fact from fiction. We take it as a given that the plot scenario is mostly made up and can let ourselves go in that direction. SF, fantasy and horror is very much the most extreme that we can go but does that mean is that solely the reason we go there for?

As our genre is the most extreme, do or should all SF stories set in contemporary reality have some elements of truth to them before they twist into the fantastic, mostly because it needs to persuade people in plausibility before stretching things. After all, if so much of what is written is known to be true, it’s only a small jump to something that isn’t that carries on this belief. In this manner, it is also a bit of a con because once you know something, you tend not to think about all of its implications again. The brain gets conditioned not to think beyond that. Even the most non-SF fan knows what a ray gun and starship is because of such conditioning and saves elaborate description. You don’t have to explain but just use them. The same applies to a host of fantasy and horror genre creatures as well. Whether those of you who write employ this technique deliberately or just instinctively know that you don’t have to explain everything still amounts to the same thing. There are a lot of things that have entered the public consciousness that simply don’t exist in reality but still have believers. The threshold for reality and fakery is very fine so hardly surprising that people can be deceived singly or as a unit population.

How much of such things seep over from reading the book into reality and believability is only something you can decide. Whether you believe it to be true depends on the silver-tongued or silver-penned or silver-digital writer who got you believing by accident or deliberation. It’s certainly a demonstration of how easily we can be persuaded by anything without questioning any absurdity. Pretty much like the ancients although I doubt if they ever thought that they were gullible. In fact, often the more absurd something is, the more some people are likely to believe it. No wonder such people end up in anything from cults to looking a little crazy to the rest of us. Then again, such things are also instilled in children with the believe in everything from the tooth fairy to the Easter rabbit. It’s almost like we’re preparing them for a population who lies and that they can join in as well.

If anything, it becomes rather scarily how many people are becoming or are unquestioning sponges, absorbing any belief that comes along that fits their view of the world. If writers can do it, then it’s certainly open territory from con men to politicians or charismatic people to persuade that illustrates how people can be manipulated and, even more oddly, can either forget or forgive much of it later providing no physical harm is done.

In many respects, there has to be something about the human mindset that can be manipulated this way and is as much fooled as we are by a conjuror’s sleigh-of-hand. It almost suggests that we want to be lied to but you have to ponder on why don’t more people learn from it. With stories, you can at least present a scenario and offer some solutions which some people might remember to apply in real life situations. In the UK, we’ve seen that with people doing correct Heimlich manoeuvre or resuscitation by CPR amongst others from what they’ve learnt from medical stories on TV and obliged to do correctly by UK law. A unique state as certainly other countries, especially the USA, have no such obligation and if people aren’t likely to learn what to do in an emergency with a tinge of risking being sued if they do it wrong. An odd state of affairs when you consider a lot of people don’t have formal first aid training but learn off of a TV series. It’s also a life-saver for some as well which is a shame it isn’t employed more across the world.

Of course, set off-world and/or in the future, you have to rely on recognisable mind and emotional mindsets so a suitable connection is made, mostly because there is little else to make a link to. Connecting is the important thing. It’s also the technique of the con man because unless you liked them you aren’t going to trust them. I commented to someone recently that many writers know how to kill people just that we never practice it. Then again, if other writers are like me, they bone up on a lot of subjects on a regular basis. It’s hardly surprising that the criminal mindset and tools of the trade are included as something that needs to understood by writers. With SF, there’s also a need to understand at least the basics of science and technology to present some implications correctly, although some prejudices creep in. Oddly, it’s with cyberpunk where the writers don’t understand computer science that probably creeped in the most. It also applies to different mindsets in between or you would think. Then again, we all have a touch of larceny in our soul that we can relate to. When it comes to writing, it is the technique of the con game.

It’s rather odd that although we tend to think we all have relatively different mindsets or at least we can categorise to, some of the basics are within us all. No doubt this helps our communication skills and its only when we come across people who are radically different that we realise not all people are like…us, for want of a better word.

Even so, it’s the level of lying in fiction by writers and the suspension of belief by readers that is a fascinating boundary shift. It’s almost like a level of play-acting to prepare for some eventualities, even if they never happen. Would you know what to do against an alien invasion or a robot rebellion other than run? You might if you read or watch SF. You might still run but you’d know what to do later. The manipulation isn’t exclusive. After all, writers also don’t lose their sense of belief when reading other fiction. If anything, although writers are in fact a small minority, it seems to be a common trait. At some level, we actually like and appreciate some forms of lies providing that it can be put down and not mess with our regular lives. It’s when it fringes on our reality that we find it odd, even within our genre. Something that’s only really come to light in recent generations.

You would think, as our reality ever increasingly moves towards being a true Science Fiction reality, that more people would embrace the fiction than anything made up. After all, SF explores possibilities and prepares for cultural shock to advanced technology and change although oddly, a lot more people are rather blasé about that now. Instead, SF seems to becoming more and more static because writers aren’t being encouraged to stretch themselves.

Mind you, my comment about the reduced number of SF books in recent years compared to SF films might be perceived as an effect of this as stories can’t keep up with the advances in science and technology. Likewise, a lot of people drive cars without knowing anything about what’s under the bonnet or how to fix basic things when they break down. This extends even more so to computer technology when so much of it is run by a little black chip that in earlier times would appear to work like magic.

We remember the myth far better than the truth. As taken from ‘Crooked Talk’ by Jonathon Green that I reviewed last month, the legend of highwayman Dick Turpin is known far better the truth as he had no horse called Black Bess, nor did a famous ride to York or was even chivalrous. Then again, the legend has been reinforced through books and television to the point that people don’t pay attention to the truth and this applies to all manner of folk heroes as we only want to see the good not bad side of them. It does make me wonder how that will affect the truth about modern people, especially when bad people get such PR jobs declaring they weren’t so bad after all.

In essence, writers really need to remind people of the truth and neither hide or change it just because it fits a particular time. If you don’t think that happens, look at the many ‘factually based’ American films that ignores this. If you went purely by them, you would think World War Two in Europe was principally between America and Germany when in truth the people over the pond came in late to help Great Britain and at a price. Something even we didn’t know until payment was complete in 2006, thankfully before our current recession.


There is only so far, a level of lying in writing can go and if you look at the spectrum where SF is certainly the most extreme, then stories based off real life have to adhere more closely to what actually happened. Manufacturing differently at that point serves no one. If nothing else, it affirms that even with fiction it still lies in the level of the famous bell curve and that’s no lie.


Thank you, take care, good night and let all your words be honest ones.

Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.org.uk


A Zen thought: Do liars know any truths?


Observation: Why didn’t the aliens in ’Close Encounters of The Third Kind’ tell the bureaucracy to wait on top of the Devil’s Tower and left waiting helplessly at the top until they’ve done their main task of collecting their chosen at the bottom? All equipment would be taken to the top by helicopters in case you’re wondering about the steep climb.


Observation: Does Oswald Cobblepot read books published by Penguin?


Observation: Have you noticed with recent modern set in modern day films and TV series you can work out the age of the film by the type of mobile phone they use. Makes you wonder where the mobile phones can go now the manufacturers use touchscreens.



Category: Culture

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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