Facts of Fiction

recent letter in The Oregonian compares a politician’s claim to tell “alternative facts” to the inventions of science fiction. The comparison won’t work.  We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real – all invented, imagined —  and we call it fiction because it isn’t fact. We may call some of it “alternative history” or “an alternate universe,” but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are “alternative facts.”

Facts aren’t all that easy to come by. Honest scientists and journalists, among others, spend a lot of time trying to make sure of them.  The test of a fact is that it simply is so – it has no “alternative.”  The sun rises in the east.  To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or “alternative fact”) is a lie.

A lie is a non-fact deliberately told as fact.  Lies are told in order to reassure oneself, or to fool, or scare, or manipulate others. Santa Claus is a fiction.  He’s harmless. Lies are seldom completely harmless, and often very dangerous.  In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Northwest Portland

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