After having finished “Six of Crows”, I would encourage anyone to consider the potential for SF to help us all drop our lazy assumptions about Realism, mimesis, and how any writing made up of words upon a page ever really relates to or captures some discernible, locatable "real world." As someone who prefers poetry over novels (Yep. I know I'm built that way), I turn to SF (science-fiction, weird fiction, fantasy) for the same sort of liberation from the tyrannous fantasy of the Real. Forget the mirror; look to the Lamp. Every piece of fiction is just that, fiction, and for those who read attentively and with appreciation of the power of the imagination. Dickens's London in “Bleak House” and Eliot's “Middlemarch” are just as artificial and speculative and weird as Carroll's “Looking Glass” world or Stoker's “Transylvania” or Barrie's “Neverland” or Mirrlees “Lud-in-the-Mist” or Jack Vance's “Dying Earth” or Peake's “Gormenghast” or China Mieville's “New Crobuzon”. All of these fantastic places are projections of the imagination. All of them hold prime value in the way they transport us away from our easy assumptions about what is real and then return us, much changed.
In his Lectures on Literature, Nabokov is quite good at pointing out the need to redraw our maps and drop our assumptions. The gist of what he says is that every time we open a novel we are visiting a new potential world, very different from our own ideas about our own world, and we will be sorely misguided unless we redraw our maps and learn to see difference everywhere.
Finally, I must admit that I am drawn to SF for its decadent, art-for-art's sake aspects. Because I was taught Victorian poetry at the British Council, it reminds of me of Swinburne's urgent lesson. It matters not whether the art deals with Past or Present or Future or something apparently unknown. Instead, what matters is the excellence of the writing, the breadth of the imagination.
Love and the idea of love aren't so different. Like cheese on the farm and processed cheese, those who've experienced one and not the other have no way of knowing the difference. Yet the distance between the word and the thing is infinite. Either suffices because like everything else in this world, we have what we have and we only know what we lack (beyond flesh's necessities) because others tell us so. With proper programming, at least a spouse-bot won't remind us of what we lack. If I want to read "romancy SF", I’ll choose it myself. I don’t want to read a romance novel disguised as SF.
At the end of “Six of Crows”, I felt the Real was not kept at bay because the Lamp was broken.
SF = Speculative Fiction.