Sometimes, talking about “issues” in the context of speculative fiction can be a way to make them non-issues. For instance, one could create a society in which being gay is completely accepted. Doing this allows you to, in a way, take a stand on gay rights (“This is how it should be: observe as this society manages to not completely collapse just because they accept gay people!”) while also not having to have your entire story be about that issue. (Side note: but, see my conversation with Robin Talley at gayya.org)
But sometimes, introducing an issue to a fantasy world can raise even more potential issues.
For example, a lot of fantasy worlds have deities that are very real, with societies that actually live in a world of mythology — the gods walk the earth, have a hand in the lives of mortals, etc. Does that mean we’re taking a stand on theism?
Well no, probably not. Maybe we’re using it as an analogy, or using it as a rhetorical device to say something against theism (it depends on the rest of the story, of course) — or maybe we’re just trying to tell a good story.
But here’s another one I came across: I’m working within a fantasy mythology that mostly assumes the existence of a “soul”, as many fantasy worlds do (using it more for conventions and mythological purposes than to state any personal belief on the “nature of the soul”). And then I have a character who has an abortion.
If souls do exist — when does a child get one? And suddenly I’m knee-deep in one of the most fundamental issues in the abortion debate, all because in my fantasy world, I establish certain mythological truths like the existence of a soul, which in the real world are up for debate.
Ultimately, I can still deal with the issue — people may know of the existence of a soul not not know when a child gets one (thus resulting in a debate very much like the real-world one). I could take a stand and say that, for instance, it doesn’t happen until birth. I could also just avoid that particular side of the issue — the character doesn’t ask the soul question at all. I can just leave it ambiguous.
And frankly, that ambiguity appeals to me. I’d like to have people think about the issue, and I might present my argument, but I don’t think I’m often one to say, “In this world, babies don’t have souls until they’re born, and that’s that!” That’s boring to me. That avoids the issue. I like asking questions, and making people think, not providing an answer that may or may not have any relation to the real world. For the same reason, in my fantasy world, the existence of gods, too, is ambiguous. Do they exist? If so, are they really all-powerful, or perhaps just relatively powerful angels or demons?
The mythology is more interesting to me than the truth. The questions are more interesting than the answers.