When I read a book, I want to escape. That just might be the reason that my preferred genres are scifi and fantasy--with a touch of romance. So, when I read a book in which the author has done incredible world-building--one that knocks my socks off, it often includes details of the rituals of said world-- birth, coming of age, mating, and death. If they are odd, foreign, even freakish...they are captivating. But, most of all, the treatment of death.
It waits for us all... and many of us avoid the subject--uncomfortable with the morbidity involved. Perhaps it is because of the deep emotions surrounding it--fear, sorrow, even doubt... Still, when I read a book, if the author has woven in a death, it brings the story to life--smacks me with emotions that grab me and shake me. And if it wasn't handled with brevity, but instead with the rituals of a culture, foreign or alien, it becomes fascinating.
Here, in the real world, everyone and everything dies. And in a book, unless a protagonist is immortal, everyone and everything dies too. It is an inescapable part of how things work.
My first lesson in the power of a fictional character's death--in a book, was Matthew in, Anne of Green Gables. It may as well have been a real person quite dear to me who died in that meadow. And for years, I read fictional characters' deaths. In time, it became a sort of measuring stick for me--the impact of those deaths. I didn't know how to explain, or the writing terms for it, but it was obvious: if I didn't care about the death, the author had done a poor job of writing the book.
Years of thoughts followed, about life, about humans, about death and about how that translated into the stories we write, the stories we read, the stories we love...and the other ones...the ones that don't pass muster... It doesn't matter on what world--or in what place in time a character lives, even if the mode of death is strange, the rituals surrounding what is done with the body, and the god question--what happens to a soul if there even is such a belief, are all secondary to this: the emotions.
That's it in a nutshell. All else can be foreign. They can have three heads, be unisex, and eat helium for breakfast, but if we love them...if the author has done it well, then our hearts break when they die. And when they lose a loved one, we feel their pain, their loss, their sense that the world (no matter what world and where it is) can never be right again. And that is because emotions are a universal language. And we all understand the emotions surrounding a ritual such as death; we can relate.
Everytime I read a scifi/fantasy book,I hope the author has been creative with bizarre details, with ritual design, with creating life that barely resembles something here...but is full of oh-so-relatable emotion.