Setting and Escape
I'm very influenced by setting in my reading. I don't mean landscape only--though a good, weird landscape can draw me in--but all the aspects of an interesting cultural and social backdrop. I certainly enjoy good (as in well-rounded, believable) characters, an interesting plot, and depth of thought, but if I happen to find the setting intriguing, much else can be forgiven. That's probably a large part of my draw to speculative works--give me a secondary world that isn't cookie-cutter, pseudo-medieval; give me a far future colonized planet with intriguing societal structures; give me a post-apocalyptic story with believable repercussions (or just a narrator who begins his story, "On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig...").
Even in mimetic fiction, I'm much more likely to want to read something set in a culture or subculture that I'm not familiar with, or at least that I didn't grow up with. Whether it's set in Argentina, South Africa, India, Afghanistan, or China or whether it takes place among a subculture within North America, something that is by choice or force or location isolated from the mainstream--those are the stories I tend to enjoy. What I have very little interest in is stories about middle-class, white Americans dealing with the ennui of suburbia.
This preference opens me up to accusations of escapism. Is reading something like this merely a way to stick my head in the sand and ignore the world around me? I don't believe so, and I have three possible responses to that over the next few days. They aren't mutually exclusive, though there's one that I probably best reflects how I go about reading. Stay tuned!