In my enthusiasm for M. John Harrison's SF novel Light I did a bit of sniffing around the Internets, and stumbled across a review of it that I've been a bit fixated on over the last few days. (It's here if you want it.) I think it fascinates me because its logic and tone are such that it's uncannily like the review I might have written of Light 10-15 years ago, had the novel (and perhaps blogs) existed. The article got me thinking about how my view of fiction has changed.
Once upon a time I resented any and all fiction that wasn't
B: Comfort Food;
or C: Reassurance Fantasy.
As far as I was concerned an author's primary job was to sprinkle sugar on my thumb before I sucked it.
Phrases like "Two unlikable characters and one barely tolerable loser do not a compelling tale make" made perfect sense to me then.
I think what changed is that I slowly stopped turning to fiction and entertainment to fill my social needs. It seems a reoccurring problem for nerds like me; we want fictional characters and settings to meet, or help meet, our natural needs for human interaction and environmental stimulation. Once I got used to the fact that all my social needs should be met by humans, and all my needs for environmental stimulation should be met by my actual environment, I lost this desire to "hang out" with "likable"characters. Once one stops demanding that fictional characters be "likable," one is freer to engage the ways that fictional characters offer perspective on the human condition(s). Instead of looking for prefabricated Mary Sues a reader becomes open to understanding real people, to the extent that the author offers insight about real people.