personally, how does it affect the ways in which you discuss it with
others, especially with those who say, it’s just a story!
NOTHING is “just a story”. Or, rather, EVERYTHING is.
History is just somebody’s story. Usually there’s been some sort of battle – of wits, or of real blood and iron – and the story you’re reading is the version that the victors have promulgated. But it’s still just a story. The losers have their stories too. Sometimes it’s instructive to go looking for them.
And also, what happens when your understanding of a particular sf/f
world is drastically different to the understanding of others? (for
example, Harry Potter -- charming school stories with good, evil and magic?
or corrupting our young people? or perpetuating a sexist, racist, and
classist paradigm?) -- and does it matter when the book (story, whatever)
But whoever said that you or ANYBODY else are going to be reading the same book, ever, even when every word in it is identical between your two copies? I’ve had readers come up to me asking sincere questions about issues I swear I never deliberately introduced into my own books. I’ve also had readers, frustratingly, miss what I thought were perfectly obvious issues which I DID put in, but which had somehow, in the alchemy of story, become invisible to them.
Yes, in a way it matters when the book was written because accepted attitudes varied so much between locations and eras. The N*** word used by Mark Twain in the Huckleberry Finn books may be deeply offensive to the modern reader but at the time and the place that the book is set that word was THERE, and adulterating a book like that to pander to modern sensibilities removes a layer of verisimilitude from the book. I am particularly vexed when I read books set in Roman or similar times where characters spout thoroughly modern opinions because the author figured that might make them more sympathetic to the modern reader. There is a limit to how far you can take that and beyond that limit you are unravelling the fabric of your own world faster than you can weave it and no reader will be able to suspend enough disbelief to participate in it fully.
It is flat impossible to write for every possible interpretation of a given set of words – you would have to have the mind and the breadth of vision of a God to be able to understand everything about everybody, to know the contects of every single person’s duffle bag as they slog along the road of life. You write a story – and after it’s out of your hands it’s between the story and the readers. They may have issues with the story. While “issues” are often something that you can take on board and fix in your head and do better (or try to) in your next story – it’s also true that you could not posssibly have known about every issue from every reader. You owe the reader the best story that you could write. What they discover in it… is more often than not something that you never thought that you had said. As a writer, this is something that you have to live with.