I don’t know about you but I love those ‘For Dummies’ books. They make so many complex topics accessible and they do it in a non-judgemental format. In fact, I remember buying the first book Dan Gookin wrote, “DOS for Dummies” and picking up other ‘For Dummies’ books as time went on. I know I’m not the only one who likes the ‘For Dummies’ books – they’ve got 2700 titles and they’ve sold 200 million books.
The one thing that got me thinking was the ‘A Reference for the Rest of Us’ tagline. I think this might be significant to the evolution of science fiction. As it stands, science fiction is rigidly stratified, filled with class warfare and there are many cringe-worthy examples of ‘teachable moments’ on all sides. I’m not here to point at the problem, I’m here to talk about a solution. Here goes:
What if we could treat science fiction in the same non-judgemental way that the For Dummies series treats difficult subjects? Some people already make scifi more accessible and the tide is, indeed, turning back toward thoughtful and concept-driven SF again. I’m very excited about that, but we can do more.
I had a Twitter conversation that included one comment that helped drive this thought forward:
@InkICan Sci fi is not my usual genre!
— Lynn I (@lynnskyi) November 8, 2016
For @lynnskyi and many other readers, sci-fi isn’t their genre. They like history, mystery, thrillers, and romance, but not sci-fi. What if we told stories that incorporated what they love about those other genres into our work? Ursula Le Guin does it … what if more writers did? What if one of us wrote the sci-fi version of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – an accessible, emotional and character-driven story that anyone would love, even if they didn’t like sci-fi?
Now look, I’m just one writer doing my thing in the corner of my house, but it seems arbitrary for any of us to act like we’re the gatekeepers of sci-fi success. Anyone can make sci-fi and anyone can love sci-fi. A step in that direction is to start making science fiction for the rest of us.
Here’s a potential to-do list for sci-fi creators:
- Agree that sci-fi belongs to everyone
- Act to remove arbitrary roadblocks to the progress of sci-fi (AKA “No Gatekeepers” Rule)
- Commit to loving tropes enough not to hang your story upon them
- Promise to discuss the deep topics of science, technology and humanity without sounding preachy
- Create characters that are as well-developed and well-acted as any other great story
No big ideas but like Voltron, they’re amazing when all the parts come together. The gestalt of sci-fi for the rest of us could be tremendous. Imagine creating science fiction that captures new readers or viewers the way Stranger Things or Star Wars has. Every single one of us should be like the Oprah of sci-fi: “You get a sci-fi! You get a sci-fi! Everybody gets a sci-fi!”
What do you think? Could this be a part of a future worth fighting for?