Dear Sci-Fi: We Need to Talk – Part One

As promised, a special comment about the direction of sci-fi and how it might avoid some of the community-killing habits experienced by other groups of people in 2016. No one argues that science fiction is a genre, a medium of art, that is built upon imagination. However, it has become apparent to me, and perhaps to you as well, that our genre has been overrun by bad habits that will ultimately lead to its own demise.

No community is too big to fail. I’m sure you can think of some recent examples where grass-roots organizations have suffered crises of identity as core beliefs were challenged and then obliterated. Science fiction is also a community, and while it has repelled bad actors in the past, there is no doubt about their intent. Some men, as Alfred reminded us in Dark Knight, just want to watch the world burn.

Each of us have the capacity to become the white blood cells of our ecosystem. We can work together to identify threats, neutralize them, and keep the body healthy. It’s hoped that this Open Letter – a document that I frequently find distasteful – will foster some conversation and perhaps some self-awareness within the sci-fi community. If I am wrong, then count me the first to say that I am happy to be wrong, for this is a community that I both love and want to be a part of for the rest of my life. 

Yes, sci-fi has a problem and it isn’t a problem of racism or sexism. Outsiders have claimed such, but there is a deeper issue and – if we can solve it together – it can actually respond to those claims of sexism, racism or other -isms within our ranks. Here it is, in a small simple chunk:

At the outset of Geekquinox, I said that I wanted to talk about ‘geek as being, not geek as buying.’ That’s a really huge problem for our community. We don’t define ourselves by what we create and we haven’t for a very long time. If anything, we define ourselves by what we consume and that goes against everything I ever understood science fiction to be about.

I’m not sure when, where or how we lost our way, but we’re definitely not the geeks I grew up with. The guys were pale from hours spent in dark rooms, got high on solder fumes, made movies, wrote programs and wallowed in an orgy of creativity throughout their teens, twenties and thirties. I don’t see the next generation of those kids in online science fiction communities, I see angry nerds shouting their way into higher states of orthodoxy when it comes to deciding whether Star Wars is ‘true science fiction,’ or simply ‘space fantasy.’

Guys … com’on.* You’re better than this.

Science fiction is about the gray area between ‘what if’ and ‘Holy Cow!’ We unlocked the door with the key of imagination, as Mr. Serling once said. But once there, we seem to have faltered. We’re not discussing things and ideas, we’re talking about the Predator reboot getting a new actor and complaining about the quality of shows on the Syfy channel. Why aren’t we out there telling our own stories, making our own movies and championing our own projects?

As a community, we’ve walked away from that core principle of creation. At some Biff-Tannen-like skew in our timeline, we decided that we were no longer what we create, but we are what we consume. It’s disgusting. Since when was your taste in sci-fi the most interesting thing about you? Does it make you a better nerd to have an active opinion about the new Marvel movie coming out and no published short stories? We’re not forging new ground, we’re wine snobs actively debating grape varietals and harvest yields.

This is not us. We were born to make, not to take.

This frustration is what lies behind my decision to get off my butt and start writing sci-fi. The genre I know celebrates makers, shakers and doers – I could not in good conscience avoid attempting to put something back into the multiverse that has given me so much.

Sooner or later, history will allow us to look back on our time now with some candor and insight. Who do we want to be when we get there? How do we want to remember ourselves? How do we want the elder generation who entrusted this community and genre to us to feel? How do we want the younger generation to see us?

I have no doubt that future generations will mock the senseless consumer-driven narcissism of our current age. To paraphrase Edward R. Murrow, this genre can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends.

As I said earlier, it’s hoped that this Open Letter will foster some conversation and perhaps some self-awareness within the sci-fi community. If I am wrong, then count me the first to say that I am happy to be wrong, for this is a community that I both love and want to be a part of for the rest of my life. If not, then at least you cannot say you were not warned.

*  Yes, I’m talking to the guys. This seems to be an XY-related problem, AFAIK

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