A lot of noise this week about ‘woke culture,’ and some of that spills over to the sci-fi community. Taking this opportunity to say that if you want to fight ‘woke culture’ in sci-fi you have to realize the truth: there is no such thing as ‘woke sci-fi.’ Scifi has been woke since forever. Put down the virtual torches and pitchforks, we shouldn’t be fighting woke culture in sci-fi. The only battle we should be fighting is the fight over who gets to sit in the middle seat at the next Marvel or Star Wars movie opening.
From it’s very beginning, sci-fi has championed the progress of humanity as a whole. Seats at the table for everyone. Address social issues in a non-confrontational way. Ever since Mary Shelley warned us of the dangers of Galvanism back in 1818, and Metropolis challenged our views on social classes in 1925, we’ve used scifi as a way to examine our motivations and reflect on our choices. Now in 2021, we’re returning to the time-honored tradition with some new voices in the room.
Calling things ‘woke’ seems to be both pejorative and political, and science fiction doesn’t have to be either of those things. In a polarized world where everyone that isn’t for you is against you, science fiction has refused to be a walled garden with no room for neighborly friendship. So let’s be clear: We don’t have to fight ‘woke culture’ in sci-fi: our culture has been ‘woke’ forever. Now it’s becoming woke for everyone. Continue reading if you’d like some tips on how to bridge the gap between your scifi garden and your neighbors.
We don’t have to fight ‘woke culture’ in sci-fi: our culture has been ‘woke’ forever.
Now it’s becoming woke for everyone.
Taking a page from this doctor’s breakdown on how they de-escalate an anti-vaxer patient, engage with a conflicting opinion by asking: ‘What are your concerns?’ and then listen. Ask them to remember that you own no stock in Disney or Universal, any scifi discussion comes from a place of love and respect for our genre. I say something like ‘my only interest is tell you the best scifi I can write.’ You may choose to say something like ‘every friend who tried movies I recommend has enjoyed them. I thought you might, too.’
Respond with Sensitivity
If someone attacks a movie, author, or other scifi stakeholder you care about, it’s tempting to strike back in defense of your friend. Remember that other people’s perspectives may include trauma you aren’t aware of. Think about how long it took for the public to acknowledge the harm of the Tulsa race massacre. Your scifi sibling may be dealing with some other painful baggage that they are working through and coming from a place of pain. Be sensitive in how you respond:
“I hate *author*” – I hear you, some people dig *author* and some don’t. Let me tell you what I enjoy, and then you can tell me what you enjoy about your favorite authors.
“*Scifi stakeholder* was a horrible person!” – I agree, they did some bad things and we need to hold their legacy accountable for the values and choices of their era. No one is suggesting we tolerate that kind of behavior today, but we can still appreciate the elements of their art that we enjoy.
“No one’s telling me I have to like *author*/*Movie*/*scifi stakeholder*!” – Of course not, your choices are your business. There are a lot of people who do like *author*/*Movie*/*scifi stakeholder* and they’re enjoying their moment with what they enjoy. You can still enjoy *author*/*Movie*/*scifi stakeholder* and hang out with other people who do, too.
As the Reddit post recommends, ‘Listen even more … Answer questions … Keep it light and approach them with humility. Read [scifi] history. it will make you more empathetic. Read about how people treated Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, or Black SF writers’ problems with getting published if you are really flummoxed as to where your scifi siblings are coming from.’
Welcome Your Scifi Siblings
Our entry into science fiction happened because we saw something fascinating and reached out for it. It was never about who we were; it was about what we liked. The rest of the community looked past our weirdness, our otherness, and said ‘hey, if you like this then you’re cool. Come on in to the party.’ Our scifi siblings love science fiction. There’s room in our garden for all of them!
You don’t have to take my word for any of this. Scifi has grown and evolved before, and it’s going to continue to grow and evolve. One of the most powerful scifi voices we lost in the past few years – Stan Lee – had this to say when it comes to inclusiveness:
“I love being with people, it’s the most incredible thing in the world, that world may change and evolve, but the one thing that will never change, we’re all part of one big family. …That man next to you, he’s your brother, that woman over there, she’s your sister, we’re all part of one universe that moves ever upward and onward to greater glory. In other words, Excelsior!”
Even Stan Lee isn’t a perfect person, but he had the perfect answer to a moment like this. We draw back in fear, or we can step forward in love. Myself, I’m not doing much stepping anywhere, but I know that every scifi fan all over the world is welcome in the world of Inkican. I hope that you are doing the same.
Fighting woke culture in scifi distracts us from our true mission of human progress. It’s a lost cause, and we have other things to do. For me personally, I’m still sending out queries for MESH and praying that it crosses the right desk at the right time to find it’s home. In the meantime, I keep lighting our lights. One day our scifi siblings will see us in the distance and come home. Now, more than ever, we need each other.