Quick, want to nerd out about something? Forget dissecting another ‘who would win, the Enterprise or a Star Destroyer‘ argument. Instead, let’s talk scifi craftsmanship and maturity models. Would you believe that it’s possible to grow scifi as a genre and community? Would you like to be a part of that process? We can do both right now, applying craftsmanship to scifi through the use of a ‘maturity model.’
‘Whoa, whoa … back up,’ you say. ‘Improve scifi? Why would I want to do that?’ These are the assumptions I’m working under, so please feel free to keep me honest. If you’re here on Inkican, I’m assuming that you’re a fellow geeky person, correct? Science fiction isn’t just a thing to us, it’s a lifestyle.
Why You Should Care
Craftspeople and makers have been doing this for centuries. Not only do they think about *what* they make, they think about *how* they make it. That craftsmanship Like any other art form, scifi is important to us. If it follows that we want to live lives of purpose and values, we should want to make science fiction better, correct? Passively or actively, scifi has ‘gotten better’ since the 1930s. We improve what we value, and science fiction is valuable to all of us. I’m suggesting we continue that path, and apply some ‘best practices’ of improvement.
Modern practices for improving the craft of your work involve something called ‘maturity models.’ As this web page explains, ‘when you’re building any kind of system, you need ways to understand how well you’re doing.’ Most people stop when they hit a number goal like money or audience size, but those metrics aren’t useful when it comes to answering the most important question any business or large corporate movie franchise (You know who you are, folks …) should be asking itself: Do we suck, and if so how do we get better?
Let’s face it, if you aren’t asking this question yourself, your audience will answer it for you and invariably, they aren’t kind. Nothing brings our modern outrage culture like dragging a powerful person or organization. In fact, science fiction pioneered this concept with how they handled Episodes 1-3 of Star Wars. Unless you want your favorite franchise to pull a Jar-Jar, you want to help it get better. That’s where something like a maturity model comes in. It shows that you’re looking to make yourself better, even if you don’t understand how, where, and when to do so.
Through Another Lens
I ran across this Reddit comment that encapsulates how science fiction could apply a maturity model to itself. Check out this statement as it relates to education, and then apply it back to science fiction:
The lesson you have to learn first in your PhD is that smart doesn’t matter.
In high school and undergrad, it’s easy to be a big fish in a little pond. But in a PhD program, everybody is smart. Everybody there has been selected because they were all superstars, just like you.
So you cannot stick to your old definition of success as being better than others. All that will do is undercut your happiness and mental health. Many graduate programs don’t even include grades (mine didn’t!) for this very reason. By definition, it’s likely about half of you are going to be below the class average. But that DOESN’T MATTER.
The point of getting a PhD is to move beyond ‘smart’ as the ability to write good papers and take good tests – to move beyond consuming knowledge and into producing it. This is an incredibly hard adjustment. And it’s one where ‘smart’ means basically nothing compared to being determined, attentive, open-minded, and good at working with others. The ‘dumbest’ person in any PhD program is MORE than smart enough to have a world-class scientific career with traits like that.
So you can’t come at this focused on where you rank compared to your peers. You need to think only about your own progress – what you’re learning, how prepared you are as a researcher.
I know it’s tough. I think it’s usually good for people to take a couple years off between undergrad and grad for this reason – because you are NOT in the same kind of school you’re used to.
Grades aren’t the point anymore; they’re just a tickbox to satisfy while you get on with the stuff that matters.
How This Involves Scifi
Never having received a PhD, I originally read the comment because I was curious about that journey. But the more times I re-read this statement, I realized that they were talking about an overall maturity model of education. You can’t stick to old definitions of success. You can’t just consume knowledge. Think about how that maturity model relates to science fiction.
Twenty years ago (God, I feel old), Episode 1 of Star Wars taught us that being big and successful does not necessarily matter. Box office returns, our old definition of success, no longer relevant. Good scifi, what we all knew science fiction was capable of? That died on the vine of weak box office returns and poor DVD sales. Hollywood knew they could drown us out, and THEY DID. Our passion, our voices, our relentless pursuit of perfection? All of that has been turned back against us with devastatingly dystopian results.
The Threat is Real
We aren’t the only genre this has happened to. As I detail in this blog post, the Romance Writers of America experienced an implosion out of their own ‘systemic bigotry.’ Some internal RWA members have given up on improving the organization and are simply waiting for it to collapse so that something else can take its place.
Look, at the end of the day I’m just one person. I can’t change the world, and I’m not trying to. It’s still important to me that science fiction continue as an authentic, inclusive genre and community for other kids like me who need a place to go, to be, and to grow. I’m going to wrap up here, listen to what you have to say, and then write some additional thoughts in a Part Two.
Meantime, I’ve got a novel to write. Click Here to Read Part Two