Science fiction: A failing genre?
February 7, 2014 | 2:21 pm
Science fiction author and self-proclaimed geek fan Daniel Haight has made a post that calls into question the behavior of the sci-fi fan community – and the continuation of the genre. Entitled, “How Sci-Fi is Failing Fans (and How We Can Get it Back)”, the post states that: “ The science fiction of 2013 is not what I grew up with and I’m hoping we can turn that around in 2014. Science fiction is our mutual heritage of imagination and storytelling and it is threatened by some very destructive behaviors.”
And although Haight bemoans some ebbing support from the media for quality sci-fi, it’s the behavior within the community itself that he deplores. “Where science fiction was once an open area for discussion about technology, humanity and progress, it’s now become a strange circus of bad behavior,” he complains. “I see competition where I should see cooperation. I see misogyny, sexism and racism. I see trolls driving people away from participating in the universes of our imagination. I feel like a stranger in a strange land when I look at what science fiction has become.”
And almost needless to say, the bad behavior and bad outcomes he instances include molestation at fan conventions, the domination of sci-fi franchises by toys, the pressure of Hollywood that distorts or ruins same franchises (“The Last Airbender happened, people. It happened, and we let it happen.”), and the one-upmanship within fan communities (“every geek has a story about the Internet beatdown they they received when they first joined online community of their favorite show or movie”) – among others. Interestingly, he doesn’t mention the sexist rants by senior sci-fi citizens, but I assume this is more because he is interested in the behavior of the fan community than the authors themselves.
Haight does at least produce a list of what he believes are remedies that could not only restore the health of the fan community but also make it a better place for many people, especially women, to move in. “I’m proposing that we create that community of thoughtfully committed citizens,” Haight proposes, instancing Reddit as one possible platform. “We can start encouraging the good things we like about science fiction and speak up about what needs to change.”
May it be so. But I’ve a number of concerns about this whole balance of problems and solutions. For one thing, what kind of science fiction are we talking about? Does Hollywood fall over itself to create franchises based on Frederik Pohl novels, for instance? Is there big business in toys based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale? Or William Burroughs’s transgressive monsters? Are fan communities beating up on novices who fail to demo knowledge of every piece of trivia about J.G. Ballard’s oeuvre? Is cosplay adult behavior? Or collecting plastic toys designed for 8-year-olds?
I hope you get the point, which is a point about large chunks of sci-fi per se. There are always going to be problems around a genre that has a tendency to be more interested in things than people, especially Cool Stuff and Gosh-Wow Ideas. A regrettably huge slice of this genre is built on adolescent premises, promotes adolescent behavior, and markets products tailored to appeal to that. And are we surprised when that same adolescent behavior shows less pleasant aspects once out of the Lego Star Wars collectibles community? If you’re inhabiting that subsection of the genre, and want to stay there, you are going to have to pay that price. Or grow up and move on.