“I Like Science Fiction, It’s Got Like Giant Robots and Stuff, Right?” Science Fiction’s Self-Esteem Problem Part IV: To Boldly Go Where No Fan Has Gone Before

Over the last three weeks I have discussed the sources and causes of Science Fictions self-esteem problem. The genre’s inability to shed it’s pulp roots and ongoing pulpishness, the relative obscurity of SF to the book reading public and the enduring legacy of brainless Hollywood Science Fiction films have all contributed to the critical non-acceptance of our beloved SF. But as I briefly mentioned last week, all hope is not lost. Science Fiction is slowly gaining ground in both the public’s and the literati’s awareness.

Most of this is owing to the rapid growth of all things genre. Science Fiction conventions are proliferating like triffids, drawing many tens of thousands a year in the United States alone. The massive success of Comic Con is a testament to the widening spread of SF and SF related geekiness. The Avengers made 700 million dollars in the domestic US market alone. Science Fiction is now more popular than it has ever been and it shows no signs of slowing down.

This does not mean that we should rest, but rather we must man the barricades more than ever before. The only way the Science Fiction will ever be taken seriously is by the continuing efforts of fans, writers and film-makers; but most particularly the fans. We are the ones that buy the tee-shirts. We also breed. Geeks tend to raise geeks so for every generation there is an increase in the audience available to Science Fiction. Yet, more important than sheer marketing demographics is where we geeks are ending up.

Universities, film studios, news-papers, and even the cubical farm. Each and every one of us has the opportunity to not just create Science Fiction, but to drive the awareness of it. An entire generation of genre fans now teach literature at universities and many of them now have the opportunity to teach what they love best. Film studios, sensing the profit-making opportunities are producing ever more SF related films (although most of them are not really all that good as films or art). Writers, bloggers and reporters all have opportunities to provide unique and interesting perspectives on SF and genre related materials. Which cubical farmer with a cthulhu coffee mug hasn’t waxed eloquent about Science Fiction to the unwary office mate who asks “What’s with the squid?”

This kind of evangelization is important in the growth of any culture. But it is not just simple conversion by cthulhu coffee mug that will gain SF it’s laurels. More better work needs to be produced and promoted. Modern science has provided us with two tools so well suited to this task that it is no wonder that the surge in popularity of genre has coincided with the rise of the internet.

Much ink (and many pixels) have been spilled over the idea of the democratization of mass-media allowed by the personal computer and the internet. And it’s all true. A vast new marketing, production, distribution model has been created and it is not a coincidence that the SF community has grabbed hold of the rocket even before ignition.

The wider the base of Science Fiction, the wider the audience and the wider the creating segment, the more chance that not only will SF get noticed by society at large, but that it will create better and more works of art. This is important. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it has artistic merit. SF and genre fans have the means, motive and opportunity to vault SF into respectability.

But we have to do our part. Going to conventions isn’t enough, nor is buying the tee-shirt. We have to create, and more importantly, promote the best genre has to offer. Social media is already beginning to show how works of artistic and literary merit can be propelled into the zeitgeist. Smart, well written and filmed media needs to be supported. A decade ago, I would have laughed at the person that told me Martin’s A Game of Thrones would be on television, let alone drawing four million viewers many of whom haven’t read the book (or any genre book for that matter).

The best of SF needs to be celebrated. For every Star Trek book two Anathems need to be purchased. For every The Dark Knight Rises, two Gattacas. In this way Science Fiction will one day shed its self-esteem problem and at last take its place in the halls of literature and fine art. But we, the fans, the geeks, the nerds need to spread the word, vote with our dollars and preach to the uninitiated. Tirelessly.

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