Starships, time travel, robot lovers, and apocalyptic predictions. This one selection of topics is so diverse that it’s almost odd that we’ve grouped them all together under the umbrella of “Science Fiction.” The connective tissue is so broad and deep that it’s not surprising that our favorite genre attracts a wide assortment of audiences with an even wider range of interests. Looking for a story about artificial intelligence and emotion? Well we got that. Looking for a story with a wildly different opinion on the same thing? Well, we got that too. When a genre becomes that comprehensive, you have to expect some growing pains. And that’s exactly what’s been unfolding over the past couple of months at the epicenter of our genre: the Hugo Awards.
Buckle in. This one’s literally a sad puppy.
According to a complete article on the subject from Gawker, it all started when the 2014 Hugo Award Ceremony saw a selection of woman and nonwhite men win major prizes for their work as writers and creators. Great! The Hugo Awards are recognizing that the genre could only benefit from the influx of different perspectives. Except not everyone thought that. In particular was one Brad R. Torgersen, a well known scifi writer who complained at length that themes like racial prejudice, gender identity, and exploitation were getting in the way of the space battles, laser fights, and orc slaying. In other words: “they changed it, now it sucks.”
And normally, the world would have dismissed such complaints as trivial and backwards looking – except it didn’t. The blog post managed to tap into all of that reactionary energy left over from last year’s #Gamergate incident, and those folks launched a campaign to make sure that the 2015 Hugo Awards didn’t look anything like the 2014 Awards. While you’d think that Hugo Nominators need to be drawn from the cream of the crop – the most well-read of scifi lovers, that’s actually not the case at all. The reality is that all you have to do to nominate someone is fork over $40 bucks for a “supporting membership.” Consequently, the 2015 nominations include some of the most blatantly bigoted creators that anyone could ask for, with a special emphasis on John C. Wright. If you’re wondering who he is, Wright was the mind behind The Golden Age, Orphans of Chaos, and this rant about “Homosex Activists.” Yup, you read that correctly. So, if you’re wondering why these folks like him so much, that last post pretty much sums it up.
So when the genre that we all love was experiencing a gratifying expansion in depth, complexity, and relevance, the forces of regression rallied to stop the music and narrow scifi back down to its roots. But then again, laser battles and space operas can’t claim exclusive rights to those “roots.” As much as we all want to remember that Star Wars was about laser fights and light sabers, it was also about a coalition of different peoples and cultures bringing down a racist, xenophobic, and totalitarian empire. And sure, we might love to remember James T. Kirk as the cowboy captain who boldly went, but he also participated in the first interracial kiss on national television. It was groundbreaking for its time, and solidified Star Trek as a compelling vision for the future worth striving for.
So are these things truly mutually exclusive? If a show is about boldly going where no man has gone before, does that really mean that it has to conform itself exclusively to celestial phenomena? When you think about which episodes of Star Trek you remember the most, what comes to mind? Do you remember ones that focused on weird things happening in space, or the ones that delved into issues of humanity? Why can’t science fiction explore social tensions and alternative perspectives that are truly relevant to the viewers at home? Why can’t it talk about coming out as the opposite gender? Or being gay? Or facing prejudice every day? These factors aren’t going to go away or stop being relevant as we start to expand into the final frontier or because we invent some newfangled gadget.
When people complain that the genre shouldn’t address issues of diversity, or when companies backpedal in abject fear of a social media hissy fit, science fiction suffers. The writers that built this genre, writers like Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov, knew that real science fiction should explore the consequences of the future, not just the future itself. They knew that that exploration would require a closer examination of sexuality, hate, prejudice, and race. Those constructed divisions are simply too integral to our human condition.
That’s how these writers put science fiction on the map, and that’s why they won Hugos.
Rear Admiral Leonidas Touch
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