Less Anger, More Jim Henson


Coming out of a serious writing jag, I’m thinking about Worldcon, that happened over the weekend in San Jose. Like many other purveyors of the art, I’m sometimes confused and puzzled about how people interpet what science fiction is supposed to be. Is it necessary to turn sci-fi into a competition, an argument, or a conflict? I did a bit of thinking, and it occurred to me that we need less anger, and more Jim Henson.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but don’t ignore the point: It isn’t just about where we’re going, it’s about who we’re going to be when we get there. I read that one time, and it’s always stuck with me. There’s no point in creating new things if the only purpose they serve is to be weaponized against innocent people.

Most geeks understand that. The best example I can think of is our old friend, Jim Henson. He was more than just the Muppets, of course. Jim created an enduring legacy of love, peace, and joy that he expressed through art and relationships.

There’s an article reprinted from Life that explains it like this: ‘Jim Henson can be credited with many accomplishments: he had the most profound influence on children of any entertainer of his time; he adapted the ancient art of puppetry to the most modern of mediums, television, transforming both; he created a TV show that was one of the most popular on earth. But Henson’s greatest achievement was broader than any of these. Through his work, he helped sustain the qualities of fancifulness, warmth and consideration that have been so threatened by our coarse, cynical age.’

Jim Henson had flaws but he was also a tolerant, patient man. That’s not to say that he tolerated everything. Many people conflate the two, and that is yet another byproduct of our toxic age.  “Underneath the zaniness, there was a kind of decency that the characters had about the world and to each other, and I think that was one of the legacy’s that Jim left,” Jerry Juhl, Head Writer for the Muppets said. “At the core there was always this kind of sense of social values and decency.”

Beyond that, through the Muppets Jim Henson showed a sense of ‘wonder, delight, [and] optimism.’ That’s sadly missing from the 2018 sci-fi landscape. Social values and deceny are being challenged. The loudest guy and the biggest sign seem to be winning.

We have the opportunity, though, to be the change we wish to see in the world. We don’t need to shout louder than the other guy. We just need to be. We can communicate our priorities by what we do, and the choices we make. None of these things are revolutionary in themselves. We’ll find, as Henson did, that we already know what the right thing to do is, we just need to do it.

Jim Henson did that. In so doing, he destroyed his foes, not by defeating them, but by befriending them. That wasn’t really original, it came right out of the Abraham Lincoln quote: ‘Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?’

So, although it seems like dark times, there are opportunities for light. Jim Henson showed us the way. Let’s find the next Jim Henson, or be the next Jim Henson, so that we can light the way for the next generation, too.

New Wallpaper – “Gantry 17”

Created a new wallpaper – “Gantry 17” – based on some stories that pop into my head whenever I see random, everyday images. Would working in space get boring, like every other job? What would a normal day look like? Those thoughts inspired me to fire up Photoshop and get to imaginatin’ …

Finished this last night and wanted to share it out immediately. I make free scifi wallpapers to share – helps keep me fresh as I write Mesh. The original is 1920×1080 for your wallpapery goodness! Hope you like it. 🙂

Am I a Toxic Fan? 10 Questions to Ask

More news about James Gunn’s departure from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 this week. No matter where you fall on that subject, there’s no escaping the news stories abouttoxic fans.’

Do toxic fans exist? Of course they do. In fact, I’ve been talking about them for a while now. Two questions are missing from all of these articles though:

  1. Would someone know if they were a toxic fan?
  2. What are you supposed to do about it, if you are?

Just like an alcoholic who may not know they have a drinking problem, some toxic fans may not realize the damage they are doing to themselves or other people. To help fans that may not know which side of the fence they fall on, I compiled several different lists together to come up with some common behaviors of toxic fans. See if you can answer ‘yes’ to any of these behaviors: Continue reading

Gene Roddenberry’s Sci-fi Solution to Racism

Let’s talk for a moment about Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi solution to racism. I know I’ve talked about Roddenberry before, but the guy is a personal hero and current events make it necessary to speak out again.

The NYT is talking about the worrisome trend of ‘racist science fiction.’ Being a person who loves sci-fi, it bothers me to think that my beloved genre could be co-opted to divide people. At the same time, one can see how powerful an idea can be when persons perceive that it’s time has come.

But what if that idea is horrible? What if that mindset can lead to hate, murder, and genocide? That’s what frightens me, and I think it disturbed yesteryear sci-fi creators like Gene Roddenberry and Rod Serling as well. ‘Superman,’ ‘Star Trek,’ and ‘The Twilight Zone’ dealt with anti-facist, anti-racial themes in their time. Rather than taking the issue head on, which would have resulted in failure, they spoke directly to people they knew would listen: The kids.

That strategy has power. Star Trek imagined a future where the Cold War was over, and American racism had died out. Rod Serling mercilessly mocked authoritarian logic in ‘The Obsolete Man’: “This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one […] But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace.”

Superman himself was responsible for a significant victory. In addition to defeating Lex Luthor, Superman defeated the Klan where normal, law-abiding citizens could not. He didn’t just leap tall buildings in a single bound, he jumped over impossible hurdles in human perspective.

The point that science fiction taught us is simple, and powerful: We can live without racism. We can treat each other with respect and dignity. We can eliminate imaginary boundaries to fellowship and kindness. We can use the power of the mind, and spirit, to create a decent world.

I’m not sure what this means for me, personally. What I do know is that my sci-fi is about a future that just *is*. Even if I’ve said it before, I’m going to say it again. And as long as it needs to be said, I’ll keep saying it. Maybe one day, we can move onto topics of greater interest.

World Leaders Go Full Dystopia

Just read a creepy article – about a recent conversation with the nervous 1%. How will they survive the coming collapse of society? For people who project a bright vision of the future in public, it’s alarming to see world leaders go full dystopia in private. What do you do when money goes away? How do you maintain your family’s safety, or its quality of life?

These don’t seem to be idle questions. As you read through the discussion, you can see that wealthy people have no illusions about how the rest of us feel about them. They also have no illusions on the stability of society as a whole.

The sad part is, where you’d think this would lead some to introspection, and self-realization, they continue to rationalize sociopathic behavor:

They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

It’s a sad, depressing piece of news to contemplate, but not surprising. Plutocrats have been saying for a while that this massive imbalance of societal power will eventually result in disaster. However, where is the natural “hey, we have to stop the Titanic from sinking!” mentality? If you know society is going to explode, and you wield massive amounts of influence, why aren’t you doing something about it?

I already know the answer to that question, and maybe you do, too. It doesn’t change the fact that the rich and wealthy could do something, even if they chose not to because of the realities of wealth creation and social power dynamics. It’s also why I have no interest in writing dystopian fiction. We’re already living there.

The message is: Start preparing for the future, because they are.

Star Wars Fans: Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

I hate to say I told you so, but … there it is. Star Wars fans – a very small and vocal minority of them – are continuing to push us down a path of self-destruction.

According to this article, ‘The dark side of “Star Wars” fandom recently reared its head when Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who plays Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” was run off Instagram by misogynistic and racist messages from fans who didn’t like her character.’

That’s not the only example. Over the weekend, I found myself in the middle of some Reddit-shaming in /r/scifi. A poor kid, improving his writing skills, had the temerity to ask /r/scifi with help on some science fiction. It doesn’t get any more clear than that: we need help.

Other people have already attempted to put these toxic actors in their place, but the damage is done. Unless a strong community message comes forth, firmly advocating for the inclusion and tolerance we all claim to represent, I fear that the entire science fiction community is at risk.

As you can see in the Steven Colbert clip below, the world is already preparing itself to take out the trash. Angry, racist, and misogynistic speech was not supposed to be a part of science fiction, or geek, but it’s happening. If it doesn’t get better, we might all find ourselves banished to the Phantom Zone.

Colbert makes the joke playful, but it’s a joke with teeth. There isn’t an A-List celebrity out there that’s more into Lord of the Rings than Colbert. He knows geek, he is geek, and unless you like finding yourself called out every night on national TV, it’s time to take a step back. So, please.

Please.

If you happen to be a toxic actor, or if you know one, please take this opportunity. Please take this moment. Please stand up for science fiction. We aren’t supposed to be like this. We aren’t supposed to be known for this. Science fiction rallied together to save Star Trek, in the late 60s. Science fiction rallied to name the first Space Shuttle Enterprise. We have been, and can be, a powerful force for good.

I said it before – let me say it again: “Sooner or later, history will allow us to look back on our time now with some candor and insight. Who do we want to be when we get there? How do we want to remember ourselves? How do we want the elder generation who entrusted this community and genre to us to feel? How do we want the younger generation to see us?”

Please folks – take a step back. We’re better than this. It’s time to show it.

Docking Sequence – Scifi Wallpaper for May

Docking Sequence - Scifi Wallpaper for May

I’m very pleased with ‘Docking Sequence.’ This started out as a simple experiment with photomosaics and comic art and ended up being one of my new favorite wallpapers. With May drawing to a close, it makes me happy to end the month with a new chunk of scifi to share with you.

Creating new scifi all the time – even if it isn’t as cool as other artists’ work – is important to me. Along with finding my voice, I need to learn how to use it. Struggling, trying, learning – that’s all part of the trip. Putting your stuff out there into the world is a valuable skillset for any creator to learn.

Hope your summer is as good as you deserve it to be.

 

What’s Wrong With Every User Community Ever

Whoa – I did not expect that. On a side thread about keto dieting, I stumbled upon an answer to a question I’ve been asking ever since the late 90s. In three paragraphs, a justifiably-angry Redditor outlines what’s wrong with every user community ever.

This Sub Has Really Gone Downhill

This doesn’t just apply to people on /r/keto, or Reddit. Forum trolls are a thing no matter where you go. User communites are designed to support an interest, and the benefits of welcoming new members should be self-evident. Not so, in the day and age of trolling. As the Redditor brings out, working for the greater good seems to be in decline, and toxic behavior leaves many communities with a bad name, as people leave discouraged, and defeated.

But you already know this.

This isn’t another point-at-the-problem post. God knows you’ve seen a ton of those. The real question we should be answering is, how do you avoid this behavior? How do you pull back from this reality? Good user communities are good tribes, and good tribes come from good tribal leadership. Let me share this Ted talk on Tribal Leadership with you, and I hope you find it useful in your community-building activities.