This is a question I struggle with from time to time. As I engage with people on Reddit, sometimes I get a fast course in what what people think a scifi fan is made of. That being said, I balance those viewpoints with other people’s points and pretty soon I’m right back to where I started. If you’re a lit major, you call that exercise going around Robin Hood’s barn. The question remains: who really loves science fiction?
I maintain that science fiction is a genre, an ecosystem, and a community all in one. Everyone has their own take on science fiction: scifi is about space fantasy, scifi is about comic books, scifi is cyberpunk, scifi is about alien races. You’ve got video games nerds, movie geeks, cosplay kids. There’s an entire universe to play in. It’s vibrant, it’s full of passion, and fans are fiercely loyal to what they think scifi actually is. So whatever I say in this essay, I also know that there will be a dozen people lined up to explain why I’m wrong. That’s okay. What I want to get down to is this idea of who really loves science fiction, not just what it is.
For me, I think there are some famous names that really love science fiction best of all. People like George Lucas, Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, William Gibson, Mary Shelley, David Brin, and Allen Steele. Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne. John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman, Charles Gannon, and Margaret Atwood. Those folks, human and imperfect with all their frailties, love science fiction. How do I know? Easy:
They make scifi.
That, to me, was always the acid test of whether you love something or not. Do you love it enough to make it? Everyone loves food, but the people who love it best are chefs, bakers, and artists. Everyone loves music, but the people who love it best are the violinists, the guitarists, the singers, and the piano players. Everyone loves movies, but the ones who love it best are filmmakers, directors, cinematographers, gaffers, best boys, and focus pullers. They love their art enough to make it.
But not everyone is a maker. There are other people who really love science fiction, too. Know who they are? The nurturers. They don’t create scifi by themselves, but they nurture those who do. Want examples?
They’re the people who find a new artists, and tells their friend about it. They’re the persons who buys a new short story, take chances on a new author. They’re the people who speak up when others are being negative. They’re the community who refuses to be a toxic fan, or to let toxic fans cancel great actors. They know what it means to be a part of a community, and they engage in positive community behaviors.
Those two groups of people are the ones who truly love science fiction as a genre, an ecosystem, and a community. Not everyone can say that. Too often, people conflate supporting scifi with going to a large tent-pole blockbuster like The Avengers or Star Wars. Those are good, but loving them doesn’t make you love scifi. Other times, people confuse arguing about sci-fi related topics with loving science fiction and that’s never made much sense.
Criticizing without construction doesn’t make you care. That just makes you a snob. That makes you a snooty, creepy, elitist. The sci-fi version of a bluenose with all of the pretension and none of the irony.
Don’t be that guy. He doesn’t love science fiction, he loves being the center of attention. He’s the guy nobody talks to at parties because he hides his insecurities behind a wall of fake disdain. Not only does it not work, it brings everyone else down. He makes it that much harder to try new things. He says things like ‘Hollywood is out of ideas,’ and then sprays criticism all over new authors and projects like atomic-strength weedkiller. This guy, and you know who you are, does not love science fiction.
It took me a long time to see myself in that mirror, and longer still to walk away from that image. I started to love science fiction all over again when I started writing, and I loved it even more when I supported other new authors and projects.
That process taught me a lot. Stand-up comics will tell you that their art form is only truly perfected when it’s performed in front of a crowd. That’s why a lot of comedians are backing away from Zoom sets, in case you were wondering. Comics ply their art, which is a mixture of oratory and absurdity, and their canvas is a room of people. They’ll talk, listen, react, and relate to the crowd until they become the comic’s own instrument. Done correctly, it’s like listening to Miles Davis’ trumpet in Live at Carnegie Hall.
I told you all that, to tell you this: writers can’t just write if they want to write well. They need to put their stuff out there in the universe, hear what the universe has to say, and then try again. The sad part is, a comic can have a bad night and forget about it the next day. Writers have a bad night, and a bad story can outlive them. Either way, we’re producing something to hear the echo of feedback from anyone who experiences our art.
So to you, fellow scifi lover – hear my plea: Maker? Nurturer? You’re totally welcome here. You have a part to play, in being both my instrument and my feedback chamber. Let’s love science fiction together.