Undiscovered Countries

On Labor Day, I had the pleasure of watching SyFy’s Trekathon. In these times where it seems like all the news is bad news, the future, and worse, visions of the future, seem increasingly bleak, it was both nostalgic and exciting to revisit the inherent optimism that Gene Roddenberry infused in the original Star Trek franchise.

StarTrek6pic_origI grew up in Star Trek. My mother, being a mixed-race woman growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, found the vision of a world of Infinite Diversity and Infinite Combinations (IDIC) to be compelling and wonderful. I grew up going to Star Trek conventions with her wildly diverse group of friends whose main point of commonality was this optimistic vision of what could be, and there is still a fanzine out there somewhere in someone’s attic with my first poem titled, “I Love Spock.”

idic_keep_calm_by_sailmaster_seion-d6dv4rrI don’t remember what I wrote, and that’s probably for the best.

I do remember running through the halls of the Hunt Valley Marriot Hotel at Shoreleave (a Star Trek convention that I recently revisited after a decade had passed,) playing laser tag with kids and adults of all ages and backgrounds. I remember being horribly teased because my mother wrote me a note explaining that the reason I wasn’t in school for the Friday of that weekend was because I had a “family reunion” and my friend at the time (who I’d made the mistake of excitedly confiding in) told someone else, who told a teacher, so when I got back, even the teachers were making fun of me being “taken to my leader” and the like. (Some of this was good natured, and some of it was not…doesn’t matter, my mom is just awesome either way!) I still have most of my Tribbles (and Dribbles, the ones with the eyes) and I owned the two tape series, Power Klingon, though I never had the dedication to learn the language. I remember Pirate parties, and watching the first appearance of the Borg at my mom’s friend’s house in front of her giant screen TV, gasping in horror and shock when Picard declared, “I am Locutus of Borg.”

i_am_locutus_of_borg_by_trotsky17-d5fjy65In short, I was raised in a Geek’’s Paradise, and it’s made me who I am today. Thank whatever Gods are out there.

Yet now, when we look at visions of the future in popular media, it seems like the darker aspects of our nature dominate. Don’t get me wrong, I love these dark stories too. The remake of Judge Dredd had me on the edge of my seat, and I’m a huge fan of the ‘we’re all just trying to stay ahead of the gutter, but we don’t really win’ theme that permeates Firefly (the series). I love cyberpunk and Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. I think these stories are a reflection of the world we’re living in, where the line between good and evil seems increasingly blurred, and there are so many possibilities even in your Facebook feed that it’s difficult to latch onto anything and call it right.

It’s hard to imagine a United Federation of Planets when even having an effective United Nations seems difficult, and getting the U.S. Congress to do anything seems impossible.

As fiction writers, we’re supposed to be lying to tell the truth. But I wonder if, in the barrage of negativity we see in the world, the bombardment of Youtube videos of beheadings, school and police shootings, and the generalized glorification of violence that seems rampant in our media, we are reflecting the right stuff. Not that I’m advocating in any way the forced wholesomeness of censored media. I just wonder if by reflecting disproportionately the dark, depressing, and violent, are we in turn projecting a future of increasing darkness, depression and unnecessary violence?

such_different_tribbles_by_ayumi_lemura-d4fskiw

When Gene Roddenberry envisioned the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise, that vision did not reflect the world he lived in. The world he lived in had rampant sexism and racism throughout. The world he lived in considered the Russians and the Japanese to be the enemy, and Black people having equal rights to be a threat to the fabric of ‘normal’ society. He projected a better world (okay, one that still had its fair share of sexism and whitewashing but he was trying.) His future was optimistic, and people like my mother in that optimism found a future worth believing in. It’s what drew me towards science, writing science fiction and fantasy, and towards a deeply held understanding that the differences between us can be breached through open conversation and mutual respect. I think it helped foster in me a basic belief in the goodness of people (which often contrasts with reality, but I’ve found that by having faith in people’s better natures, they will often live up to them in spite of themselves.) It’s not 100%, and Star Trek has been forced on many occasions to examine and recreate itself when it has not lived up to its vision, but that vision has shaped our world and many, many people (like me) in it.

trek cast classic

When I think about writing, I do find myself sometimes falling into the trap of being reactive. In writing, especially in writing speculative fiction, we have the ability literally to shape worlds and reality, and it’s easy to reflect haphazardly instead of truly creating. And reflecting is great, when there’s something behind it. That said, I also think we have a profound opportunity, right now, because things seem so dark, to create through our fiction a world we want to live in. Not a perfect world, but maybe a possible future where the darker parts of our nature haven’t won yet. Where it’s not a given that we’ll all be living in a dystopian hellhole just because it sure looks like that’s where we’re going. (and I LOVE dystopian hellhole books and movies, I’m just sayin’…) Maybe we can write about a world where everyone, at every moment, isn’t entirely operating from pure self-interest. (GotG managed to pull this one off I think) Because compassion is a part of us too, and sometimes it even wins. The truth is, we are a mix of dark and light, optimism and pessimism, action and reaction.

So let’s lay in our course to the futures that we create, and let some of them even rest among the stars.

Naima

 

 

 

On women and science fiction

This post was adapted from a blog entry I wrote a few years ago when there was a big blow up in spec fic writing circles surrounding representation of women writers in science fiction:

When I first encountered the stereotype that SF was strictly a boys’ club, it was rather strange to me because it was my mother, not my father, who helped kindle my interest in SF. In fact, my father doesn’t particularly care for most SF. Throughout childhood and high school, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who didn’t tell me I shouldn’t like all those “boy” things I found interesting, like spaceships and splatter flicks. One exception was an adult who, upon seeing that I had brought a copy of Dune to read while babysitting her kids, said, “Why are you reading that? You should be reading my trashy romance novels instead.” I finished Dune while I was there and didn’t have another book with me, so I picked up one of her romance novels. After a few chapters of it’s-not-rape-if-there’s-no-penetration-and-it’s-actually-romantic-because-she-secretly-wants-her-hot-abductor ridiculousness*, I chucked it aside and started re-reading Dune.

Given my otherwise supportive environment growing up, it came as a bit of a surprise to me when, freshman year of college, one guy on my dorm floor refused to believe that I could truly be a hardcore Star Wars fan. Because I was a girl. He took to quizzing me on the films every time he passed me in the hall and emailing me whenever he thought of an obscure bit of Star Wars trivia he was oh-so-sure I wouldn’t be able to answer. I answered them all, quickly and correctly, but it got really annoying really fast. One night, a bunch of us were hanging out watching Return of the Jedi. Quiz dude was there, hammering home the fact that I was the only chick in the room by continuing his interrogation until one of the other guys burst out with, “Would you stop already, she knows her shit!” Sadly, it took admonishment from the alpha male in the room and nothing I said or did to finally convince quiz dude to give it a rest.

Another college incident: Spring 1998 semester, there was a class on women science fiction writers being offered. I very excitedly enrolled. This class was the first time I read Frankenstein. It introduced me to Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book, which became one of my all-time favorite novels. We read Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind, and my mind was sufficiently blown. Other books on the syllabus included Gaia’s Toys (Rebecca Ore), The Eye of the Heron (Ursula LeGuin), The Ship Who Sang (Anne McCaffrey), Speaking Dreams (Severna Park), and the professor’s book Frankenstein’s Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction. As if all that wasn’t awesome enough, if you got an A on your first paper, you had the option of writing a short story for your final paper. Gee, bet you can’t guess what I chose to do after getting an A on my first paper. Rather appropriately, the story I wrote for that class eventually became my first paid fiction sale.

Now for the part that marred an otherwise awesome class. We had to do group presentations at one point. I had the misfortune of being grouped with two girls who, when we met up to work on our presentation, spent the better part of the time cattily discussing the poor fashion choices of other women in the class and how some of them were fat and needed to drop some pounds and learn to wear makeup. The real kicker came when the one girl, while complaining that she didn’t like the books we were reading in class, proclaimed that women just can’t write science fiction. Being an aspiring SF writer with a vagina (not that this person would have known about the writer part), that of course pissed me off. But I didn’t want to get into a fight that might impact our project grade; I just wanted to be done and get out of there. So I kept my “Then why the !@#$ are you in this class?” reaction to myself. But I got my dig in later. During the fashion mock-fest, these two girls derided one woman for wearing sweatshirts with Disney characters, because it was childish and she needed to grow up or something. So for the day of our presentation, when they’d be stuck next to me in front of the class, I wore a Yoda t-shirt and a Tigger baseball cap.

Minor fashion victory aside, so many things about that incident bother me. I’m bothered by the castigation of those who are different in how they look or dress and the internalization of unhealthy ideas about body image. I’m bothered that a dislike of a mere seven books was not met with “I don’t care for this professor’s selections” but with a blanket declaration that women can’t write science fiction. That such a statement came from a woman suggests a scary amount of self-loathing. I’m also bothered that, in order for me to have been party to all of these comments, there appeared to have been an assumption that I was “safe” to launch into this tirade around. Perhaps because I was a thin girl who dressed in what they deemed to be socially acceptable fashion (at least until the presentation), I couldn’t possibly have anything in common with those overweight social misfits and would therefore agree that they were to be scorned, right?  Yeah, whatever. I’m just as sick of people being mocked for looking like your stereotypical SF geek as I am of having it assumed that I can’t possibly be a SF geek unless I’m wearing the proper uniform (the proper uniform apparently being plus-size clothing, shirts proclaiming one’s fandom affiliations, and/or a penis).

That lovely incident was 15 years ago, so I’d like to believe that we’ve made progress toward achieving gender equality in science fiction circles (and in general) since then. But I still see and experience plenty that tells me we’re not there yet, from contractors who enter my home and assume that the swords and SF toys must be my husband’s, to sexual harassment at cons. And it’d be a lot easier to make progress if we didn’t have to maneuver through all the poo that gets slung about when people debate these issues. Getting that stuff off your shoes? Kind of a pain in the ass.

Cheers,
Barb

*I realize that not all romance novels are like that, but this particular book was pretty damn appalling.