A Bright and Painful Future

Dear SF: The hate in the #HugoAwards hashtag is the bitter flailing of a species fighting extinction. Let them rage. We’ve got this future.

That future is gorgeous, painful, diverse, socially-conscious, challenging, revolutionary. Don’t let the hate win. You got this. #HugoAwards

Last night, the SF Twitter rather exploded. It wasn’t unexpected: the Hugo ceremony has been the cause of a lot of angry words on both sides. The #HugoAwards hashtag, however, was drawing the worst of the worst, chasing away a lot of the authors and fans who actually love and care about the genre.

So, I posted the above. Apparently GamerGate has run out of more amusing targets, so they spent a few hours coming after me. The usual mix of name-calling, toddler-level arguments, grievances against feminists because they’re getting in the way of a Nice Guy getting laid, and comparisons to Hitler/Stalin/etc (which is rich, given how happily the neo-Nazi group Stormfront attached itself to GG). The occasional attempt to fat-shame, a few threats, lots of railing about how SJWs are destroying the universe. (Props to those accusing ‘my ilk’ of repressing women and minorities on an evening when the first translated novel won, the publisher of WOMEN DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION WON, Julie Dillon won…oh, why am I even trying to ascribe logic?)

And one tweet, *one*, that stuck with me. Sadly, it’s either been deleted or Twitter is just having trouble retrieving tweets (I’ve had so many interactions OVERNIGHT on a SATURDAY NIGHT that Twitter’s like “Sorry, too lazy to go that far back. If anyone can find it, please let me know!). Anyways, it challenged my use of the word ‘painful’ and called that out as one of the issues with SF today.

Here’s the thing: yes, I believe SFF should be painful. If you look at the heritage of SF, it is groundbreaking. As far back as Voltaire and Kepler–leaving aside entirely the vast mythologies that are the true early SFF–SF has been asking the hard questions. Whether the frontier being challenged was space or the human mind, SF was formed by people who couldn’t stop poking the future. It offered an outlet for things that weren’t socially acceptable, and often led the way to those things being socially acceptable.

Sure, looking back at those works now, they’re regressive and often cringe-worthy. A lot of it is downright bad. And yet it has made an indelible mark on our future.

But guess what, change isn’t easy. It actually kind of sucks. Let’s use Tolkien’s mythos as an example: Bilbo and Frodo are safe, happy, wealthy, in a safe, happy place. By the end of the adventure, they’re wise–and exhausted. They’re utterly changed, down to the very fabric of their being, by the things they’ve been through. That change didn’t come from waving a magic wand. It came from losing friends, suffering through war, losing home and safety and finding the foundations of your worldview challenged.

Wisdom is painfully earned. It’s exhausting. You trade ‘strength’–optimism, hope, energy–for that wisdom. You can’t buy it, but to avoid it is to leave yourself at the mercy of a hard world.

I read Tolkien’s works when I was 13, and have read them many times since, and *that* is the lesson that has stuck with me, shored up by the works of Gemmell and Pratchett, who were my other founding voices.

Do I believe fiction should be painful? That our future should be painful? Yes. I believe that if we aren’t having growing pains, we aren’t growing. I believe that each of us should examine our privilege and safety and look for an area we need to grow. I believe that SF should continue to push every boundary forward, in space and mind and culture. I believe it can be a powerful force for good or evil, but that it is only a tool, and the real powers are the authors and fans and ordinary people who see problems in the world and step up to address those problems in word and deed.

I believe science fiction should be painful and bright and powerful, that it should take my breath away and give it back again. A good book should leave me with a hole in my heart or mend the one that is there. I believe science fiction should be funny, human, humble, playful, even silly sometimes. I believe there should be comfort food and 4 Michelin star fare, and everything in between.

But most of all, I believe that science fiction and fantasy should be the most human of genres, the most kind and challenging and painful and hopeful, because it is nothing less than our wildest dreams, put on the page.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a good standard to aspire to.

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