Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Politics in Speculative Fiction

Over at SF Signal, a blog I think every fan of speculative fiction should read, they have an interesting round table on politics in science fiction. The question is:

Q: How should SF writers respond to the politics of their time, if at all?

The various authors responded in various ways, as one would expect. The industry is such that if you ask five writers one question you’ll get seven answers; it’s just the way we roll. However, the question led me to consider how I have dealt with politics in my work in the past, and how I intend to deal with it in the future.

Many of you might know that I have a history of political activism. I was involved with Free Radio Santa Cruz in the late nineties and did labor organizing, helped feed the homeless, and helped organize and run an infoshop, which is a combination library and event/organizing center for activists. Politics have been an ongoing issue for me…growing up poor, several years of homelessness, and generally being a weirdo have led to an acute awareness of how American culture, with its mythology of freedom and individuality, often acts to persecute and punish people for using their freedoms and acting as individuals.

However, in my fiction and poetry, I have always placed emphasis on the experiences of individuals and small groups. When politics and power dynamics are explored, it happens in extremely situated ways that do little to point out any specific, larger political or historical issues. The reasons for this tendency has varied throughout my writing life. When I was younger it was because I hated the way my fellow activists would use poetry and fiction (especially poetry) as an excuse to rant about politics and spew catchphrases. I feel that the art of poetry and prose shouldn’t be whored out to politics and movements; it ceases to be art and becomes propaganda.

As I got older, I also began to feel that the locus of political discussions, which always end up being about politicians, national policies, and ideological movements, is missing the point. People don’t live their lives on a national or international level, or over decades of historical and sociopolitical trends. They live one a day to day basis in small communities of affinity and care. I came to believe that the “big picture” is a symptom, but our true illness lives in our day-to-day lives…how we treat our families, spouses, parents, best friends, and neighbors. When I want to address peace I don’t want to talk about war, because war is too big, it’s too many people doing too many things. The “big picture” obscures the moments, the little bits of narcissism, greed, cruelty, and pain that, when added up, equal the wars and political issues. I don’t want to write about nations, I want to write about people, because people are what really exist; nations are a fantasy.

So when some poetry-slam-happy-hippie spends fifteen minutes “performing” their most recent poem about how awful capitalism is, it makes me want to retch…not because I am a big fan of capitalism (I’m not…taken to its logical conclusion it glorifies and rewards the worst behaviors humanity is capable of; the biggest winner is the biggest sociopath), but because talking about capitalism as a whole, whether in favor or against, is ignoring the real issues of empathy vs. self-involvement, greed vs. generosity, and the personal connections between people that can either damn or redeem us, here and now, with no Heaven or Hell necessary.

So, to my mind, the proper object of art is never going to be the “big picture”, but the little pictures that together make up the big picture. None of us can force our politicians to be honest, kind, or empathetic to whatever “other” or “enemy” has been picked out this week. But we can choose to be honest or lie, to be kind or cruel, and to try to see the world through the eyes of the “other” that the “big picture” is always striving to tell us we are to despise. The true object of art is people, not nations, because nations don’t exist, not really. They are an abstraction at best, a lie at worst. The worst moments of history have come about when people have forgotten they were people and given into the phantasm of the citizen. To whatever degree literature can be healing or constructive to our species, I believe that it is in pointing out the people and their real, lived connections; the abstraction of nations, races, and ideologies hides those connections or redefines them in terms of what benefits or harms the nation, race, or ideology. There will be an end to war when people refuse to be defined as citizens and refuse to see the “other” as citizens, as well. Our nations will become healthy when we, as individuals connected to other individuals, become healthy.

But at the same time, I am an embodied being, the product of my culture and the social and historical context within which I have lived. There is no way to avoid some political cast to my work, especially in light of how stringent modern ideologies have become. Simply by emphasizing empathy and relationships rather than power and wealth, I am declaring a political stance. By challenging the very notion of national identity, I am “unpatriotic” and by denying the existence of the “other”, the “enemy”, I am a traitor. So much of the identity of my country is based on who we hate, rather than who we love, that by refusing to hate I am excluded from what some would say is an important part of being an American. By refusing to turn life and death into a game, I no longer have a “team”.

This recently came out in my exchanges regarding the scandalous (or rather, they should be scandalous, but they aren’t) revelation of a picture of our soldiers urinating on the corpses of the “enemy”. To my mind, the dehumanizing of other people is unacceptable, regardless of circumstance, and desecration of the dead is one of the most dehumanizing and offensive things I can imagine. But apparently, to many people, this is a debatable issue. When our “team” does it, it’s different. Just like when we torture, or detain people without trial, or use secret evidence, or assassinate people. All of these things are horrible inhumanities when other people do it to us, but when we do it, somehow they become okay. By choosing empathy over nationalism, I have excluded myself from the “team”. And because of that choice, I also lost one of my oldest friends. She’s one of those that just can’t bring herself to judge the morality of soldiers…no matter what they do, she “supports the troops”. But armies, like nations, are abstractions; all that exists are people and what they do to each other, and these people who urinated on the corpses of their fallen fellow humans, are monsters and deserve to be called out as such.

In my stories it could be argued that everyone is a monster, or at least has the potential to be. Again and again, I return to the simple theme of empathy and the lack of it, again and again I return to the simple act of choosing to care…even when it makes no sense, even when the object of that caring doesn’t deserve it (whatever that means). In my world, the world inside my head and heart that I try to express in my work, everyone has the choice, every moment, to be a monster or a human, a demon or an angel. So in that sense, I feel that all of my work is political, while at the same time avoiding the language of political thought and philosophy. I am more interested in how one person treats another person than how a given nation treats another nation…but all those little choices, all those people, add up to The People.

Well, enough pontification. What are your thoughts, Faithful Reader, on the role of politics in science fiction, and indeed, speculative fiction as a whole? I’m eager to hear from you.

Save Stargate Universe Pages Returned…Now We Must Push Harder Than Ever!

 

Dr. Rush wants you to Save Stargate Universe!

Click Dr. Rush to go to the Save Stargate Universe Page on Facebook!

At long last and after almost a week, the Facebook pages of the Save Stargate Universe and Save Stargate campaigns have been returned to their rightful owner and all has been restored to its rightful place. As always, I would like to thank you, Faithful Reader, in all of your incarnations, for helping to bring attention to a problem in Facebook’s security. However, this attack on the campaigns could not have come at a worse time…the pages were stolen, admins banned, and their walls were filled with spam mere hours after the Forbes interview with our Fearless Leader, The Dude Dean. Needless to say, this doesn’t exactly present us in the best light, and between that and our frenzied tweets and messages about how the pages had been hacked, I am sure many people who would have joined our ranks were instead turned off to our cause forever.

 

What does that mean for us, cats and kittens? It means we have to bust our asses now that the pages are back under our control. It means we have to be blogging, tweeting, stumbling, digging, redditing, and every-other-social-media-verbing our way across the internet. It means we have to get the word out twice as hard.

Now, I know I have asked this of you before. It’s got to seem like every week I’m flogging you on to new heights and have some new reason why we have to push harder. And that’s true. I am. I do. If Dean’s our Fearless Leader, you can consider me your Friendly Drill Sergeant. I am not here to cajole you, and I am not here to stroke your heads softly and tell you everything is going to be okay. I am here to push you to be harder and make you better than you have ever been. I am not here to make you happy, I am here to make you excellent. I am here to make you the best damn internet army that ever tried to bring back a show. And why am I doing this, you ask?

Because from how it looks on the ground we’re losing.

The sets have been torn down. The props are being sold off. The actors, writers, etc. are moving on to other projects. Can all of these things be undone? Of course. What money makes it can unmake and make anew. But we have to give them a reason. We have to make them realize there is still money to be made in Stargate.

Because if we don’t the whole damned franchise is over.

In light of that, I have to ask all of your, my Faithful Readers, to push and push and push some more. If there is anyone, and I mean anyone, you haven’t tried to get to join, you need to talk to them. Comb your friends lists, tweet until the API runs dry, and share the pages on every site you can find. Push, my Faithful Readers…or soon there will be nothing to push for.

MGM and Syfy Feel the Pain as Fans Call to Save Stargate Universe

MGM has released their [amazon_link id=”B004TJ1H3C” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]full second season of Stargate Universe[/amazon_link], and like many fans I have a hard time bringing myself to call it the “final” season. And like many of the fans who posted to the wall of MGM’s innocent question, I had nothing good to say. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show. Yet, somehow, I knew it was too good to last.

MGM hit by SaveSGU

Click the wall above to go look at the comments. They are pretty telling...these fans want their show back.

I had the same issue with Caprica. It was so full of nuance and power, it had so many layers of character development and plot…and the whole time Caprica was running, my wife and I were wondering how long it would last. And, in my not-so-humble opinion, I think there is something really wrong with a world where the surest sign a show will soon be cancelled is its own excellence.

I know it’s trendy to make fun of everything, to play the cynic about everything and be ironic in even our most cherished experiences. And I am no different, in many ways, than most of my generation. I am cynical, sometimes to a fault. I don’t believe that, in the end, the good, the right, and the true will win. I think there are very few “good guys”. There are definitely “bad guys”, and there seem to be some “better guys”, but the truly good are few and far-between. I didn’t believe Obama would bring us change I could believe in…and he hasn’t. I didn’t believe that Prop. 19 would pass, and I didn’t believe Steve Jobs when he said he was going to start opening up the Apple platform. I don’t believe in karma, the idea that people get what they put out into the world. If that were true, schmucks wouldn’t run Washington and some of the sweetest, most wonderful people I know would catch a break once and a while. I don’t believe in happy endings and triumphant victories. The real world, with all its vicissitudes, just doesn’t work that way, and life is so complex and muddy that even wanting those things could be considered dangerously naive.

But not in science fiction and fantasy. When I watch a truly good show or movie, or let myself sink into a good game or book, I believe. I believe in Superman, and that he will always find a way to save everyone. I believe in Dr. Who, and that sometimes, just sometimes, everybody lives.

And I believe in Stargate and the crew of the Destiny, a ship flung out across space and time to find the very secrets of existence itself.

This is the power of science fiction and fantasy. It can make the most cynical of us weep with hope and joy. That is what is threatened by Syfy’s shift in programming and its ongoing cancellations to make room for things like wrestling and reality television.

Click the wrestlers to join the Save Stargate Universe Group on Facebook!

Click the wrestlers to join the Save Stargate Universe Group on Facebook!

Syfy, back when it was SciFi, seemed to understand this capacity that their programming could have. They stood behind shows and took on flagging shows from other networks. They cultivated their connections within the world of science fiction conventions and had no problem associating themselves with geeks. Things have changed over the years, until we now get quotes like this:

“What we love about this is we hopefully get the best of both worlds,” Mr. Howe said. “We’ll get the heritage and the track record of success, and we’ll build off of that to build a broader, more open and accessible and relatable and human-friendly brand.” -Dave Howe, president of the Sci Fi Channel

“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” – TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

and there is even an indication that this was the plan the entire time:

“We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi. It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.” -Tim Brooks again

So, with this we see the roots of the @Syfail phenomenon. The network intended to build itself on the fans of science fiction and fantasy, and then “distance the network” once it had the backing and stability to do so.

Click above to join the Syfail group on Facebook!

Click above to join the Syfail group on Facebook!

If this was the plan all along, then this goes far beyond any one show or franchise. This is about the genre as a whole. Because where do the rights for all the old science fiction and fantasy shows end up? Syfy. Who “rescues” shows that are flagging on other networks? Syfy. Who is determined to “own the imagination space”? Syfy.

“We really do want to own the imagination space,” Mr. Howe said. “We want to get the credit for the range of content that we already have on our air and that we’ll be doing more of in the future.”

Now, look at their current lineup. Look at the choices they have been making, the shows they have been backing, and ask yourself this very, very important question: Do you want them to? Do you want them to own your favorite shows, just to “get credit” for them, and then replace them with wrestling? Sanctuary is next. It has moved to Monday…the night shows go to die. What’s next?

And as a final thought, I want to preemptively answer all the people who are going to say they don’t care about Stargate Universe or who want to argue its relative worth in comparison to SG-1 or SG-A…this isn’t just about Stargate. This is about the whole damn “imagination space”, and if we, the fans, don’t defend it, who will?

Thanks to this post for all the quotes.

Syfy, Sci-Fi, and Fandom: The “Gauntlet” Has Been Thrown

Tamara Johansen wants her show back!

Click Here to Join the Save Stargate Universe Campaign on Facebook!

So let’s use a dirty word: geek. Now, in my mind, being a geek isn’t a bad thing. More than anything it means that we’re enthusiastic. Some of us are into comics, some of us are into games. Some get their kicks off of technology while others love math. But movies, television, and books are the most common targets of our obsessive collecting and fact-gathering, and science-fiction, with its combination of all of the above, attracts our eye more often than many other genres. Just think about it…when was the last time you met a romance geek? They exist…but they generally don’t have their own T.V. networks and collectible shops.

And all of those T.V. networks and collectible shops, those websites and game manufacturers, they get a lot out of us. We hyperventilate over the latest superhero movie, we stand in line for days in line for a game release. But most importantly, we buy everything related to our newest “favorite”, and between all those graphic novels, DVDs, and season passes, it adds up to a lot of cash.

That’s why there has always existed a special covenant between fandom and science-fiction. More than any other genre, science-fiction writers, actors, illustrators, and directors have come down among the masses and, with humility bordering on befuddlement, accepted our passionate praises. Conventions, signings, openings…they come among us because they are us; most media made for science-fictions is made by science-fiction fans. And we have lifted them up, made them our idols…and made them rich.

Which is what makes what the Syfy Network has been doing puzzling, troubling, and, yes, angering. They have broken the sacred covenant held between the curators of our art and us, the hungry audience. By choosing crass profits and heeding the siren call of wrestling, they have turned away from the very people who built them up. We, the fans, paid their bills and put their kids through school while they were still a fledgling network…and now they are sick of us.

Caprica was a blow. Reviews were mixed, and I understand that not everyone enjoyed the heavily layered and emotional storylines. Compared to Battlestar Galactica, full of robots with machine-gun arms and epic space battles, Caprica’s slow build of each level of intrigue may have seemed tedious. But the depth was there, the story was there, and if there was anything the second half told us, it was that Caprica had no problem providing both the robot-mayhem and the mind-bending metaphysics Battlestar Galactica made us fall in love with.

The recent cancellation of Stargate Universe, putting Stargate off the air for the first time in fourteen years, is yet more troubling, and Syfy’s justifications, remarkably similar to those used to justify Caprica, were put forth in an open letter to Stargate fans from Syfy, which was sent out via Gateworld, a dedicated Stargate fansite. Craig Engler(@syfy himself), Senior Vice President and General Manager of Syfy Digital, goes into details, but it all comes down to the same argument: the ratings weren’t there.

Even if we ignore my argument involving fallacious metrics for gauging a show’s popularity, or the scathing “Dear Syfy: Please Stop Lying” from the Caprica Times, it’s hard to ignore Joseph Mallozzi, writer and executive producer for all three Stargate series, as he addresses the open letter piece by piece:

“The show quickly moved forward and officially launched on October 2, 2009. The debut was watched by a good if not spectacular 2,779,000 viewers. To give that some perspective, Stargate Atlantis debuted with over 4 million viewers, soSGU was more than 25% below that.” – Engler

“File this one under baffling.  Comparing the SGA premiere to the SGU premiere overlooks is grossly unfair.  First – Atlantis premiered during the summer while Universe – originally slated for a fall premiere – premiered in the much more competitive fall.  Second the time between the two premiere has seen a significant increase in DVR usage and internet downloads, and a simultaneous erosion in live viewership.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.  Simply put, back when Atlantis aired, fewer viewers were recording or downloading television and many more were watching television live.” – Mallozzi

“With untenably low numbers and no sign of growth on Fridays where it had now lost 1/3 of its initial audience, we decided to move SGU for its second season. We’d had tremendous success on Tuesday’s with our breakout hit Warehouse 13, so we paired SGU with Caprica and moved them to Tuesdays, hoping to introduce both shows to a new audience.” – Engler

“Sigh.  Okay, look – while I understood (and supported) the move to Tuesday night and the pairing with Caprica, I nevertheless take exception to the assertion that the network had enjoyed “tremendous success on Tuesday’s with [their] breakout hit Warehouse 13″.  While Warehouse 13 certainly aired on Tuesdays, it did so in the summer (where, I’d like to reiterate, SGU was originally scheduled to air).” – Mallozi

“We moved the final 10 episodes of SGU to Monday nights where we’d just had success with a new show called Being Human, but the ratings remained flat.” -Engler

“Okay but, realistically, the series had already been canceled so I’m not sure how much reasonable audience growth could be expected at that point.” – Mallozzi

In any case, Engler’s response signals one thing: they have heard us, and now they are trying to play reputation control. But this is the internet, and reputation control is our playground.

Don’t forget to join the SaveSGU Campaign on Facebook, learn the Plan, and make your voice be heard!

(Thanks to Justin Zimmer for the awesome banner!

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What You Can Do To Save Stargate Universe

stargate universe logo

Image via Wikipedia

The time has come. Tonight is the night. “Gauntlet,” airs tonight (9PM ET), and that will be it for Stargate Universe. A franchise that began with Stargate: SG-1 fourteen years ago will end, and there is no indication that it will be continuing. The movies have been cancelled. SGU has been cancelled. It seems like all is lost. And yet…

There is a band of intrepid fans who are determined to Save Stargate Universe. They are determined to invoke the powers that saved Chuck, Futurama, and other shows saved by their fans, and they are pulling out all the stops to do so.

First, there is The Plan, which has multiple facets. Part One is a standard Post Flood.

“POST FLOOD”

On Monday, May 9th, every member of Save Stargate Universe leave a post on the SyFy facebook page, the SyFy Forums, and any other public forum/page related to NBCUniversal, SyFy, or MGM, demonstrating your anger for the cancellation, your desire for more Stargate, and your willingness to fight for it.  Please try to keep the language civil.  There are children who visit this site.  Keep posting all day long and during the last episode of Stargate Universe.  If your comment is deleted, post again.  If you are blocked, you know they saw it.  There are over 26,000 of us.  If we all do this, they will get the message.

Part Two is the Tissue Box Campaign, which Stargate: SG-1 fans will recognize from the very first episode:

“TISSUE BOX CAMPAIGN”

During the week of May 9th, purchase three boxes of Kleenex (or three of any box of tissue you are able, does not matter if they are the cheap ones, but the bigger the better!) and write on it these three things:

‘SEND MORE!’

‘Save Stargate Universe Tissue Box Campaign’ www.facebook.com/SaveSGU

(We WANT them to know who is doing this)

‘BRING STARGATE UNIVERSE BACK’

You can also include any message on these boxes that you like, but we want these things on there so that this campaign is uniform.  If they know we are organized, they know we are serious.  Remember; do not send any violent threats.  You can be arrested for sending threats through the mail.

Addresses for this part of the campaign and others will be listed at the end of this post. Remember to be safe and sane about what you send these people through the mail.

Part Three is the equally clever Communication Stone Campaign:

“COMMUNICATION STONE CAMPAIGN”

During the week of May 9th, find several stones (not too small but no boulders either!) and write on it these three things:

‘CALLING OUR DESTINY’

‘Save Stargate Universe Communication Stone Campaign’ www.facebook.com/SaveSGU

(we WANT them to know who is doing this)

‘BRING STARGATE UNIVERSE BACK’

You can also include any message on or with these stones that you like, but we want these things on there so that this campaign is uniform.  If they know we are organized, they know we are serious.  Remember; do not send any violent threats.  You can be arrested for sending threats through the mail.

Finally, there is the Bye Bye Syfy Campaign:

BYE BYE SYFY

Anyone who is done with SyFy all together (meaning that there is not another show on that you want to watch, I know that many like Being Human and Merlin, no shame in that) delete the SyFy Facebook page from your account.  Now remember before you do this, to see any updates or post on the wall, you have to “like” the page.  So we leave that up to your discretion.  This is a personal choice and not mandatory.

I also want to encourage others to join the SyFail group on Facebook. As I have said elsewhere, in my opinion Syfy has been increasingly going astray and alienating its fanbase. A Save Sanctuary page has already been started because no matter how amazing the show is, we know which way the wind is blowing. Speak out, in every way you can, and maybe, just maybe, Syfy will listen.

And remember, another way to help make sure the Stargate franchise continues is to buy their DVDs and products:

Stargate SG-1

Stargate SG-1: The Complete Series Collection (2007)

Stargate: The Ark of Truth/Stargate: Continuum [Blu-ray]

Stargate Atlantis

Stargate Atlantis: All

Stargate Atlantis: Complete Series Gift Set [Blu-ray]

Stargate Atlantis DVD:

Stargate Atlantis – The Complete First Season

Stargate Atlantis – The Complete Second Season

Stargate Atlantis – The Complete Third Season

Stargate Atlantis – The Complete Fourth Season

Stargate Atlantis – The Complete Fifth Season

Stargate Universe DVD:

SGU: Stargate Universe: Complete First Season [Blu-ray]

SGU: Stargate Universe – The Complete First Season [DVD]

And finally, with heavy heart, I must finish and prepare for the season finale. Let’s just hope it isn’t the series finale, instead.

Addresses for The Plan:

MGM:

John Bryan

MGM Worldwide Television Distribution

2500 Broadway Street

Santa Monica, CA 90404-3065 USA

 

Syfy:

SyFy

c/o NBC Universal

Dave Howe

30 Rockefeller Plaza

New York, NY 10112 USA

 

NBCUniversal:

NBC/Universal Media Studios

c/o Barry Wallach

Domestic Television Distribution

100 Universal City Plaza

Universal City CA 91608 USA

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