Corporations love to take cool things and turn them to trash to make money.
In the early 80s black artists took DJ music loops, rapped radical political lyrics over them, and invented hip-hop. Corporations took hip-hop and degraded it into “gangsta rap”, perpetuating stereotypes of black male violence to sell hip-hop to the masses.
Corporations played the same sick little game with the the 60s counter culture. The ideals of psychedelia were repackaged as “sex, drugs and rockn’roll” to pedal crap music and addictive drugs to the masses.
This is what corporations do with culture. They take what is meaningful, what has heart, what bleeds soul, and they turn it to trash to make money.
This is what is meant by “selling out”.
Now. Look at science fiction.
“Corporations took the intense, subversive, revolutionary force that was science fiction, and they turned it to trash culture.”
Mary Shelley was a feminist Romantic social revolutionary. H G Wells was a passionate social utopian. Yevgeny Zamyatin’s science fiction was so dangerous to the Soviet state it’s readers had to smuggle copies out to the West.
How many fans of The Mandalorian would risk torture, imprisonment and death to get it to freedom?
And yet it’s commonplace for fans of “scifi” today to demand that politics has no place in their escapism.
Corporations took the intense, subversive, revolutionary force that was science fiction, and they turned it to trash culture.
I want to take it back.
To make money from science fiction, corporations reduced it to escapism.
I’ve known thousands of people who were into science fiction in my life. They were, with few exceptions, among the smartest free thinkers I’ve known. People with fierce imaginations and open minds, often living strange, beautiful, unconventional lives.
To make money from science fiction, corporations invented the “scifi fan”, a weak willed escapist only interested in numbing out of reality. Or an emotionless, socially inept nerd longing for a girlfriend.
As corporations falsely defined the rapper as a street thug, or the hippy as a drug addict, corporations defined the scifi fan as an escapist idiot.
For the decade of so I wrote about science fiction for The Guardian, I was in a constant battle to save it from the “scifi fan” cliches that editors again and again reverted to.
I wasn’t allowed an author photo until I provided one that was more scifi. From literally my first published piece I set out my editorial direction of science fiction as 1. radical and 2. diverse.
“Do we want a culture dominated by corporations who degrade it to trash to make money? Or do we want to take back our sold out culture?”
But the marketing message corporations have spent decades building around scifi is almost impossible to break through. I did my time fighting against it.
The Hugo awards of the mid 2010s became a historic battleground in the fight for the soul of science fiction. They were a small scale mirror of the Black Lives Matter protests of today. Race is the heart of a fight for our culture.
Do we want a culture dominated by corporations who degrade it to trash to make money? Or do we want to take back our sold out culture?
I burned out of science fiction a few years ago, around the time of the Hugo awards. Mostly for my own personal reasons. But also from disappointment in a “scifi fandom” that still largely defined itself through the marketing messages of corporations who turn SF to trash for money.
This year I found my thinking returning to science fiction. I started planning and research into a new course, which turned into Writing The 21st Century Myth. I want to find the writers and storytellers of today who are in the spirit of Shelley, Wells and Zamyatin. And help anyone with the passion for it, to write great science fiction.
Upcoming classes being researched, written, shot and edited include:
Blade Runner and the Other: how Philip K Dick created an empathy test…for the audience.
The Autumnal City in 2020: Delany’s Dhalgren and the Portland Autonomous Zone.
Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey: are we worshipping a sacred story, or being sold Trash Culture?
Enrol on the course to support the work, get the participatory workshops, and join in with writing the 21st century myth.
Advanced SciFi & Fantasy
Writing the 21st century myth
Damien Walter, writer on sci-fi and geek culture for The Guardian, BBC, WIRED and graduate of the Clarion writers workshop, leads a journey into scifi and fantasy storytelling.
When high-falutin people talk about sci-fi you’ll often hear them use words like novum and the like. Critic and academic Darko Suvin came up with novum to describe the…thing…at the heart of every sci-fi story that makes it sci-fi. Androids hiding as humans! A world populated by talking apes! A portal that leads to everyContinue reading “Write better sci-fi stories with this simple idea”
When did the science fiction community start using “genre” as a proper noun? “It’s a common thing in Genre.” As though “Genre” is a city you can visit. Or a distinct community unified by being “Genre”. It’s one of those linguistic ticks that arise on the internet. But for science fiction it’s also symbolic ofContinue reading “Genre fiction is the worst thing that ever happened to science fiction”
M John Harrison is one of the all time greats, a “science fiction writer’s science fiction writer”, a creator of weird tales in the horror tradition, and a powerful weaver of fantasy. The Viriconium stories defined political fantasy in the 80’s, as the Light trilogy redefined literary SF in the 00s. As editor of NewContinue reading “How does M John Harrison enter a story?”
When life takes an unexpected left turn I do four things – tidy my room, go running, take 72 hours away from anything stressful…and read a good book. This time around I landed on Neuromancer by William Gibson. I first read this book when I was 14, I suspect I read it at least sevenContinue reading “Neuromancer…still the best science fiction novel ever written”
Is Europe welcoming desperate refugees, or being invaded by economic migrants? Is Donald Trump a serious President, or a clownish attention seeker? The Man In The High Castle reveals the most basic truths about our era of competing narratives. * In 1947 the forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan swept to victory over Europe andContinue reading “How Philip K Dick’s 1960’s masterpiece nailed politics in the 2020’s”
Neal Stephenson – legendary author of speculative fiction – on Elon Musk and geek culture, the NSA revelations of Edward Snowden, how negative cultural narratives are killing big science – and the upbringing that made him the writer he is. IN LATE 2013 I had the opportunity to interview the author Neal Stephenson. Some Remarks,Continue reading “The remarkable Neal Stephenson interview”
Sci-fi & Fantasy are best known as genre fiction. But truth be told, they have their roots in works of literature. For fans, and especially creators, of today’s modern mythology, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the literary novels that made SF&F what it is. The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse isContinue reading “7 literary Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels you must read”
Calling sci-fi a genre in 2016 is about as accurate as calling the United States one nation. In principle it’s true, but in practice things don’t work that way. While crime, romance and thrillers all remain as coherent genres of fiction, it’s been decades since sci-fi could be comfortably understood by any shared generic criteria.Continue reading “The 8 Tribes of SciFi”
A Scanner Darkly is one of Philip K Dick’s most famous but also most divisive novels. Written in 1973 but not published until 1977, it marks the boundary between PKD’s mid-career novels that were clearly works of science fiction, including The Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and hisContinue reading “Transrealism: the first major literary movement of the 21st century”