Science fiction sold out. Let’s take it back.

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.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

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.

Corporations falsey defined the scifi fans 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?

Talk 2 in Advanced Scfi and Fantasy.

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.

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Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Director of creative writing at UoL, published with OUP and Cambridge. Currently travelling the world and writing a book.

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