Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Relevancy of Fantasy and Science Fiction: A Defense of Geekiness

There's been some kerfuffle recently floating around the Internet about the relevancy of fantasy fiction and how science fiction and fantasy is going mainstream.  This has been a topic that has been analyzed endlessly on the Web (sometimes we geeks outdo academics when it comes to navel-gazing--I say that with love), but whenever there's a new trend or addition to the canon, it crops up again. An ongoing trend has been about the debate of the fake geek girl, a rather prickly and heated topic, and a few others that come to mind are the resurgence of popularity of superheroes and the advent of the grimdark movement in fantasy literature. I personally love these sort of meta-debates and the parallels to academia are again striking: intelligent, well-read people defining their study of interest and why it matters. In academia, a primary debate would be about what works comprise the canon (and the occasional critique of the canon's existence) and an example would be of the movements of literary going away from old white guys to writers like Chinua Achebe or Toni Morrison. As with any movement that gains momentum, there's a lot of debate about the change itself.

For geeks, the debates becomes more nebulous, and I chalk it up the variety of mediums we enjoy. Literature, films, and video games attract a diverse crowd, and everyone has an opinion on not only which medium is superior, but which works within the categories qualifies as "the best." For me, instead of dismissing opinions like that, I take it as a challenge. I seek out the work in question, because I want to see why Bioshock is such an awesome game or why I should be interested in N.K. Jemisin. My reasoning is pretty simple: this could be the next great work that I love, and if I don't seek it out, I'll never know. I think geeks are fueled by that kind of curiosity, coupled with how much time and energy a person wants to devote to finding new material. Being a geek is a lot about consumption, and luckily for us, sf/f books, games, and movies are created at an incredible rate to catch our eyes and our dollars.

The question of geeky canon does seem to boil down to the success of certain works, particularly because now the market is expanding to include non-genre works as well. Five years ago, stories like Sherlock Holmes and The Hunger Games wouldn't have necessarily been considered geeky. (Although I will acknowledge that THG has always existed in the lovely sci fi/literary fiction sweet spot of dystopian stories.) Now that these works have an enthusiastic fandom, I think we take their success in the geeky world for granted. Their successes have also brought in more people who self-identify as geeks, and those new inaugurated geeks bring in new things to geek over, love, and crossover (looking at you, Disney princess crossovers). Maybe the question of geeky canon has already been answered: it will expand as necessary to celebrate new fandoms and welcome new people. I have never had any truck with the people who say you have to be "this geeky" to ride.

Another point that's being made is that it means a lot more to be a geek now than it did five years ago. They highlight the popularity of cons, the trends that bring in waves of new people (*cough* Marvel movies *cough*), and how geeks are more relevant than ever in this era of technology. I agree, and I would add to that: science fiction and fantasy is more relevant than ever because the doors are open. The Internet is ubiquitous and so is the opportunity to get into geeky fandoms (and admit, the Sherlockians of Tumblr are having way more fun than any of us ever did just surfing Facebook). The only bar to entry is about interest and if someone is willing to give a geekdom a chance. Not every geekdom will stick, but as Cristea pointed out in "The Doors Are Open--SFF Goes Mainstream" on Fantasy Faction, there has been a trickling effect where people may play a game and then perhaps check out a fantasy book, and then five more (my addiction started with Harry Potter, but I think that just makes me old school).

The arguments that fantasy and science fiction are irrelevant and merely about unrealistic stories is becoming outmoded, I think, because the sf/f being produced today is reflective of a global mood. The old chesnut that sf/f is pure escapism is also fading, although that one is bit stickier. One big appeal of sf/f is the escapism--to imagine something unreal and revel in the magic--but the majority is about exploring stories that are similar to the best dramas of today, but are not unencumbered by the limits of reality. The few boundaries of the genre don't put a limit on what's possible, and when the story is written well, it transcends time better than any straight fiction. I know that's one thing I definitively celebrate as a proud geek.

The other huge appeal of geekiness is being able to share passion and a love of learning. Even the most closed geeks still have a lot to offer in terms of appreciating their fandoms. The passion is what makes geekiness so much fun and worth the time, effort, and money. Last week I did a search for fantasy publishers, expecting to find very few, and I found dozens linking dozens of others. The passion unites geeks and what makes finding new fandoms/works fun. The enthusiasm is palpable and a lot of bloody fun, and so I hope that we can continue to own the term "geek".

To celebrate the diversity of geeks, you might be interested in checking out this website:

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