Who owns science fiction?

The excellent Charlie Jane Anders – whom I just learned is leaving io9 – oh noes! – asks and answers the question:

io9 Was Founded on the Idea That Science Fiction Belongs to Everyone

Or, more precisely, she says, science fiction belongs to everybody who loves it:

When we started out, the notion that science fiction is for everybody was mostly about not wanting to see our favorite stories wasting their time pandering to the minority of fans who had memorized every old episode or movie. We hadn’t yet seen Star Trek Into Darkness twist itself into knots trying to copy as much of Wrath of Khan as possible—but that kind of self-referential bullshit was what we set out to critique.

But over time, I feel like the question of who “owns” science fiction has only gotten more fraught and toxic, in ways that we couldn’t have predicted back in 2007. Back then, there was no “Fake Geek Girl” meme. Women weren’t getting death threats and rape threats on the internet for expressing an opinion about comics or movies. The Hugo Award nominations were still reflecting the tastes of individual readers, rather than voting slates. There weren’t endless think pieces about whether geek culture had gone too mainstream. Geek pantomime The Big Bang Theoryaired its first episode while we were planning io9.

There’s a lot more silly gatekeeping in science fiction than there used to be. A lot of people are deeply invested in keeping other people from loving the things that they love. No, I don’t get it, either.

I’m baffled by the gatekeeping in science fiction as well. And it’s frustrating to me because much of the stuff that’s gone mainstream is stuff that I personally don’t care for:

Superheroes? Not for me. I like Iron Man and Captain America, but I think Julie and I are a movie or two behind on those. There’s an explosion of superhero movies now, and they frankly look silly to me. Bunch of grown people running around in long underwear.

We did love Jessica Jones, though.

Star Trek? The J.J. Abrams movies were fine, but they weren’t real Trek. We’re now rediscovering Deep Space Nine and TNG, which I barely remember.

Star Wars? I liked the first three movies just fine but I would not say they were the life-changing experience for me that they were for many fans. I skipped about 1.5 of the prequels. We haven’t gotten around to seeing the latest movie yet.

As for TV: Don’t watch Walking Dead because we think zombies are gross. We already talked about superhero shows. Julie likes the The Arrow but I got tired of it partway through the first season. The reverse is true for The Flash – I was enjoying it but Julie wasn’t and I didn’t like it enough to want to watch it alone.

I have a love-hate relationship with Game of Thrones. I’m liking it now. Last year I was ready to stop watching, because it had gotten tedious and depressing.

I don’t read comics or play video games.

So while young men – and I do get the impression that they are young men – are playing gatekeeper and deciding who’s a true fan, I’m wishing that more people like the stuff I like. Or maybe I should say that I wish more stuff that I like was being produced for the mainstream.

And I’m also remembering being a teen-age fan in the 70s, when being a science fiction fan still had a slight patina of geekiness. It was going mainstream fast – Star Wars was 1977, all the kids watched Star Trek in reruns, and Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke were regularly hitting the bestseller lists, or on the verge of doing so. But science fiction was still something that cool people didn’t really enjoy. So I still think it’s kind of neat that science fiction is now mainstream, and ironic that now that it is mainstream there’s so much of it I don’t participate in.

Also, as a heterosexual teenager with the usual heterosexual teen levels of libido combined with frustration of that libido: I would have been delighted to have encountered attractive young women who were also interested in science fiction.  (They probably did exist back then. I was just unaware of them.)

Assuming I worked up the nerve to talk with them – I was, alas, the kind of male teen geek who was too intimidated to speak with attractive girls unless we’d already been safely friendzoned (to use vernacular that popped up 30 years later).

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