But Tell Me, Where Do The Children Play?

Science fiction used to be the home of dangerous ideas.

Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I needed that.  I was a strange child, with few friends and no close connections.  I didn’t fit in anywhere, not at home, not at school,  not in the suburban residential neighborhood that I wandered through, lonely as a cloud.

Pretty much the only place that I could feel I belonged was the library.  I read voraciously, and I discovered an entire class of books that dealt with the strange, the things that didn’t fit.  The things like me.

From science fiction I learned that I was not alone, not sui generis. Other people had the same kind of oddball corkscrew mind I had.  Because science fiction (and fantasy, although my hometown library didn’t make that distinction and put everything that was set someplace else in one section) wasn’t supposed to be real, it was able to talk about things that were important.

That was the power of the genre.  You could talk about anything.  All you had to do was put the story on Mars and you could say things about life of Earth that you couldn’t get published in mainstream fiction.

Sex, violence, drugs, madness–no subject was taboo if you filtered it through the fun house mirror of “this isn’t real”.  From writers like Phillip Dick and Samuel Delany and Ursula Le Guin I learned about real life as it applied to me.  Lessons about life and love and survival that I still use daily.

Over the last few years something terrible has been happening to science fiction.  There are people–not a lot, I don’t believe, but they have very loud voices–who want to cut out the dangerous ideas.  They want to make science fiction safe.

The only way to do that–and in my darker moments I suspect that they are well aware of this–is to kill it.

Science fiction isn’t rayguns and rocketships. Fantasy isn’t elves and dragons. Horror isn’t vampires and zombies. These genres are, of essence, the literature of the forbidden.  Without the freedom to go where no one else is allowed to go, well, you might as well just stay home.

Recently a local science fiction convention came under attack from a small but vocal group regarding one of the scheduled guests.  He had evidently written certain things that this group found objectionable.  In less than a day the con committee caved and cancelled this guest’s appearance.

I don’t want to get into the merits of the objections.  I don’t know the guest, I don’t know what he was accused of, and I don’t care.  I might be in total agreement that the content of the guest’s writing is offensive.

So is everything worth reading in science fiction.

Offensive is what we do. That is what I learned as a child and still passionately believe.  We have to be free to offend, to confound and confuse and infuriate.  Otherwise, how are we going to find out what’s real?

There are children right now with hungry minds and angry hearts, like the child that I was.  They are out there, looking for answers to the big questions, who they are, what is important in life, where they are going.

They need dangerous ideas, because they have dangerous minds.  If they don’t get them from science fiction, where are they going to find them?

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Publishing, On Writing, Who I am and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to But Tell Me, Where Do The Children Play?

  1. LindaGHill says:

    I fear the answer to your last question is, they will make them reality. A concept so much more dangerous than the unreal world of science fiction.

    I’m with you, Misha. I, too, escaped whenever I could into the worlds created by fantasy and science fiction writers. And I, too, found the sense that sated my desire for the darkness that might otherwise have swallowed me whole. I can’t imagine what it might be for someone like me, or like you, growing up without that outlet.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I think one of the worst things we can do is to try to protect people from “the wrong ideas”.

      • LindaGHill says:

        In Grade 12 I took a class in Science Fiction. During that school year, we read no less than 11 novels – included were Fahrenheit 451 and <i1984 among other greats. Looks like we’re that much closer to the two of these no longer being Science Fiction, eh?

  2. sknicholls says:

    Reblogged this on S.K. Nicholls and commented:
    I feel this way about writing in genral, not just sci fi/fantasy. censorship appalls me. Reading is what guides us on our journey through life.

  3. Have become fan of well supremely researched historical fiction. Reading AZTEC. Am mesmerized. Sci-fi fan too.

  4. I am not a huge sci-fi fan. However, I am a huge fan of all types of creativity. Censorship only makes me want to read it more. I want to be able to make up my own mind about things and rebel when I’m denied that opportunity. I think there is a faction of our society that wants to control our thoughts (although they would vehemently deny that).

  5. Sue says:

    together with political correctness, our current society also wishes to make thinking, imagination and creativity bad things. We live in sick times. So i ignore them and live in my own world.

  6. The Teeth says:

    The problem is definitely bigger than the science fiction community. We continue to tread down a mediocre path where everything is inoffensive and “safe”. The whole concept that you can make all the bad things go away by simply not discussing them is illusory and completely ridiculous.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      That’s true, the problem is bigger than science fiction. However, I think that the attacks on science fiction show just how widespread the problem is. If we’re not safe here, we’re not safe anywhere.

  7. merrildsmith says:

    I don’t think the people who want to censor books and other reading material (and also plays, art, etc.) limit it to science fiction, and of course, it’s not a new problem. I think what is new here in the U.S., is the new push to make everything inoffensive to everyone. (See the new “trigger warnings.”)

    The American Library Association does updates on banned books. There are challenges all the time. I’ve never understood this. If a parent doesn’t want their child to read a book, then so be it (even though they could read the book with their child and potentially have a great discussion), but they shouldn’t deny everyone the opportunity to read the book.
    End of rant. 🙂

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Only it’s not “inoffensive to everyone”. Being offensive to some people is “free speech”. As long as your target is on the approved target list, your attacks will be called brave and original.

  8. merrildsmith says:

    Of course. That’s the problem! 🙂

  9. For about a year or so I followed the blog of a prominent sci.fi. writer and became more and more uneasy with the manic vigilance he and his followers adhered to in their quest for a world devoid of anything they felt not in line with their world view. Maybe they mean well but when good intentions become militant doctrine creativity is hijacked and the author becomes a self censored reinforcer of said militant doctrine. Then we have a sad, sanitized, echo-chamber.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I have seen a lot of people who assume that being a science fiction/.fantasy writer (particularly one who deals with issues of gender and identity) must mean that I agree with a particular political stance. So they feel free to launch attacks against those that they think are ignorant, unenlightened, and under-evolved–without realizing that many of the beliefs that they attack are ones that I myself hold.

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