On the Superversive: A Science Fiction Credo

(Man, this blog is turning into an odd mishmash of theology and SF.)

(Also, spoilers ahead for Robotech/Macross and Firefly/Serenity.)

Edit: Jagi has informed me that Superversive and the Human Wave movement were independently developed. They’re still very similar 😉

The illustrious L. Jagi Lamplighter has a post today discussing the goals of the Superversive literary movement. Superversive is a bit of a refinement, as I understand it, of Sarah Hoyt’s Human Wave science fiction movement, which calls for stories that are fun rather than emotionally punishing for the sake of being emotionally punishing.

It’s not going to come as a surprise to anyone that knows me that I like my stories dark. I like my stories to be nailbiters, heroes fighting against all odds. I like my stories rough, and I want my heroes to suffer a bit. I’m not opposed to killing a beloved character, if that character’s death has meaning in some form or another.

“Meaning” doesn’t necessarily have a point to it, incidentally. There doesn’t have to be a moment of “He died so that we could live!” But compare the death of Macross/Robotech‘s Roy Fokker and Firefly/Serenity‘s Wash. Roy’s death, meaningless and stupid, came in the middle of a war, and narratively, told us this show wasn’t going to promise us that our heroes would make it out unscathed. Wash’s death came randomly and pointlessly, during a moment of relief and without context, just to remind us that Joss Whedon likes to make us cry.

Thing is, even in all these dark stories, I want heroes, light, and hope. One of the things that Jagi and the Superversive folk is the pointless nihilism of literature. There’s a sense you get, reading a lot of modern lit, that life sucks and nothing has meaning. Nothing will ever have meaning. (Jagi talks about Steinbeck, whom I have not read, but I got the cliffnotes version of while watching The Middle. It matched Jagi’s experience.) Even if I didn’t already prefer my stories to have spaceships and laser guns, that sort of thing would drive me away from mainstream lit.

Some folks would claim it’s escapism, that the nihilism of mainstream lit is the reality– and, well, I won’t spoil it for you, but read Jagi’s entry. She has some things to say about that. As a Christian and a seminarian I have to remind you that it is far, indeed from the truth. Our book tells us that things are dire and deadly and will get worse, but that, in the end there is triumph, does it not?

It’s an interesting thing, and I keep trying to get a handle on it: but in a lot of ways, science fiction and theology feel very much the same when you dive into them. They scratch the same itch, as it were, and in a lot of ways, that itch is to have the truth of hope reinforced in us.

That’s not to say that there’s not SF that shares the nihilism of mainstream lit. There is. I remember, for example, reading  M. John Harrison’s Light, which Neil Gaiman recommended as a stunning space opera and, in my memory, lives mostly as a story about people with weird issues masturbating.

But at its core, SF is truly about a sense of wonder. Wonder can mean a lot of things, and sometimes it can be terrifying. Sometimes you’re awed by the power of the invaders. Sometimes you’re awed by the nobility of the space captain, sometimes by the ancient alien artifacts, sometimes by the sheer scope of it all. Stray too far away from the awe-inspiring, and you’ve betrayed your genre.

Science fiction is a literature of awe and wonder, not jaded cynicism. It shares, whether the plot posits a Creator or not, a core view with Christianity: That the universe is a place worthy of marvel and wonder.

I count myself amongst the Superversive and Human Wave folks. The first story I ever published (“The Wrong Damn Thing to Say”) was an attack on the banal nihilism of mainstream lit; the second (“Negev“) and third (“Domo“) are heavily dependent on the idea that there is more to the world than what we see. Another story, “God-Eaters,” will be coming forth from the Sci Phi Journal for issue four or five, hopefully, and it shares the same worldview. It’s not a huge library, but it illustrates the point. I buy into this stuff.

I buy into the Superversive and Human Wave ideals because that’s what science fiction is supposed to be. Because that’s how the world is supposed to be.


Posted on November 26, 2014, in science fiction, superversive, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Yes. This.
    I read Iain M. Banks’ Matter for a book review – and while it really was masterfully written and I cared about the characters – I knew I was only being made to care about them so that my hopes for them would be curb stomped by book’s end. And then they were. The end. 😦

    To me, a book just isn’t right without some hope in the resolution.


  2. Bravo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I must disagree on one minor point: when watching Serenity for the first time, Wash’s death did indeed make me fear for the remaining characters that much more. I was sure Simon wasn’t going to make it—or that he would but Kaylee would die. (Only one of them though, because as you correctly point out, Joss likes to make us cry.)


    • I entirely agree (and I’m happy I’m not the only one). I thought it was a great scene.

      Wash isn’t actively DOING anything dramatic, but it takes place directly AFTER his great moment of glory, right before an epic battle with the cannibalistic monsters who promise certain death to the stalwart crew. Wash’s death showed the level of sacrifice the crew was willing to make in order to reveal the truth to the world.

      If Wash hadn’t died, I would have thought the crew had gotten off too easily (considering Book wasn’t actually a part of it).


  4. “Some folks would claim it’s escapism, that the nihilism of mainstream lit is the reality…”

    “The only people who hate escapism are jailers.”
    -C.S. Lewis

    Your essay on the Superversive movement highlights every reason I want in.

    Incidentally, I loved “Domo”. I’m looking forward to reading your next story in SPJ. There’s a chance that my story will appear in the same issue. I really hope it does.


    • Thank you! I waited years to write that story, because when it first germinated I didn’t feel I knew enough theology to write it well. I’m glad people like it the way they do.

      Best of luck to you! I’ll be looking forward to your story 🙂


  5. Reblogged this on John K. Patterson and commented:
    I have nothing to add. Josh Young deserves a standing ovation for this.


  6. Very well put, I hope that one day my own efforts can be considered superversive. My first novel is certainly an attempt at it before I knew what superversive was, but I leave it to others to decide if it is of sufficient quality to qualify.

    I didn’t really know why I write the way I do, or why I write at all until it was revealed to me by an entrant to a talent show, of all things. The process is described in long-winded fashion in an old (by internet standards) opinion piece I wrote here:


    Thinking about it now, talent shows themselves are inherently superversive. There is a stream of ugly, bland, uninspiring drudgery sprinkled with hubris, then along comes someone who has humbly toiled and crafted to hone and polish their gift so that it reflects a tiny fraction of the great torrents of divine light that rush unnoticed through every space, and our breath is taken away.

    Knowingly or not, that is what the audience at a talent show longs for; that out of the mire and vulgarity they will be able to witness a divine spark, the gates of heaven opening just a crack to give us all the faintest taste of celestial air.

    Everyone longs for heavenly things, and they are all around us, if only we had eyes to see. Too many leftist movements have driven themselves insane in the attempt to gouge out their own spiritual eyes and deny that anyone ever had them.


  7. Reblogged this on The Worlds of Tarien Cole and commented:
    Well said. And I agree. A story can dark without being pointlessly hopeless. I can even deal with the good guys losing in the end. If it accomplishes a legitimate narrative purpose and doesn’t demean everything they’ve done.


  1. Pingback: More Superversion | John C. Wright's Journal

  2. Pingback: Hugo Awards – The Nominee Highlights – Best Fanzine | madgeniusclub

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