Our Own Assumptions Are Hard To See
Good fiction shapes culture, just as it is shaped by it.
We are never going to be able to be fully aware of the cultural limitations of our time and place, but we can make an effort to try to consciously explore what does hamper our imaginations.
We’ve been great at developing a whole sub genre of dystopian science fiction, but there does seem to be a real dearth of science fiction that imagines what kind of better societies could exist or we could create.
Universal science fiction is meant be a genre that explores what better worlds might look like to diverse writers on their own terms.
Fifty Years Ago
In the 1970’s the genre of ‘feminist science fiction’ emerged. It produced some truly innovative and great pieces (and some stinkers). But it fell out of favor as a genre as the decades wore on. Part of that was simply because that particular f word (the one with three syllables) packed a bit of a charge for both men and women. Part of it was because other options for women did open up.
And fifty years later, the news is not all bad. There -are- more options for readers looking for something other than ‘white, straight, capitalistic man saves the universe from some horrific evil’ that get published within the traditional channels in science fiction and fantasy. Also, indie and self publishing have both really helped bring some diversity into the genre.
And many current writers -including some of the best male ones- are able to be truly inclusionary, which is great. So things are improving in the overall scheme of things.
But the world still suffers greatly from an overabundance of hierarchy based and androcentric writing. Quite frankly, this reflects the state of the world itself, which is still far more androcentric, capitalistic and “might makes right” informed than it ever wants to believe itself to be. A couple of gloom and doom statistics to back those statements up are here for the interested, skeptical, or for those with just a touch of OCD.
Also, 50 years later, in the present day, we find the very word feminist still scares some folks. Granted, they are easily frightened folks, but still, the very word (much like the word race) still makes some feel excluded and/or threatened. It’s amazing, and not in a “Cool, look at that beautiful view” kind of way, more in a “WTFing hell?” kind of way. But since these very words are still charged, it should tell all fair minded people that we have miles to go.
The term Universal Science Fiction is an attempt to call out and reclaim what science fiction should have been from the beginning: a truly inclusive**, innovative genre for people who wish to read about and write about worlds that might differ considerably from their own. The term envisions a genre that -at its best- can fully explore innumerable possibilities we can imagine as humans for positive futures as it takes us on journeys into new worlds.
Based on the early years in the 2000s, it’s clear that we will either not really make it too much further into the Anthropocene, or, if we are able to change courses and grow towards more equitable living, that the best ideas for living in harmony, in peace and in prosperity are still to come. Universal science fiction can show readers some glimpses of those better days.
**Being truly inclusive in this sense does not mean applying some happy quota of percentages including characters of all genders and all ethnicities, classes, abilities and so on in each and every book.
In many ways it may well mean the opposite. That may, in fact, piss some people off (actually we know it already has). But here’s the raw truth of it: most honest stories written by lesbians with lesbian protagonists ascending into loving and peaceful universes simply will not focus much on male characters. Sorry, but that’s the truth of it. Many stories by Indigenous writers may not feature many or ANY white characters. Same for stories by and about poor people and their lives -there may not be any reference at all to rich people, much less positively drawn characters. And you probably really shouldn’t complain about the under representation of white folks in a story about an African family going into outer space, either. Sorry. So please, before you say you value different points of view “but what about the____”, understand the reality that some diverse writers might not be too concerned with or include many of whatever group you feel is missing.
Can It Be Universal If It Doesn’t Include Everyone Overtly?
In other words: Can works be part of “a universally inclusive genre” if they “leave out” groups (especially dominant groups) of people in their formulations?
Even having to ask this question is quite irritating because marginalized people who answer honestly: “Yeah, most of my interests do not revolve around the feelings of______ “, are likely to get blowback, even from those in their own group(s) who say things like, “Well, that’s what racists say.” We’re aware of that argument. And our answer is this: we abhor racists, misogynists and homophobes. We hope they all cease to exist one day soon. Seriously. This is not equivalent at all.
Here’s why: telling stories is -by nature- exclusionary because the story’s perspective will always only tell part of the whole world/universe. But consciously knowing that as you write (or read) a story from one perspective is much different from unconsciously writing and telling stories (for literally hundreds of years) from one general perspective and insisting then it is both “universal” and the only valid truth.
Universal science fiction isn’t racist or sexist when it tells stories by diverse authors that don’t focus on dominant groups, it’s simply publishing stories from different perspectives.
Absolutely everyone is more than welcome to read what we publish, and we sincerely hope you do. But if you are reading and you don’t see your tribe here, please know this is not “tit for tat”, it is the honest reality that sometimes people in different groups don’t think about folks from dominant groups all that much when they are writing their own stories. And one last thing: truthfully, if you are reading as an “Other” it will likely be uncomfortable at times. That’s just a fact, but that uncomfortableness also might help you grow even deeper roots of empathy.