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POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
POC Destroy Science Fiction! is a special issue of the Hugo-winning magazine LIGHTSPEED, 100% written—and edited—by POC creators.
2,354 backers pledged $51,734 to help bring this project to life.

Personal Essay: "The New Frontier Is the Old Frontier" by Tamara Brooks

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When we set out to destroy science fiction with this Kickstarter, we didn't want it to be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill campaign. We wanted it to be full of smashing, crashing POC voices, telling what it really means to be POC reading and writing science fiction. One of the ways we hope to do that is by sharing a series of personal essays about the experience of being POC in science fiction.

Personal Essay: "The New Frontier Is the Old Frontier" by Tamara Brooks

“You must’ve been a precocious child.” It’s an odd thing to hear as an adult when having a conversation about Star Trek: The Next Generation, and yet there we were.

He was a coworker, old enough to have been considered capable of deeper thought by society when the show started, while my age at the time hadn’t even been in double digits. But I watched dutifully and with interest every week. It had the guy from Reading Rainbow, after all.

My first impulse was to deny the label of “precocious,” but then I thought about it. It was true that I was far more pensive than the average third grader and often spent time watching people, primarily the other kids, in what I now recognize as an attempt to understand their behavior. For a way to decode why they did what they did (Data would’ve approved).

When I watched TNG, I noticed the number of background crew members who weren’t white or aliens of some kind, something of a rarity still outside of films made by the Wachowskis. I liked that there were some men wearing “dresses” and the women could wear pants if they wanted, but I didn’t know why that stopped being a thing after the pilot (with a nod to the very long formal officer coats used for special occasions). I wondered if Worf being an alien overrode the fact that the actor was African-American.

I also noticed how often Counselor Troi’s mind was violated. How it felt like Geordi La Forge, for as much as he saved everyone with his engineering know-how, was often at fault in some way for a fair share of calamities. How Geordi never managed to have a successful relationship. How many of the episodes with “less developed” worlds borrowed from real cultures in ways that made me uncomfortable—like that one episode with the planet full of vaguely African people where a dubious statesman kidnapped Lt. Yar to be his bride and it led to a fight to the death with his Number One Wife. (To be fair, there was also a travelling colony of essentially 1800s-era Irish folks.)

And I absolutely noticed it was one of the more consistently diverse shows on the air, even if I didn’t always like the episode, and that was partially responsible for my loyalty.

These observations extended beyond Trek—I noticed things in everything I watched: the way teams in action cartoons could only have one girl and/or one non-white member per four-ish white dudes; how the black character almost always died in movies, generally first; that groups of brown people only appeared as gang members or stereotypical tribes. These big negatives were always lurking in the things that I loved. It’s the often undiscussed “but” in far too many beloved stories, regardless of the medium.

It’s a curious thing to be acutely aware of being different. And it’s positively suffocating to not only be reminded about it in real life constantly, but to see the people closest to representing you on TV and movies pushed to the margins. But that’s where science fiction should come in, right?

Yes, I was a precocious child. I worried about issues of representation before I even knew the words for it. As I’ve grown up and travelled, as the imagined technologies of yesterday became reinterpreted as real world devices, I’ve been able to meet and converse with more and more people from different backgrounds from all over the world who all had these observations. Who’ve had conversations about it with their inner circles. Who’ve gotten into much-too-deep conversations with friends of friends at parties. Who’ve said a few unflinchingly honest things to creators on Twitter, not out of disrespect but because we care so much about a genre that maybe doesn’t reciprocate.

We do this because there is a core question that eats at us, one that hasn’t changed from childhood: If we can imagine long-term space travel and rifts in time and androids that can have human emotions and beings who can alter reality with the snap of their fingers, why is science fiction having such a hard time reflecting the diversity of the world—current or future?

It is my hope that all the precocious children of today won’t have to continue to ask this question tomorrow.

______________

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tamara Brooks grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. She has been writing and critiquing since she was a child, creating an epic play world with Barbies and questioning if reversing the Earth’s rotation is an effective way to turn back time. Tamara has written pieces for Zap2it, Seat42f, and Comic Book Resources and hopes to have a novel finished in 2016.

Michael S. Manley, Patti Short, and 9 more people like this update.

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    1. Missing avatar

      Cathy Greytfriend on February 13, 2016

      "If we can imagine long-term space travel and rifts in time and androids that can have human emotions and beings who can alter reality with the snap of their fingers, why is science fiction having such a hard time reflecting the diversity of the world—current or future?" This. And Amen with Tasha as well.

    2. Reinik
      Superbacker
      on February 9, 2016

      As a kid I wasn't really precocious when it came to topics on society, but it was too obvious to not notice how there's always only one girl and/or non-white member per group. And this is still the case if it's an all girl group, like the Disney princesses for example - at the time Jasmine was the only one who wasn't white and she's not even the main character of her movie. Now there are more but in most promo art or merchandise collections the same 'only one non-white' thing still applies. Also, it seems like in TV/comics/games/whatever, they seem to think that if you're lucky enough to get more than one POC, one character to represent each race is enough for being inclusive because people can only be white or not. You were right about Worf, when I was little I thought that because he was an alien he didn't count, and I saw Geordi as the one they had to stand for representation.

      That's a very valid question. If there's warp speed and sentient robots in sci-fi, and all sorts of magic in fantasy, then having diversity in the cast of characters shouldn't be much of a stretch at all, right?

    3. Tasha Turner
      Superbacker
      on February 9, 2016

      "It is my hope that all the precocious children of today won’t have to continue to ask this question tomorrow."

      Amen