Being Superversive in a Subversive World


Found on Richard Paolinelli’s blog. No image credit given

Richard Paolinelli has named me on a list of superversive authors (scroll down, the list is in alphabetical order by last name).

Now you may be asking yourself what is “superversive?”

According to Urban Dictionary:

Nurturing; supportive, building up — opposite of subversive

The superversives decorated the object with daisy chains, linked their arms around it and sang “Jerusalem.”

Seems a bit “flowery”.

So how does that translate into writing superversive fiction, and particularly science fiction? Back in 2016, Russell Newquist crafted an answer in What is Superversive Fiction? (I should say that he hasn’t posted anything on his blog since September 2019):

If subversive is about tearing down the structures of society, superversive must be about building them back up. Specifically, I believe superversive fiction absolutely must contain some of the following elements:

  • Heroes who are actually heroic. They don’t have to be heroic all of the time, or even most of the time. But when the time comes, they must actually be heroic.
  • People are basically good. Not all the time, not in every case – and certainly not every person. But basically.
  • Good Wins. Not every time – a good story always has setbacks in it. But evil winning is most definitely not superversive.
  • True love is real. Again, maybe not for everybody. But it’s real.
  • Beauty is real. It’s ok to show the warts. But show the beauty, too.
  • The transcendent is awesome. There’s no obligation to show any particular religion, or even really religion at all. But superversive literature should show the glory and splendor of the wider universe around us, and it should leave us in awe of it.
  • Family is good and important. Not every family, sure. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.
  • Civilization is better than barbarism. This doesn’t mean barbarians are evil, or that they aren’t fun. But in the end, they’re… well, barbaric.
  • Strength, courage, honor, beauty, truth, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility are virtues. This can be demonstrated by showing people breaking the virtues. But they must be recognized as virtues.
  • There is hope. Superversive stories should never leave the reader feeling despair.

Sounds pretty optimistic, which is why it might not resonate with everyone. Given the whole COVID-19 mess plus all of the protests and rioting we’ve experienced lately, life seems anything but superversive.

Add to that the fact that many people, including those advocating for Black Lives Matter, say they’ve never experienced a life anything close to superversive, and you can see why some people might be against it.


Promotional image for the 2011 film “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

But then again, that’s sort of the point. Life sucks, or at least it can. Throughout history, and particularly in my own lifetime, we’ve always looked to our heroes, including our fictional heroes, to give us a goal, something to shoot for. My personal understanding of Captain America is a perfect example. If I had to pick one hero to be in all the universe, it would be Steve Rogers.

In an interview, actor Chris Evans, who played Rogers in a number of movies said:

He’s everything I’ve ever wanted to be as a man. He does good for the sake of doing good.

For others, The Black Panther is that hero. He’s a lot different from Cap, but then again, they share the same heroic qualities. They learned to overcome their pasts in order to build a better future. That’s the point of being a hero and being superversive.

Of course, there are always detractors. Time Magazine recently published an article, focusing on the current displeasure people have of law enforcement, to say that superheroes are just cops in capes (they make exceptions for the Black Panther and the Miles Morales Spider-Man, but if you’re white, you’re bad according to Time).

But again, Time misses the point. They miss the point of what makes a hero and what being superversive really means.

It reminds me of this bit of dialog from the 2012 film The Avengers:

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans): The uniform? Aren’t the stars and stripes a little… old-fashioned?

Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg): With everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned.

A perfect rendition of what “superversive” means.

As I review the list, I recognize most of the names. I probably don’t agree with all of those people, at least on certain topics, but then again, we’re an eclectic bunch. I’ve developed an online relationship with Richard over the past several years, and took a writing class from L. Jagi Lamplighter back in the day.

Not everything I write is superversive, but it remains a passion of mine. Like Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek series, even if it doesn’t play out that way in real life, I believe we can envision a better future, a life with more meaning and hope than what we have today.

Stan Lee had the same vision, and he played it out again and again in his writing, particularly certain issues of The Fantastic Four I read as a kid.

They were writing in the 1960s and starting about a decade later, science fiction started getting darker.


Promotional image from the 2018 film “Black Panther”

There will always be a place for “dark fiction” in the world, but we should make a seat at the table for the superversive as well. While in the 1977 movie Star Wars, Princess Leia may have said “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope,” as authors, we can also be “hope”.

No, it doesn’t mean writing stories about perfect people or perfect worlds. Superversive heroes are flawed, otherwise they wouldn’t be interesting. Their worlds are full of struggles, otherwise the hero wouldn’t have something to overcome.

I have a challenge for all of you Black Lives Matter supporters and advocates. From your perspective, write something superversive. Think of Afrofuturism as your guide. The world may be bleak now, but it doesn’t always have to be. Instead of tearing down, build up the future you want to see.

Now put your fingers to the keyboard and think of another world, think of something wonderful.

10 thoughts on “Being Superversive in a Subversive World

  1. In June 2016, the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton was filmed in all its syllable-spraying, suede-coat-shaking glory. Director Thomas Kail used Steadicams and camera cranes to capture composer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s definitive cultural artifact of Obama’s America: a multicultural, optimistic narrative in which an immigrant lifts himself out of poverty by “working a lot harder” and “being a self-starter” to become an American Founding Father.

    Hamilton remains an astonishing triumph in so many ways: as a rebuke to a white-dominated theater world; as a genre-crossing musical monument; as a subversive interrogation of who gets to claim American greatness. It scored a record-setting 16 Tony Award nominations, set box-office records and reimagined theater in the 21st century.

    But when the film drops on Disney+ on July 3, it will arrive into a world that has been transformed by the past four years. A very different President holds power; income inequality has widened… of Americans, souring the musical’s bootstraps premise.

    Read more:

    I wanted to share this in time for the debut and the 4th of July/Independence Day

    By the way, doesn’t the Time article about cops in capes include a vigilante/hero of color? That’s my perception of The Punisher (if I’ve, as a non-super-hero-fanatic but with occasional interest and admittedly a bit of fanaticism for [the not-referenced] Neo… and Django… and Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead, remembered his moniker correctly). Anyway, I enjoyed your post.


      • Lee Falk created “The Phantom” comic strip in 1936, making him the world’s oldest costumed hero by two years (Superman came out as a comic book in 1938). The Phantom has a skull ring which leaves a permanent scar on all the bad guys he hits. New “Phantom” strips are being produced currently, although Falk is long dead.


      • I was thinking about this today. I remember being in graduate school. One of my instructors said he had a student who told him she didn’t know if she could be a psychotherapist because she was intimidated by the role, and wasn’t sure she could remember everything she had been taught. He told her to put on her thinking cap and she’d be fine. She took it literally and said she couldn’t wear a hat in a therapy session. Sometime later, she told him it had worked. She bought a top hat pin which she wore on the label of her jacket and it made all the difference in the world when she was being a therapist.

        Many years ago, when I had a private practice, I was working with a young boy whose father was a police officer. The dad asked me once if he could see me privately and I agreed. He asked me why, when he had to give a public speech, why he was so confident when he was in his uniform but so unsure of himself when he was in civilian clothes. I knew the answer the second he asked the question.

        Decades ago, I investigated child abuse for a southern california county agency. It’s a huge responsibility and requires exercising authority, which I wasn’t sure I could do. I had acquired a small “Star Trek” communicator pin, about a quarter-size of what you see on TV, and pinned it to the collar of my shirt each day. Somehow, I was no longer afraid to confront school principles, doctors, cops, and gang members.

        Symbols are powerful and not necessarily evil.


      • I was looking to see if The Lady ever wore a cape in The Quick and the Dead.

        Sources: Some items-including lace mitts, a rain slicker, a Mexican shawl and weird blue granny glasses-are antique. The rest of Ellen’s costumes, as well as the extraordinary embroidered jacket worn by Ace Hanlon (Lance Henriksen), were made at John David Ridge costume house in Los Angeles.

        Maybe a shawl counts.

        And maybe the slicker had the look.


      • I overlooked this, earlier when I was reading in the article, per Sharon Stones’s character and accoutrements: (there’s also an embroidered duster coat with capelet, man’s linen shirt and handsome turquoise and silver belt and gun buckles[)]. …

        The idea is it’s the underdog mistreated or tortured by tyranny who is in need of courage and is the unlikely restorer of balance. In her case, she works within the rediculous bounds of the “law” (undermined) or the power(s) that be to reach the needed outcome (not a reductionist revenge). I recommend seeing it. There is a symbol (which I haven’t mentioned) in this movie— I don’t want to give it away.


    … planning to write a children’s book on her experience to help process the ordeal and fight racism.

    Judeah Reynolds’ 17-year-old cousin, Darnella Frazier, filmed the footage of Floyd’s death that has been viewed by millions and sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.

    … Reynolds, who is in fourth grade, saw it firsthand as an eyewitness.


    “If we didn’t go that day, they would still keep killing us,” she told [a broadcast] affiliate.

    Now Reynolds is planning to inspire change on her own, by writing a children’s book called “My Walk to the Store.” Her project is reportedly inspired by “Cameron Goes to School” — a book on autism by fellow child author Cameron Brundidge that Reynolds read while processing her grief over Floyd’s death.

    Reynolds reportedly realized her project was possible after seeing a girl who looked like her in the book.

    I shared this earlier in the month elsewhere. It isn’t fiction, but I think it’s a good thing — and in the writing realm, of course.

    I agree that The Black Panther is a great movie, even if I don’t go see every super hero film there is. I walked in during the latter half of Wonder Woman yesterday evening. I asked who Chris Evans [if I’m remembering his real name correctly] was or what he was. My question wasn’t getting across. I then asked if he’s “a Captain somebody” or something. But added, upon contemplation, that he could be a captain as a spy… okay, is he a superhero? I finally got the answer I was looking for. No. And the person I was talking to took curious note when Steve was next, in fact, referred to as a captain. (Now I don’t remember his character’s last name.) He’s a good-guy, is what counts most (and one who recognizes he hasn’t always been godly and isn’t godlike).

    Congratulations, James, on your being listed among esteemed people for superversive writing of fiction.


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