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.
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.
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.