Blast From the Past: Why I’m Not Superversive

This is a post I wrote, of course, before I joined the Superversive team. Obviously I’ve changed my mind.

The time period is very soon after Mrs. Wright coined the term and ideology behind Superversive sci-fi. As you can see from the post, I was in the middle of a debate on John C. Wright’s blog about “Silence of the Lambs”, which is one of the things that swayed my opinion at that particular moment (I like that movie!).

Eventually I’ll write a follow up post on why I decided to join the Superversive team later on.

For your consideration:

Mr. and Mrs. Wright (both excellent writers, both of whom I admire and agree with on many things) have started what they call the superversive fiction movement. In Mrs. Wright’s words:

First and foremost, a Superversive story has to have good storytelling.

By which I do not mean that it has to be well-written. Obviously, it would be great if every story was well-written. It is impossible, however, to define a genre or literary movement as “well-written”, as that would instantly remove the possibility of a beginner striving to join.

What I mean by good storytelling is that the story follows the principles of a good story. That, by the end, the good prosper, the bad stumble, that there is action, motion to the plot, and a reasonable about of sense to the overall structure.

 

Second,the characters must be heroic.

By this, I do not mean that they cannot have weaknesses. Technically, a character without weaknesses could not be heroic, because nothing would require effort upon his part.

Nor do I mean that a character must avoid despair. A hero is not defined by his inability to wander into the Valley of Despair, but by what he does when he finds himself knee deep in its quagmire. Does he throw in the towel and moan about the unfairness of life? Or does he pull his feet out of the mud with both hands and soldier onward?

Nor do I mean that every character has to be heroic, obviously some might not be. But in general, there should be characters with a heroic, positive attitude toward life.

However, many, many stories have good storytelling and heroic characters. Most decent fantasies are like that.

Are all decent fantasies Superversive?

No.

Because one element of Superversive literature is still missing.

Wonder.

 

Third, Superversive literature must have an element of wonder

 

But not ordinary wonder. (Take a moment to parse that out. Go ahead. I’ll still be here. )

 

Specifically, the kind of wonder that comes from suddenly realizing that there is something greater than yourself in the universe, that the world is a grander place than you had previously envisioned. The kind of wonder that comes from a sudden hint of a Higher Power, a more solid truth.

There might be another word for that kind of wonder: awe.

Specifically, the awe that comes when you are pulled out of your ordinary life by being made aware of the structure of the moral order of the universe.

That kind of awe.

Here are my problems with this:

1) The definition Mrs. Wright gives of good storytelling is this:

That, by the end, the good prosper, the bad stumble, that there is action, motion to the plot, and a reasonable about of sense to the overall structure.

…Which would make Shakespeare’s “Othello”, off the top of my head, bad storytelling. I do not agree.

2) About heroic characters, Mrs. Wright says this:

A hero is not defined by his inability to wander into the Valley of Despair, but by what he does when he finds himself knee deep in its quagmire. Does he throw in the towel and moan about the unfairness of life? Or does he pull his feet out of the mud with both hands and soldier onward?

Nor do I mean that every character has to be heroic, obviously some might not be. But in general, there should be characters with a heroic, positive attitude toward life.

But that would mean that the Hitchhiker’s Guide books don’t count as superversive; I can think of no major heroic characters off the top of my head. In book three, when the main characters gather to save the universe, they need to practically be dragged out of the various bars they are partying in.

Adams’ books aren’t superversive. But they’re brilliant. I would love to write a book like “Hitchhiker’s Guide” (I actually tried a faux-medieval story in that style, without success. Adams simply can’t be duplicated). But if I defined myself as superversive then that would mean I should not even try.

3) Mrs. Wright then says this:

Specifically, the kind of wonder that comes from suddenly realizing that there is something greater than yourself in the universe, that the world is a grander place than you had previously envisioned. The kind of wonder that comes from a sudden hint of a Higher Power, a more solid truth.

There might be another word for that kind of wonder: awe.

Specifically, the awe that comes when you are pulled out of your ordinary life by being made aware of the structure of the moral order of the universe.

The problem I have with this is that it leaves out any stories that end with the opposite conclusion – for example, a story like “Silence in the Night” by Mr. Wright, a novella that ends with the main character being forced to effectively kill his own father and ending up with no answers to any of his questions about life except for mocking laughter from an evil land. And that would be a shame, because it was a great story.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like, really LOVE, superversive fiction. My favorite books tend to be superversive (Tolkien and Lewis and L’Engle and Zusak…). But Mrs. Wright’s description leaves out some stuff I actually really like, and I don’t want to limit myself to only writing superversion, as if it’s the only sort of writing that matters. Case in point: I love “Silence of the Lambs”. It’s a great movie. Mr. Wright used it as an example of a movie that “mainstream Hollywood” somehow pushed upon us, passing over the superior “Beauty and the Beast” for the Oscar.

Well, this is where I disagree. I love “Beauty and the Beast”. Great film, great music, great characters, entertaining story. But “Silence of the Lambs” was smarter, had better acting (yes, it was an animated movie, but we’re judging which was better, not which was the superior achievement technically), and portrayed a fantastic character with mesmerizing depth and offered us an insight into the darkness of the human heart.

It was not superversive. “Beauty and the Beast” was. It was also at least just as worthy of an Oscar. Oscars should not be chosen based on how superversive the work is. That “Beauty and the Beast” was about love and “Silence of the Lambs” was not doesn’t mean “Silence of the Lambs” was worse. And that is where I disagree with Mr. Wright, who seems to imply that those who like those sorts of films are somehow liking something inferior, and it is something to be ashamed of if you like “The Departed” (another example he gave and another movie I love).

And that is why I’m not superversive: Because I think we should be making great stories, period. Superversive or otherwise.